Song XI

Now from the altar of my heart

All John Mason's hymns were written in the same metre, yet he can produce both the grandeur of How shall I sing that majesty and the gentleness of this evening hymn.  Together, they show Mason's strong sense of the greatness and the providence of God, His transcendence and yet His closeness.  We see again Mason's personal relationship with God, expressed so strongly in I've found the pearl of greatest price.  And, as in How shall I sing that majesty, he asks God to help him worship.

The opening of this hymn is based on Psalm 141: 'Let my prayer be set before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice'.  Striking imagery often makes his hymns memorable.  In the second/third verse the ingenious small-scale picture of life as a book, with the pages days and every letter a mercy, contrasts with the vast images of sea and sun in How shall I sing that majesty.  Both end with thoughts about time and eternity.

This modern version below is unusual in being the same length and verse form as the original.  As can be seen from the earlier version at the bottom of the page, the only variation, apart from punctuation and capitalisation, is that the second half of verse three below appears as the first half of verse two in Mason, with all the other half verses moving down one place. It is shown alongside O thou who camest from above, as Charles Wesley (1707-1788) may have drawn on Mason’s hymn.
A Song of Praise for the Evening

Now from the altar of my heart 
    Let incense flames arise; 
Assist me, Lord, to offer up 
    Mine evening sacrifice. 
Awake, my love! Awake, my joy! 
    Awake, my heart and tongue! 
Sleep not: when mercies loudly call, 
    Break forth into a song.

This day God was my Sun and Shield, 
    My Keeper and my Guide; 
His care was on my frailty shown, 
    His mercies multiplied. 
Minutes and mercies multiplied 
    Have made up all this day; 
Minutes came quick but mercies were 
    More fleet and free than they.

New time, new favour, and new joys 
    Do a new song require; 
Till I shall praise Thee as I would, 
    Accept my heart’s desire. 
Man’s life’s a book of history, 
    The leaves thereof are days, 
The letters mercies closely joined, 
    The title is Thy praise.

Lord of my time, whose hand hath set 
    New time upon my score, 
Then I shall praise for all my time, 
    When time shall be no more.

As it appears in the 1859 edition
Now from the Altar of my Heart 
    Let Incense-Flames arise; 
Assist me, Lord, to offer up 
    Mine Evening Sacrifice. 
Awake, my Love; Awake, my Joy; 
    Awake, my Heart and Tongue: 
Sleep not: when Mercies loudly call,. 
    Break forth into a Song.

Man's Life's a Book of History, 
    The Leaves thereof are Days, 
The Letters Mercies closely join'd, 
    The Title is thy Praise. 
This Day God was my Sun and Shield, 
    My Keeper and my Guide; 
His Care was on my Frailty shewn, 
    His Mercies multiply'd.
O thou who camest from above

O thou who camest from above 
    The fire celestial to impart, 
Kindle a flame of sacred love 
    On the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for thy glory burn 
    With inextinguishable blaze, 
And trembling to its source return 
    In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire 
    To work and speak and think for thee; 
Still let me guard the holy fire 
    And still stir up the gift in me.

Still let me prove thy perfect will, 
    My acts of faith and love repeat; 
Till death thy endless mercies seal, 
    And make the sacrifice complete. 

of Mason’s Songs of Praise 
Minutes and Mercies multiply'd, 
    Have made up all this Day: 
Minutes came quick, but Mercies were 
    More fleet and free than they. 
New Time, new Favour, and new Joys" 
    Do a new Song require: 
Till I shall praise Thee as I would, 
    Accept my Heart's desire.

Lord of my Time, whose Hand hath set 
    New Time upon my Score; 
Then shall I praise for all my Time, 
    When Time shall be no more.