The phrase “the evening and the morning,” repeated throughout the first chapter of Genesis, underscores life’s daily-ness. In case you haven’t noticed, life is very daily: It happens one day at a time. Each day, part of life’s rhythm of work and rest is therefore to be joyfully and gratefully stewarded as God’s gift to us.
This has inspired morning and evening hymns, to elicit pause and assist our praise at both ends of the day: at morning, for new mercies, fresh grace, unsoiled opportunities; at evening, for blessings received, work accomplished, dangers escaped, and sins forgiven.
Therefore, having featured Harriet Beecher Stowe’s morning hymn (“Still, Still, With Thee”), it seems fitting to include one written for evening. Among evening hymns, one of which made it into CoG7’s Worship in Song (“Day Is Dying in the West,” #333), my favorite is John Ellerton’s “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended.” The simple yet elegant tone of this nineteenth century hymn endears many to it. Its worldview provides helpful perspective: Though it often doesn’t seem like it, God is in charge of the world. Thus, its hopeful ending: “But stand, and rule, and grow forever, ‘till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.” What a comforting note on which to end a toilsome and anxious day.
But this hymn’s predominant emphasis is the church’s unceasing prayers and praise, set in relation to the sun’s daily circuit around the earth. (Psalm 19:4-6 is clearly on Ellerton’s mind as he penned these lines.) The sun beckons night in one place as it awakens dawn in another, causing round-the-clock prayers and praise to rise from the worldwide fellowship of God’s people: “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.” The sun always shines somewhere, as somewhere the lips of the saints are always being heard. God lives and gives unto each day what He deems best.
Evening hymns help us value the gift of each day, given by the One who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Psalm 121:4). They help us connect “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) with “Bless be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19). They amplify the meaning of Jesus’ admonition to not worry about tomorrow, for each day has sufficient trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34), and give us confidence in God’s promise to match our strength with the demands of each day (Deuteronomy 33:25).
So sing an evening hymn. His praise shall sanctify your rest.
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,/The darkness falls at Thy behest;/To Thee our morning hymns ascended,/Thy praise shall sanctify our 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. . . .
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.
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.