Fun fact, albeit one that adds little to our understanding of the hymn: The lyrics were written by Mary Ann Morton Durham, and the tune was written by Alfred M. Durham, her nephew.
As BJ pointed out on Monday, many LDS hymns additional verses that aren’t traditionally sung, and in order to get a full understanding of the hymn, we ought to look at the full text. This hymn has seven verses, only three of which are usually sung in our meetings. Those three verses are nice, but having read the last four over, it feels a shame that we miss them most of the time.
As the title suggests, this hymn is about the comfort the gospel brings us. The teachings and counsel we’re given, though they seem restrictive, are actually for our protection and “show a Father’s care.” They aren’t fences built to prevent us from getting out; they’re fences built to keep destructive forces at bay. We see the Father’s love in the gospel, and it brings us sweet peace.
Those fences, however, are only as effective as we let them be. A fence doesn’t do you much good when you leave the gate open, nor is it much use if you’re standing on the wrong side. The fourth verse reminds us that while the gospel brings us peace, it’s at least partially up to us to ensure that it stays with us:
May we who know the sacred Name
From every sin depart.
Then will the Spirit’s constant flame
Preserve us pure in heart.
The “sacred Name” isn’t a big secret only known to a select few. It’s the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. This is less an issue of knowing His name and more one of choosing to take it upon ourselves. When we do that at baptism, we promise to be obedient to His teachings, and as we do so, we can have His spirit to be with us to guide us in the right way. We are reminded of that promise every week as we take the sacrament. As we do our best to avoid making mistakes and to live up to our promise, in time, our desire to sin is taken from us, as we hear in the fifth and sixth verses:
Ere long the tempter’s power will cease,
And sin no more annoy,
No wrangling sects disturb our peace,
Or mar our heartfelt joy.
That which we have in part received
Will be in part no more,
For he in whom we all believe
To us will all restore.
The goal, in the long run, is a reunion with our Savior as we are welcomed back into His presence. Sin will have no power over us in that day, as we feel the “heartfelt joy” of being reunited not only with our Lord, but also with friends and family who have gone before. We won’t have a partial, indirect relationship with our Redeemer, but a direct one, where we can speak with Him face to face. All will be restored to us: health, relationships, purity, and joy.
And yet, there’s that phrase “ere long.” How long? I don’t get the sense that this is a day that will come any time soon. We’re to look forward to that day, preparing ourselves through righteous living, but it probably won’t be next week. It probably won’t be within the next fifty years. We work our hardest to remove things from our lives that keep us from feeling that gospel peace. We try to avoid sin, doubt, and apathy. We fall short, and we pick ourselves up again. And we fall short, and we pick ourselves up again.
The road is long. We push forward, trying our best to endure to the end. And as we do, we could sing the seventh verse to help us keep pushing:
In patience, then, let us possess
Our souls till he appear.
On to our mark of calling press;
Redemption draweth near.
In our patience we possess our souls. We remember that the journey is long, and that there are no shortcuts. As we stick to the path, we are secure in the knowledge that we’re headed to an end in which God Himself shall wipe our tears away. We possess our souls as we stay within the bounds He has set for us, standing behind the fence and feeling the sweet peace of knowing that even if the journey is long, we are in the right way.