A hymn for Septuagesima

The weather is preventing our singing together in the parking lot this Sunday. But the choir has recorded a hymn for you to sing (or at least hum along with) at home on this first Sunday of the pre-Lenten season.

“Awake my soul stretch every nerve” (Hymn #577 in our Hymnal, downloadable here if you don’t have a copy at home) was originally entitled “Pressing on in the Christian Race,” and is based on Philippians 3:12–14, a passage in which St. Paul — as he does in today’s Epistle reading from I Corinthians — compares the disciplined pilgrimage of the Christian life to the running of a race. Written by Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) and published posthumously in 1755, the hymn originally included two stanzas that are not in our Hymnal:

That prize with peerless glories bright,
which shall new lustre boast,
when victor’s wreaths and monarch’s gems
shall blend in common dust.

Blest Saviour, introduced by thee
have I my race begun;
and crowned with glory at thy feet
I’ll lay my honours down.

A prominent nonconformist educator and minister in the 18th century, Philip Doddridge’s writing had an influence in the lives of William Wilberforce, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and many others. He wrote more than 400 hymns, many of which were summarized his sermons, and none of which published in his lifetime, although many were printed as “handouts” for temporary congregational use.

Another of Doddridge’s hymns — “My God, thy table now is spread” — is one of our parish’s favorite communion hymns. Someday, we’ll sing it again together in the nave.

The tune to today’s hymn is called CHRISTMAS, as it was one of the more popular tunes (out of hundreds) to which was sung “While shepherds watched their flocks by night.” The tune is based on a soprano aria from Siroe, an opera composed by George Frideric Handel in 1728. You may hear the entire aria here.