Herewith another Christmas poem by another American Presbyterian: this time a man named Louis F. Benson (1855-1930), whose memory has mostly faded away.
Benson was a Philadelphian who went to Penn, then was a lawyer, then a Presbyterian minister in Germantown, PA, and then a writer, as well as an editor at the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.
His most enduring work was his labor on a series of hymnals that the General Assembly of the PCUSA approved for use. (He was also part of the committee that produced The Book of Common Worship.)
Benson also wrote hymns and poems of his own. (His compilation of a hymn of Ambrose, “O Splendor of God’s Glory Bright,” is included in the recent Trinity Psalter Hymnal, by the way.)
One of his poems, originally published in 1897 in Hymns & Verses, concerns Christ’s First Advent and is called “The Lord of Glory.”
It goes like this.
“The Lord of Glory”
A glory lit the wintry sky
Before the break of day,
And in a little house near by
The Lord of Glory lay:
Angels of peace the tidings bring,
Angels of Jesus sing.
Our common ways with anxious feet
The Lord of Glory trod,
But met not one in lane or street
That knew the Son of God:
Angels of peace their greetings bring,
Angels that may not sing.
“I come to bring the weary rest,”
The Lord of Glory said,
Yet found no place to east or west
Where He might lay His head:
Angels of peace above Him still,
Angels await His will.
And when they led Him forth to die,
Around His cross of shame
The men He came to save stood by
And mocked their Saviour’s Name:
Angels of peace their stations keep,
Angels of sorrow weep.
O Son of Man whom angels know!
O heart of man, how cold,
How dull to see, to praise how slow,
Now as in days of old!
Angels of peace their hymns upraise,
Angels of glory praise.
You can see these verses set to music here in Benson’s own School Hymnal.
Another of his hymns that is seasonally appropriate is found in that same collection and is called “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.” This hymn takes the singer from Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Galilee, to Calvary, with one verse devoted to each. (You can hear a version of it here, though the tune [“Star of the County Down”] is different from that linked above and the third verse is omitted. Here is another, to the same tune but with all four verses, from Covenant Presbyterian Church [PCA] in Chicago.)
“O Sing a Song of Bethlehem”
O sing a song of Bethlehem,
Of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them
From angels in the air:
The light that shone on Bethlehem
Fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth
The angels sing alway.
O sing a song of Nazareth,
Of sunny days of joy,
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath,
And of the sinless boy:
For now the flow’rs of Nazareth
In ev’ry heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of his dear name
On all the winds that blow.
O sing a song of Galilee,
Of lake and woods and hill,
Of him who walked upon the sea
And bade the waves be still:
For though, like waves on Galilee,
Dark seas of trouble roll,
When faith has heard the Master’s word,
Falls peace upon the soul.
O sing a song of Calvary,
Its glory and dismay;
Of him who hung upon the tree,
And took our sins away:
For he who died on Calvary
Is risen from the grave,
And Christ, our Lord, by heav’n adored,
Is mighty now to save.