This hymn by Samuel J. Stone was printed in a biography I read recently, and it really struck me. It’s inspired by Paul’s vision of the man from Macedonia in Acts 16. I’ve made a few modifications to soften the impact of the dated language, and to “sharpen the point” a little bit. Can any of my Christian readers suggest an appropriate tune?

Through midnight gloom from Macedon,
The cry of thousands as of one;
The voiceful silence of despair
Is eloquent in fervent prayer:
The soul’s imploring, bitter cry,
“Come here and help us, or we die.”

How mournfully it echoes on,
For half the earth is Macedon;
These brothers to their brothers call,
And by the Love which loves them all,
And by the whole world’s Life they cry,
“O you that live, behold we die!”

By other sounds the world is won
Than that which wails from Macedon;
The West drowns out their desp’rate plea
Rejoicing in security
And does not heed the distant cry
“O hear and help us, lest we die!”

Yet with that cry of Macedon
The Great Commission echoes on.
“I come; who will go forth today,
In desert lands prepare My way?
My voice is crying in their cry,
Go help the dying, lest you die.”

Jesus, triumphant risen Son,
The cry is yours from Macedon;
Oh, by the kingdom and the power
And glory of your advent hour,
Wake hearts and wills to hear their cry;
Help us to help them, lest we die.

8 thoughts on “Macedon

  1. The original you linked suggests offers two tunes in MIDI format. Do you think there’s something lacking in them? But music’s not my skill–I’ll pick on the lyrics instead.

    I think your adaptation is pretty good. It pains me that adaptations are necessary, but indeed they often are. Parts of the original hymn here are pretty opaque without serious concentration, which doesn’t make for a good hymn.

    I think the third verse is both your best and worst (or maybe second worst ;-). Best in that the original is particularly difficult to follow and yours is by comparison very clear. However, ‘rejoicing in security’ gives a very different sense from the original, which focuses on wealth and self-centeredness. The original focus is the more plausible. Further, security is not often something in which one rejoices–it is more often something one takes for granted, at least after only a very short time. Thus ‘complacent in security’ would be truer than ‘rejoicing in security’. But neither seems a really plausible way of drowning out a cry. For that we need acquisitions, entertainments, glamorous self-destruction, holistic self-improvement, identical individuality and the rest of our culture, to which the original more successfully refers.

    More subtly, it may be true that the West is primarily guilty of thus ignoring the cry from Macedon (I am not qualified to say), but I find that I do not identify with ‘the West’, despite being a U.S. citizen living in the U.S.. For one, the phrase is so often used for placing blame by (apparently) self-righteous people that I tune it out. For another, it’s hard to mean much by ‘the West’ when one has little experience of anything one would label ‘the East’. In the U.S., when we talk about ‘the North’ or ‘the South,’ most have at least met people that they associate with each term even if they haven’t lived in both places. I know plenty of people from India, China, Africa, etc., but I mostly think of them as people, secondarily as members of whatever faith they profess, thirdly as american citizens if applicable, and maybe fourthly as Indians or Chinese people or whatever. It would scarcely occur to me to think of anyone as an Easterner or a Westerner. I do identify with ‘men’ in the original, and I find myself much more challenged by the original than by your version. But I am aware that my own ideas and feelings about corporate membership are rather different from those of most people, so maybe this whole paragraph is just about my personal perspective and is no more broadly applicable.

    As if this comment weren’t long enough, I do still have to pick on the first line of the last verse. The original is a pretty tortured construction, but it means something tremendously different from your version. The original might be expanded “Jesus, who for the sake of men condescended and suffered to be the Son of Man, / it is you who cries to us from Macedon.” So the original last verse presents a kind of progression: it is Jesus who suffers and identifies with the dying and calls us to help them and Jesus whose subsequent triumph enables us to help them. Your last verse excludes the condescension and suffering and thereby makes the identification less believable, a great loss not adequately justified by the improvement to readability.

    This comment is mostly negative because translating and adapting texts is a thankless job: at best, you reproduce the original, and anyone capable of reading the original itself can only nod and say, “Yep, that’s about right.” For the parts I didn’t pick on, “Yep, that’s about right.”

    -Joshua <><

  2. I happen to just plain like the original language better in almost all cases. Sorry Gerv! It is a good hymn, though.

  3. Joshua: you’ve misunderstood “rejoicing in security” – it means “rejoicing (singing) in the comfortable safety of our Western churches”, which is why we can’t hear the call from Macedon. But I can see it might be read the other way, which is a bit of a shame.

    The original phrase actually comes from elsewhere in the same biography. I have no problem with changing the sense if I feel my new words are better. Rip, mix and burn ;-) Your comment about the last verse is interesting; I’ll have to think about that.

  4. I’m in favor of rip, mix, and burn, even changing the meaning of hymns where one can make a genuine improvement. I assume, however, that anything that has been around for a while was at least moderately good to begin with, or it’s unlikely to have been preserved or chosen for adaptation. The work of the remixer has yet to pass the test of time, so the burden is on the modification to show itself an improvement. I think this position both rational a priori and borne out by experience: most adaptations of earlier ‘classic’ works are regarded at least as lacking something important versus the original, with the majority considered inferior across the board. I thought most of your rephrasing was, if not an improvement absolutely, at least an improvement for some contemporary purposes. The places I pointed out were the ones where I thought your adaptation fell short.

    Re: “rejoicing in security,” it would have taken me some time to read it that way. Now that I do, I have to say it’s worse. Construed as you meant it, this change is either contrary both to scripture and common sense or else dulls the point considerably. In the original, this section is meant as something of a rebuke, or at least a lament about people focusing on themselves and wealth to the exclusion of missionary work, and the general form leads us to expect the same in the modified version, even without refernce to the original. But are Westerners to be rebuked for rejoicing while secure? If they are indeed safe and secure (which I find doubtful), it’s certainly not obvious that they are secure because of some wrongdoing on their part. And even material security is in itself a good thing. Besides, security is pretty irrelevant to the question, since Macedon cries out not because it is under physical attack but because the Macedonians do not know the gospel and their souls are likely to perish. Rejoicing is even less open to criticism. Rejoicing doesn’t mean ‘singing’ any more than it means ‘smiling,’ but both rejoicing and singing are commanded by the apostles (“Rejoice. Rejoice! I’ll say it again: rejoice!”, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord”) specifically as things that the church ought to do when it assembles. On the other hand, if this is merely an observation that the western church is joyful and safe and not a criticism, it certainly loses a lot of bite and begs the question of what those happy states have to do with not being missionaries. I think you have in mind something like , and perhaps others who already know what you mean will read the same into it, but what you actually wrote doesn’t really work at all.

    -Joshua <><

  5. Joshua: I take your point about letting things stand the test of time – although I’d classify this one as a forgotten gem rather than a well-known classic.

    Perhaps it would help if I quoted the section of the biography (of J. Hudson Taylor) which inspired verse 3:

    “On Sunday, June 25, 1865, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told Him that all the responsibilities as to issues and consequences must rest with Him; that as His servant, it was mine to obey and to follow Him � His to direct, to care for, and to guide me and those who might labor with me. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?”

    The major outcome of this experience was the founding of the China Inland Mission (now OMF), which has been greatly used by God to bring the gospel to China.

    So my version, like the original, is a rebuke. Westerners are to be rebuked for rejoicing while secure, if they have no mind to others who don’t know Christ and so who don’t have that security.

  6. Joshua: I’ve finally had time to consider your comments on the first line of the last verse. While I agree the emphasis is different in my version, it is consistent with the rest of the verse, which talks about the second coming, and so makes the modified version progress sensibly within itself. The new point being: “we need to recognise that Jesus is who he is, triumphant, victorious, reigning and soon to return, and therefore we ask him to strengthen us to help the ‘Macedonians’ – Christians labouring unsupported in far-off lands”.