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REFLECTION FOR TODAY: Once to Every Man and Nation

August 5, 2016

This continues series of columns begun on August 1, 2016.

I have been invited, challenged, and encouraged to make some comment about the situation in our world, our country, and our national politics. I have thought and prayed about how best to respond.

I have decided to post through my blog some of the inspirational words that strike me as important. These will be wisdom, poems, prayers, scriptures, and hymns that I come to in my own life of devotion. Some will be clearly religious. Others will seem secular. Some are profound; others mundane. All I believe are worth our time. I suggest reading them, pausing to reflect upon them, and then pondering the meaning throughout the day.

These postings are not intended to prompt debate. They are offered to encourage thoughtful, prayerful reflection. Please keep in mind that I have been a Christian pastor for more than fifty years. You will find a distinct Christian influence in these offerings. That is not intended to exclude anyone. I believe that those of you from other faith groups will find wisdom here that can be translated into your own traditional framework.

James Russell Lowell (Feb. 22, 1819 – Aug. 12, 1891) Wrote “Once to Every Man and Nation” Originally the hymn was a poem written on Christmas Eve 1845 to protest the American war with Mexico. Lowell called it “The Present Crisis.” It was argued by him and others including Abraham Lincoln that the war would increase the power of the southern states and enlarge the area in which slavery was accepted. In 1896, W. Garrett Horder selected parts of Lowell’s poem and turned them into a hymn relating more broadly to ethical decisions in political and community life. The words were put to music by Thomas John Williams (1869 – Apr. 23, 1944)

Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;

Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.


Then to side with truth is noble, when we share her wretched crust,

Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and ’tis prosperous to be just;

Then it is the brave man chooses while the coward stands aside,

Till the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied.


By the light of burning martyrs, Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,

Toiling up new Calv’ries ever with the cross that turns not back;

New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,

They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.


Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;

Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;

Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.


Here is a video of this great hymn.

May these words for reflection prompt us to pray.

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