Now Let The Angel Song Break Forth!
Author: Rev. M. D. Conway, December 1863
Source: Moncure Daniel Conway, Autobiography, memories and experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway. Volume 1. (Houghton, Mifflin and company, 1904), pp. 370-372.
Now let the angel song break forth!
For night shall never more be night;
A quenchless star climbs o'er the earth,
A torch lit up from God's own light.
There where the watching shepherds pressed,
Where Eastern seers bowed them low, --
From pole to pole, from east to west,
See the world's tidal pulses flow!
I saw the warrior on the plain
Pause i that light to sheathe his sword;
I saw the slave look up in pain, --
Chains melted in the fires it poured.
Thou, God, who givest our night this star,
Whose circling arm excludeth none.
Gather our treasures from afar,
To the soul's monarch inly born.
Kindle thy blessed sign again,
For the New World a Christ's new birth,
When to our cry, Good-will to men,
The heavens shall answer, Peace on earth!
Written in December, 1863, during the War Between the States in the United States, and just days before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an event that this minister and his friends were anxiously anticipating.
The following is his account of a service that he attended on December 31:
On the eve of New Year's Day, 1863, we made up a little party at the
Stephensons' in Boston to attend Watch Night in the African church. Young
William Lloyd Garrison and his sister Fanny (now Mrs. Villard) were with us. We
arrived about half-past eleven, and though the church was much crowded, the
Garrisons were recognized and good places found for us, — the only whites
present. In opening the meeting the black preacher said, in words whose eloquent
shortcomings I cannot reproduce: "Brethren and sisters, the President of the
United States has promised that, if the Confederates do not lay down their arms,
he will free all their slaves tomorrow. They have not laid down their arms.
To-morrow will be the day of liberty to the oppressed.
But we all know that evil powers are around the President. While we sit here they are trying to make him break his word. But we have come this Watch Night to watch and see that he does not break his word. Brethren, the bad influence near the President tonight is stronger than Copperheads. The old serpent is abroad to-night, with all his emissaries, in great power. His wrath is great, because he knows his hour is near. He will be in this church this evening. As midnight comes on we shall hear his rage. But, brethren and sisters, don't be alarmed. Our prayers will prevail. His head will be bruised. His back will be broke. He will go raging back to hell, and God Almighty's New Year will make the United States a true land of freedom."
The sensation caused by these words was profound. They were interrupted by frequent cries of "Glory!" and there were tears of joy. But the excitement that followed was indescribable. A few minutes before midnight the congregation were requested to kneel, which we all did, and prayer succeeded prayer with increasing fervour and amid shouts of rapture. Presently a loud prolonged hiss was heard. There were cries, " He's here! he's here!" Then came a volley of hisses ; they proceeded from every part of the house, — hisses so entirely like those of huge serpents that the strongest nerves were shaken; above them rose the preacher's prayer, gradually becoming a wild incantation, and ecstatic ejaculations became so universal that it was a marvel what voices were left to make the hisses. Finally the strokes of midnight sounded, and immediately the hisses diminished and gradually died away as if outside the building. Then the New Year of jubilee that was to bring freedom to millions of slaves was ushered in by the chorus of all present singing a hymn of victory.
The hymn was the old Methodist " Year of Jubilee," which I had so many years heard sung in Virginia by the negroes when their night was without any star save that burning in their faith.
Blow ye the trumpet, blow
The gladly solemn sound:
Let all the nations know,
To earth's remotest bound,
The year of jubilee is come;
Return, ye ransom'd sinners, home !
We all joined hands, standing up, and Fanny Garrison (who was beside me) and I sang with ecstasy, until our voices broke with the overpowering emotion.