Singing the old songs

One of the things I absolutely love about my dad is his singing, and yet, if you asked people to describe him the last word they would use is singer. I’d even go so far as saying close family members wouldn’t recognise him as a soloist.

Every so often (less now-a-days sadly) he will start humming or singing a few lines of a song, I’m not even sure he knows he’s doing it; then I find myself hours later humming a tune he put in my mind.

The songs are what some people might call the ‘old Salvation Army’ songs, and perhaps are overlooked. Writers like Gowans and Larsson, Genral Albert Osbourne and of course William Booth. Older songs, but the words, oh so deep rooted.

My parents were never the type to make us pray or read the Bible, but some years ago I realised my dad, through his singing, had been teaching me the Christian message all along. I was picking up the message without being forced or coerced, unaware that it was happening. Looking back, at some of my darkest times, a song has started in my mind that, at some point in my life, he put there.

My sins they are many, their stains are so deep.
And bitter the tears of remorse that I weep;
But useless is weeping; thou great crimson sea,
Thy waters can cleanse me, come, roll over me

William Booth (1829-1912)

This, this is the God we adore
Our faithful, unchangeable friend,
Whose love is as great as his power,
And knows neither measure nor end.
‘Tis Jesus, the first and the last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We’ll praise him for all that is past,
And trust him for all that’s to come.
Joseph Hart (1712-68)

If sometimes men can live for others,
And sometimes give where gifts are spurned,
If sometimes treat their foes as brothers,
And love where love is not returned,

Then how much more shall God our Father
In love forgive, in love forgive!

John Gowans

This evening my parents were giving me a lift home and found myself humming a tune.

I only remember the words of the chorus so as soon as I got home I searched for the rest of the words and found someone singing the song on YouTube.

When from sin’s dark hold thy love had won me,
And its wounds thy tender hands had healed,
As thy blest commands were laid upon me,
Growing light my growing need revealed.
Thus I sought the path of consecration
When to thee, dear Lord, my vows were given;
And the joy which came with full salvation
Winged my feet and filled my heart with Heaven.

By the love that never ceased to hold me,
By the blood which thou didst shed for me,
While thy presence and thy power enfold me,
I renew my covenant with thee.

But my heart at times with care is crowded,
Oft I serve with weak, o’erladen hands,
And that early joy grows dim and clouded
As each day its heavy toll demands.
Have I ceased from walking close beside thee?
Have I grieved thee with an ill-kept vow?
In my heart of hearts have I denied thee?
Speak, dear Lord, O speak and tell me now.

By the love that never ceased to hold me
In a bond nor life nor death shall break,
As thy presence and thy power enfold me,
I would plead fresh covenant to make.
From before thy face, each vow renewing,
Strong in heart, with purpose pure and deep,
I will go henceforth thy will pursuing,
With my Lord unbroken faith to keep.
Will J. Brand (1889-1977)

I often feel a lot of my blogs can seem slightly negative about the Salvation Army, or at least the uniform part of it. I might even come across as someone who doesn’t like the music part of church, but I was raised on the music, even though I didn’t realise it at the time. My experience with the Salvation Army has, at times (far too many times) been difficult, painful, and un-Christ-like, but I am still here, sometimes wondering why, and yet knowing there will be a reason that God wants me here.

This morning at church, someone asked whether I was still serious about becoming an officer, and I got thinking.

I’m about to start my intern year and am looking at places I can work and opportunities for the future. Of course I also have a huge list of crafts I want to learn, courses I want to attend, knitting techniques I still haven’t mastered. I sometimes worry that I’ll not live long enough to do it all. Will I ever get to work at Rowan? will I ever write a book on Crochet dolls? Will I ever master the Shima Seiki?

But then I found myself humming, reminding myself of my covenant, and I know, as long as I follow the path, moving forward, it’ll all be fine.

Just in case any of you is interested… This is a very old grainy picture of my dad (those sideburns alone should be an arrest-able offence!)




Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

2 thoughts on “Singing the old songs

  1. Wonderfully thoughtful songs, especially this one, in these times where all we seem to see are enemies when we look at those that don’t look like us:

    “If sometimes men can live for others,
    And sometimes give where gifts are spurned,
    If sometimes treat their foes as brothers,
    And love where love is not returned,

    Then how much more shall God our Father
    In love forgive, in love forgive!”



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