Monday, July 22, 2024
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Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

Capturing A Sense of Industry

Rummaging around in my brain recently, I rediscovered a song of my youth. It is a song that I have heard city choirs sing. It is a song I’ve heard echoing across a mountain cemetery. It is a song I’ve heard watermen toll as they lifted crab pots, tended nets, and harvested oysters from our rivers grand.

You see, I do not process words as text on a page; neither are songs bound to volumes for me. I process information as pictures, and as sounds, even sometimes as smells. I would suppose that is why this particular song leaps up at me. I am often accused of playing hymns too fast. This song sets its own cadence. Indicative of the changes within my denominational persuasion, it is a hymn that has fallen from use, if not from grace. It is no longer found in our Baptist hymnals. To me, it is a sad commentary of change, change that is not necessarily productive.

Many of the problems facing our youth — and to a larger part, our adults — is that we have corporately lost our sense of industry. Children don’t play anymore, they compete. Newly married couples, with babies to hip, kiss good-bye as they head to jobs necessary. As busy as we seem, it causes me no small alarm that being busy is too often equated with work. The kind of work of which I speak is that which used to leave us prayerfully ready to close our eyes at day’s end. It is the kind of labor from which a day of rest took on special meaning. Don’t confuse work with stress. It is stress that lately becomes the product of contemporary industry.

This song was a favorite of our late Anne Long McClintock (1936-2020). Sing along with me: “Work, for the night is coming, work through the morning hours; work while the dew is sparkling, work ‘mid springing flowers: work when the day grows brighter, work in the glowing sun; work, for the night is coming, when man’s work is done.

“Work, for the night is coming, work in the sunny noon; fill brightest hours with labor, rest comes sure and soon: give every flying minute something to keep in store; work, for the night is coming, when man works no more.

“Work, for the night is coming, under the sunset skies; while their bright tints are glowing, work for daylight flies: work till the last beam fadeth, fadeth to shine no more; work while the night is darkening, when man’s work is o’er.”

The song is a collaboration of Annie L. Coghill (1836-1907, English and Canadian teacher and author) and Lowell Mason (1792-1872, American composer of over 1600 hymn tunes). I believe that it last appeared in our hymnal in the 1956 convention Press edition. It identifies with a period of history when our greatest industry was provisioning for the season to come. It harkens from a time when we learned to lay-up stores according to the seasons of the earth. It was a time when we took very personally that we are somehow responsible for our own success.

The late J. C. Hutchinson (1913-2006) once handed me a clipping from his wallet file. As soon as I read it, my mind was off humming the tune “Work, for the Night is Coming.” Cut this out and post it freely to the youth in your influence. It is about the Success Family: “The father of success is Work. The mother of success is Ambition. The oldest son is Common Sense. Some of the other boys are: Perseverance, Honesty, Thoroughness, Foresight, Enthusiasm, and Cooperation. The oldest daughter is Character. Some of the sisters are: Cheerfulness, Loyalty, Courtesy, Care, Economy, Sincerity, and Harmony. The baby is Opportunity. Get acquainted with the “Old Man” and you will be able to get along pretty well with the rest of the family.” Its author is unknown. 

The present labor-crippling coronavirus not withstanding, have we lost touch with honest work? Not really. It’s just that our labor now produces money with which we buy those things we once were cautioned to provide with the sweat of our brow.

Yes, things have really changed. Singing around in my soul, however, are many of the songs of my youth, even my early ministry. They have become who I am becoming. I am thankful for the generations who have bequeathed them to me. I am thankful for the labor of men and women who wrought this wonderful part of the world out of the tidewater thicket. I am thankful for the faith of the fathers and mothers of our churches who entrusted their faith through me to those yet unborn.

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