Edmund Hamilton Sears was born into a farming family on April 6, 1810, in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, USA. He won a poetry prize during his school years and maintained a poetic and even mystical quality about his Christian ministry throughout his life.
It is his great Christmas hymn that promotes his place in Christian history.
In 1846 he wrote:
It came upon a midnight clear,
that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold…
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Against a background of “his fellow citizens killing Mexicans that they might enslave more Negroes, and the Civil War looming on the horizon”, Sears struck a message of hope and peace.
For, lo, the days are hastening one
by prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
comes ’round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world gives back the song
which now the angels sing.
Whilst most of today’s congregations would sing this, thinking of the Lord’s Return and the glory that will follow, such was not the meaning of the author.
Rev E H Sears was pastor of a Unitarian Church that looked for the triumph of Christ’s teachings in the here and now. It is doubtful that he even believed in the Second Coming. Some books quote him as saying that he wrote “I believe and preach the Divinity of Christ” – but what he meant by ‘divinity’ and what others mean by it could be two different things.
Not only was he a Unitarian pastor of various churches (1859-1870), but he also held to the curious occultic teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg!
Sears wrote some 500 hymns, including another Christmas carol, “Calm on the List’ning Ear of Night”. He also wrote The Fourth Gospel, the Heart of Christ, which is his most scholarly work and expresses his life-long fascination with the person of Jesus Christ.
Edmund Sears died on January 14, 1876, in Weston, Massachusetts.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com
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