Hymn The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended

Word: John Ellerton (1826-1893).
Tune: St Clement by Clement Cotteril Scholefield (1839–1904)
Meter: 9:8:9:8

The day thou gavest is one of the most popular of our evening/ evensong hymns. Evensong were times to thank God for the light and blessings of the day and request rest and safety throughout the night. Sleep was seen as a state of being that could be a transition to death. A hymn which suggests that the Lord’s name is to be praised unto the going down of the sun is "The Day Thou Gavest." This hymn was associated with Psalm 113:3: “From the rising of the sun until the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised.” 

It’s author was Canon John Ellerton, a priest in the Church of England who served for many years as a faithful and popular parish priest. Ellerton was born in Middlesex in 1826.  After completing his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was ordained in 1850.  He served curacies at Sussex before being Vicar at St. Ni­cho­las’, Bright­on, and Crewe Green [Cheshire], Hinstock [Shropshire], Barnes [London] and White Roding [Essex].

He is especially remembered for his work as a hymnologist and a significant Victorian hymn writer, a rec­og­nized au­thor­i­ty on hymns. His first publication was Hymns for Schools and Bible Classes [1859]. He was a leading member of the group that published the SPCK’s Church Hymns [1871].  His early hymns were for children and he con­trib­ut­ed to Hymns An­cient and Mo­dern, the most popular Anglican Hymnbook of the time. He wrote or trans­lat­ed over 80 hymns, which were very popular in his day.

The day thou gavest was written during his time at Cheshire. It is said that it came to him as he made his nightly walk to teach at a local Mechanic’s Institute. He actually penned it for use at missionary meetings and it is often suggested that it is more of a mission than an eventide hymn. The main theme is the growing and worldwide fellowship of the Church and the ceaseless offering of prayer and praise to God offered as the earth rolls onward into light.  The reference to evening and morning is the backdrop to this.

The poem was first published in the 1870 work A Liturgy for Missionary Meetings, edited by Frome and Hodges. The author revised it as a hymn in five stanzas for the 1871 Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge’s Church Hymns. The tune (St. Clement) was composed for this text by Clement Cotteril Scholefield, who was born on June 22, 1839, at Edgbaston in West Midlands, England, the youngest son of William Scholefield, under the watchful eye of Sir Arthur Sullivan [of Gilbert and Sullivan fame].  It is sung in triple time, as a waltz.

The hymn uses the coming of evening to ponder the Lord’s sovereignty over all the earth.

I. Stanza one (1) teaches that at evening the darkness falls

"The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended; the darkness falls at Thy behest.
To Thee our morning hymns ascended; Thy praise shall hallow now our rest."
 A. When the day is ended, it is by the behest of God that darkness falls: Gen. 1.3-5
 B. Every morning, hymns of praise should ascend to God: Ps. 5.1-2
 C. And when we pillow our heads at night for rest, His praise should hallow us: [Ps. 92.1-2]

II. Stanza two (2) teaches that at evening the church does not rest

"We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping, And rests not now by day or night."
 A. The church was built by Christ: [Matt. 16.18]
 B. While it is true that Christians must sleep, the church as a spiritual body does not rest but keeps its watch throughout the world
because it is the pillar and ground of the truth: [1 Tim. 3.15]
 C. Thus, since the earth was created so that when one part of the earth is in night the other part is in day, the church, like the living creatures who surround the throne of God, rests not day or night: [Rev. 4.8]

III. Stanza three (3) teaches that at evening the voice of prayer can be heard

"As o’er each continent and island The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent, Nor dies the strain of praise away."
 A. God ordained continents and islands on the earth so that there would be dry land: [Gen. 1.9-10]
 B. As the earth revolves, the dawn leads on to another day: [Matt. 28.1]
 C. Therefore, with dawn ever rising somewhere on earth, the voice of prayer is never silent, even as the Lord wants His people to pray without ceasing: [1 Thess. 5.17]

IV. Stanza four (4) teaches that at evening people in other places are waking to praise

"The sun, that bids us rest, is waking Our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making Thy wondrous doings heard on high."
 A. Because of the rotation of the earth, the sun appears to rise in the east and set in the west, making its seeming circuit: [Ps. 19.1-6]
 B. As the sun sets in the west, it is rising there and waking those who live in that part of the world: [Eccl. 1.5]
 C. Wherever people are awake, they can tell the wondrous works of God: [Ps. 145.4-7]

V. Stanza five (5) teaches that at evening the Throne of God still stands

"So be it, Lord; Thy Throne shall never, Like earth’s proud empires, pass away,
But stand, and rule, and grow forever, Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway."
 A. The throne of God is forever and ever: [Ps. 45.6]
 B. The kingdoms and empires of earth pass away: [Dan. 2.44]
 C. Yet God’s kingdom will continue with its aim of bringing every knee to bow to Christ and every tongue to confess that He is Lord: [Phil. 2.10-11]

This hymn is one of his finest of Canon John Ellerton, a skilled writer and poet.  The phrases are wonderfully written and celebrate the triumphant hope that God’s kingdom stands and grows forever.  It is often sung at funerals.

Ellerton refused to register a copyright on any of his hymns, claiming that if they “counted worthy to contribute to Christ's praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble."  To hear them offered in worship was reward enough for him.

Towards the end of his life John Ellerton was made a Canon of St. Alban’s Cathedral.  It is said that as he lay dying hymns flowed from his lips in unceasing praise to God.  

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