- - Sunday, April 12, 2020

This song is 50 years old.  Many of you have never heard it, or at least you think you haven’t. But if you listen carefully, something about its lyrics might sound vaguely familiar. Something about its melody might rekindle emotions long-forgotten. Something about its message might stir your soul. 

As you relax in the rhythm of its poetry, you may find your memory pricked and feel a wisp of nostalgia. You might smile a bit as you remember days gone by, simpler times when you were visiting older members of your family who might have been Christians, and you were “forced” to listen to their music.  

Maybe it was a visit to grandma and grandpa’s house? Or it might have been a week at the cottage with your aunts and uncles? Or perhaps it was just listening to your mom singing her favorite hymns in the kitchen as she washed the dishes or prepared the evening meal? 

For me, this song is haunting. It was all over the place when I was in my early teens. It was one of the “go-to” songs for summer camps. It was the predictable crescendo for many Sunday services. Every religious radio station played it ad nauseam. All the “unwoke” people (i.e., everyone over 35) had it in their collection of 8-track tapes. It was pervasive, so much so that it still sticks with me even though I haven’t heard it for probably more than 40 years.

Now, I have to admit that many of us listening to it back when we were kids — when the song was popular — wondered how the things this song spoke of could ever happen. 

How could “the marketplace” every be empty? How could anyone stop builders, farmers, merchants, bankers, teachers, lawyers and judges from doing their jobs? How could “all work on earth be suspended?” How was it possible to shut down an entire world’s economy all at once? 

What this song portended just seemed to be the stuff of Orwell and Huxley or maybe the scare tactics of a handful of apocalyptic preachers. But it was not the stuff of reality. It was just too much of a stretch. A bridge too far. 

But today? 

Today, as we sit shuttered in our homes and apartments,

Today, as we watch businesses across the globe cease to function,

Today, as we look out our windows and see empty “marketplaces” and “empty streets,” 

Today, as entire nations bow in subservience to government-imposed “social distancing,” 

Today, as Christians and Jews bow in submission to those who demand we close our doors and cancel our services,

Today, as we watch all these things unfold,

Maybe today is the day for us to remember this simplistic old gospel song, pull it off the shelf (or find it online), and listen to it again. Despite it being written half a century ago, it reads as if it is last night’s news:  

“The marketplace is empty, 

no more traffic in the streets;

All the builders’ tools are silent, no more time to harvest wheat;

Busy housewives cease their labors, in the courtroom no debate;

Work on earth is all suspended as the King comes thro’ the gate.” (Bill Gather, 1970)

This song is so eerily prophetic you can’t help but ask at least a couple of questions. 

How was its composer able to foresee our present-day crisis so accurately? How did he know all this? And who is this “king” that he speaks of? Is it a president? Is it a prime minister? Perhaps it’s a member of Great Britain’s royal family? Or maybe someone from Saudi Arabia’s House of Saud? Who will this benevolent monarch be? 

Well, another song (written over 200 years ago and composed by Charles Wesley) actually answers the question:  

“Lives again our glorious King,

Where, O death, is now thy sting? 

Once He died our souls to save, 

Where thy victory, O grave? 

“Hail the Lord of earth and heaven,

Praise to Thee by both be given, 

Thee we greet triumphant now, 

Hail the Resurrection, thou!” 

Who is this King we speak of?  

He is the resurrected Christ!  

And, as to the question of how a composer could foresee our present world’s crisis so accurately some 50 years ago, well, to put it bluntly, he read his Bible. With all the downtime we now have, we might do well to do the same:  

Happy Easter! Long live the True King!

• Everett Piper, former president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, is a columnist for The Washington Times and author of “Not A Day Care: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery 2017).

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