Feast of Daniel March, Sr. (March 1)   Leave a comment

Woburn Public Library

Above:  Public Library, Woburn, Massachusetts, Circa 1880

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-15349

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DANIEL MARCH, SR. (JULY 21, 1816-MARCH 2, 1909)

U.S. Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, Poet, Hymn Writer, and Liturgist

Daniel March, Sr., was a prolific author and enthusiastic world traveler.  Many people considered him to be very well-informed and worth listening to and reading.  Yet his books have faded into obscurity and one hymn–“Hark! the Voice of Jesus Crying” (1868)–has become the text on which his historical reputation rests.  The hymn if four stanzas includes a frequently omitted stanza–the one which speaks of “heathen lands” and “heathen nearer.”  The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) lacks that stanza because of what follows the “heathen” references–theology with which I agree yet which certain Confessional Lutherans considered troublesome in the late 1930 and 1940s, and which many adherents of that school of Christianity still find objectionable.  That stanza, in fact, is absent from both versions of the hymn in the Lutheran Service Book (2006), a successor of The Lutheran Hymnal.  Our saint, an enthusiastic supporter of missions, wrote:

Hark! the voice of Jesus crying,

“Who will go and work today?

Fields are white and harvests waiting,

Who will bear the sheaves away?”

Loud and long the Master calleth,

Rich reward He offers thee;

Who will answer, gladly saying,

“Here am I, send me, send me”?

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If you cannot cross the ocean,

And the heathen lands explore,

You can find the heathen nearer,

You can help them at your door;

If you cannot give your thousands,

You can give the widow’s mite,

And the least you give for Jesus

Will be precious in His sight.

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If you cannot speak like angels,

If you cannot preach like Paul,

You can tell the love of Jesus,

You can say he died for all.

If you cannot rouse the wicked

With the Judgment’s dread alarms,

You can lead the little children

To the Savior’s waiting arms.

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Let none hear you idly saying,

“There is nothing I can do,”

While the souls of men are dying

And the Master calls for you.

Take the work He gives you gladly,

Let His work your pleasure be;

Answer quickly when he calleth,

“Here I am, send me, send me!”

The treatment of the hymn in other hymn books interests me.  In some hymnals Jesus is crying; in others, however, he is calling.  The committee which prepared The Methodist Hymnal (1935) changed no words yet omitted the third stanza.  The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935) committee, however, altered the text–a practice which dated to March’s time and bothered him.  In the 1931/1935 hymnal the third stanza was absent , “heathen lands” became “mission lands,” the “heathen nearer” became the “needy nearer,” and “Rich reward he offers thee” became “Flings a challenge strong to thee.”  The hymn has fallen out of favor with many hymnal committees since the 1950s, being absent, for example, from successor hymnals of the United Church of Christ, The United Methodist Church, and their predecessor bodies.  I have read altered versions of the text and seldom read all four original stanzas in other hymnals.  For example, The Baptist Hymnal (1991) and the Baptist Hymnal (2008) speaks of “distant lands” and the “lost around you,” but not of the heathen.  The Covenant Hymnal:  A Worshipbook (1996) offers all four stanzas, albeit in altered form; there is “a distant land” instead of “heathen lands,” and the “pagan nearby” instead of the “heathen nearer.” The Trinity Hymnal (1961), the Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (1990), and the Trinity Hymnal–Baptist Edition (1995) offer the same four-stanza version–one which replaces March’s third stanza with words he did not write and leaves the rest of the text as he composed it.  (I like having a collection of hymnals!)

The author of that hymn entered the world at Millburg, Massachusetts, on July 21, 1816.  His parents were Samuel March and Zoa Park March, farmers.  Our saint, the third of six children, attended the Millburg Academy before matriculating at Amherst College in 1834.  He left Amherst College after two years without graduating yet graduated from Yale College with his B.A. degree in 1840.  March worked as the Principal of Fairfield Academy, Fairfield, Connecticut, from 1840 to 1843 before completing his theological studies at Yale in 1845.  By then he had earned his M.A. from Yale (1843), had been a licensed preacher for three years, and had been the husband of Jane Parker Gilson March (1818-1857) for four years.

Some of the hymnal companion volumes and hymn websites I consulted informed me erroneously that March’s 1845 ordination was in the Presbyterian Church.  Actually, the ordaining authority was the Fairfield West Association, and his first pastorate was the Congregational Church at Cheshire, Connecticut, from 1845 to 1848.  About six years (1849-1855) at First Congregational Church, Nashua, New Hampshire, followed.  From 1856 to 1862 our saint ministered at First Congregational Church, Woburn, Massachusetts.

Then March’s Presbyterian connections began.  He served as the pastor of Clinton Street Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1862 to 1876.  He also spent part of the 1860s serving on the Presbyterian Publication Committee (headquartered in that city), which published some of his books.  And March was, from the 1860s until his death, a minister of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, even though he returned to the pulpit of the First Congregational Church of Woburn for a second tenure (1877-1895).

March, as a family man, married twice.  He and his first wife, Jane Parker Gilson March (1818-1857), had four children:

  1. Anna Parker March (1842-1863);
  2. Charles A. March, who became an attorney and outlived his father;
  3. Daniel March, Jr. (1884-1897), who became a doctor; and
  4. Frederick William March (1847-1935), who became a Presbyterian minister and a missionary to Syria.

Our saint remarried in 1859.  His second wife was Anna LeConte March, who died in 1879.

Dr. Daniel March, Sr. (Doctor of Divinity, Western University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, 1864) opposed slavery, supported foreign missions, and was a relatively High Church Calvinist.  His published works included an antislavery speech, devotional and other theological books, and a volume of liturgical forms.  Those works include the following:

  1. Yankee Land and the Yankee (1840);
  2. A Poem Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Yale College, August 19, 1846 (1846);
  3. The Crisis of Freedom:  Remarks on the Duty Which All Christian Men and Good Citizens Owe to Their Country in the Present State of Public Affairs (1854);
  4. Walks and Homes of Jesus (1866);
  5. Night Scenes in the Bible (1868);
  6. Our Father’s House, or the Unwritten Word (1869);
  7. Home Life in the Bible (1873);
  8. The Introduction to Household Worship (1873), by a Layman;
  9. Public Worship, Partly Responsive; Designed for Any Christian Congregation (1873);
  10. An article on “Research and Travel in Bible Lands” in Wood’s Bible Animals (1877), by J. G. Wood;
  11. From Dark to Dawn; Being a Second Series of Night Scenes in the Bible (1878);
  12. The Introduction to The Pictoral Bible and Commentator–New Edition (1878), by Ingram Cobbin;
  13. The First Khedive:  Lessons in the Life of Joseph (1887);
  14. Walks with Jesus; or, Days of the Son of Man (1888); and
  15. Morning Light in Many Lands (1891).

March delivered his last sermon at First Congregational Church, Woburn, Massachusetts, in July 1908.  He died in that town less than a year later–on March 2, 1909.  He was ninety-two years old.  Yet our saint’s hymn lives on in various altered forms.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 22, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SYNCLETIA OF ALEXANDRIA, DESERT MOTHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHN JULIAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT PALLOTTI, FOUNDER OF THE PALLOTINES

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Holy God, whose majesty surpasses all human definitions and capacity to grasp,

thank you for those (especially Daniel March, Sr.)

who have nurtured and encouraged the reverent worship of you.

May their work inspire us to worship you in knowledge, truth, and beauty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

1 Chronicles 25:1-8

Psalm 145

Revelation 15:1-4

John 4:19-26

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF HENRY SLOANE COFFIN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN

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