August 2012


Words by Robert Robinson (1735-1790)

It is not unusual that we have reached a hymn that is unfamiliar to me. While growing up in the tradition that included our hymnal of study, there were selections that were often over-looked or just plain skipped as we sang our Sunday morning worship tunes. This is one of those hymns. So unfamiliar was it that it did not make it to the editors’ last selection in any of the other hymnals in my library. Nevertheless, we will look at these words and see what we can find there. Perhaps it will be a revived hymn that returns to future hymnals.

The Hymn

  1. Mighty God, while angels bless Thee,
    May a mortal sing Thy Name?
    Lord of men as well as angels,
    Thou art every creature’s theme.
    Lord of every land and nation,
    Ancient of eternal days.
    Sounded through the wide creation
    Be Thy just and endless praise.
  2. For the grandeur of Thy nature,
    Grand beyond a seraph’s thought;
    For the wonders of creation,
    Works with skill and kindness wrought.
    For Thy providence, that governs,
    Through Thine empire’s wide domain,
    Wings an angel, guides a sparrow,
    Blessèd be Thy gentle reign.
  3. For Thy rich, Thy free redemption,
    Bright, though veiled in darkness long,
    Thought is poor, and poor expression;
    Who can sing that wondrous song?
    Brightness of the Father’s glory,
    Shall Thy praise unuttered lie?
    Break, my tongue, such guilty silence!
    Sing the Lord Who came to die.
  4. From the highest throne of glory
    To the cross of deepest woe,
    All to ransom guilty captives;
    Flow my praise, forever flow!
    Reascend, immortal Savior;
    Leave Thy footstool, take Thy throne;
    Thence return, and reign forever,
    Be the kingdom all Thine own! (Source for Hymn Words: Cyber Hymnal)

Scriptural Connection

This is a hymn of general praise. Therefore it would be good to find a connection in the Psalms. One suggestion is Psalm 47:7 – God is the King of all the earth; sing to Him a psalm of praise.”

Another possibility might be to look to Paul’s letter to the Philippian church (Philippians 2:9-11) where we learn that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

What does it mean?

Verse one of this hymn calls for the worship of God. Why? It is because worshiping God is the right (or “just” as stated in the last line) response to God. One tricky bit of terminology that should be addressed in stanza one is the reference to the Ancient of Days. This is a title that has been attributed to the Creator from the bygone days of Biblical history. God is the “Ancient” because of His existence before the world began. In our hymn today He is the “Ancient of eternal days” because He is ever-existent.

The oxymora that open stanza three are classic in their poesy. The redemption that is both rich and free at the same time. This is a gospel appeal. The hymn writer also reminds us that this redemption is not understood by many, but that those who do find it see it in its brightness.

Another troubling word might be “reascend” found in stanza 4. The poet is calling for Christ (the Savior) to take his rightful place in Heaven’s throne room.

A final word about this hymn that may be helpful is that Robinson is questioning (several times through the hymn) if humans—lowly and unworthy as we are—should have the ability or even be allowed to praise God (right along with the angels). Notice that he suggests that our best praise will be compared to a person who always speaks with a lisp. He also indicates that the highest thoughts and expressions known to man are too poor in quality to sing the praise of the Maker/Savior/Master (read verse 3 again).

The conclusion is that even though our praise is poor, it must be expressed—and we must sing right alongside the angels and all of Creation.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

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Words by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), tr. by William H. Draper (1855-1933)

(Also included in Baptist Hymnal – 1975 ed. #9; 1991 ed. #27; 2008 ed. #11; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1967 – #24; The Celebration Hymnal, Word/Integrity, Waco, 1997 – #63; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration/Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1951 – #232; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #64)

The Hymn

1.     All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2.     Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3.      Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
4.      Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

5.      And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
6.      And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
7.      Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
(hymn words accessed from Cyber Hymnal)

[Bold print indicates verses included in our study hymnal.]

Scriptural Connection

Because this is a hymn of praise it is no wonder that hymn collectors over the years have chosen any one of a number of the praise Psalms as the connection for this hymn. For a reference among these many you might connect with Psalm 66, Psalm 100, or Psalm 104 (the latter is popular among many hymnal editors).

What does it mean?

This is a hymn that calls all of Creation into the worship hall of praise. Francis of Assisi having been renowned for his love of nature and his desire to make connection between the creation and its Creator it is not surprising that he would pen this great hymn of our faith.

As you can see, there were a number of stanzas penned for this hymn of faith. The writer calls on the heavenly bodies as well as the animals and all of Nature to adore the God who made them. The final verse points us to the Trinity—which indicates the orthodox belief in One God in Triune Being (Father, Son, and Spirit) (see the post on “Holy! Holy! Holy!” for more on the Trinity).

Archaic language that might be cumbersome for the modern reader/singer of this hymn would include the “Thou” and “Ye” references. These are both words of second person address. While some might opt for changing these references to “you” for the modern reader, the ancient language offers something that we miss out on today. Namely the use of a “thou” rather than “you” indicates the close family/friend relationship between children and parents or brothers and sisters. One misconception is that to use the term “thee” or “thou” in addressing a person is more formal than the simple “you.” Quite the opposite is true. The thought that Christ is closer than a brother for the believer touches on the endearment of using such language. A second reason to keep the language from the 19th Century translation/paraphrase is the poetic nature of Shakespearean English.

This same language helps us to see the connection that St. Francis draws between mankind and the rest of creation. This also gives an ear to Christ’s assertion that if people ceased to praise God, then all of Nature would do it. (see Luke 19:28-40 for the story.)

Some later hymn collectors (including the editors of the two latest versions of Baptist Hymnals) added the words commonly known as Old 100 (or Doxology) as a verse of conclusion for this hymn. The main reason to do this is to give the practice of praise to those voices called into praise. St. Francis has called us to worship, now let us worship.

*Hymn numbers for this series’ titles are from the Baptist Hymnal, 1956 edition, Nashville, Convention Press.

Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

(Also included in The Broadman Hymnal, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1940 – #19; Baptist Hymnal – 1975 ed. #58; 1991 ed. #208; 2008 ed. #172; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1967 – #45; The Celebration Hymnal, Word/Integrity, Waco, 1997 – #648; Voice of Praise, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1947 – #4; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration/Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1951 – #83; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #92)

Charles Wesley is one of the most beloved hymn writers of the church. His hymns are sung in churches of a variety of stripes and spots. This one is an examination of the work of Salvation, grounded in love.

The Hymn

  1. Love divine, all loves excelling,
    Joy of heaven to earth come down;
    Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
    All thy faithful mercies crown!
    Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
    Pure unbounded love Thou art;
    Visit us with Thy salvation;
    Enter every trembling heart.
  2. Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
    Into every troubled breast!
    Let us all in Thee inherit;
    Let us find that second rest.
    Take away our bent to sinning;
    Alpha and Omega be;
    End of faith, as its Beginning,
    Set our hearts at liberty.
  3. Come, Almighty to deliver,
    Let us all Thy life receive;
    Suddenly return and never,
    Never more Thy temples leave.
    Thee we would be always blessing,
    Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
    Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
    Glory in Thy perfect love.
  4. Finish, then, Thy new creation;
    Pure and spotless let us be.
    Let us see Thy great salvation
    Perfectly restored in Thee;
    Changed from glory into glory,
    Till in heaven we take our place,
    Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
    Lost in wonder, love, and praise. (source for Hymn lyrics:  Cyber Hymnal)

Some hymn collectors choose a few variations on the lyrics. For instance in the originally published version from 1743 Wesley writes in verse 2: “Let us find that second rest/Take away our power of sinning” – in verse 3: “Let us all Thy life receive” – and in verse 4: “Pure and sinless let us be.” Changes from the printed version above change the words “that second rest” to “the promised rest” in an apparent attempt to move the thought from the underlying scene of death (the “first” rest) to heaven—which one would assume is Wesley’s intention.

The exchange of “power” for the phrase “bent to” is generally accepted as a more theologically preferred term reserving power for God’s power to love and to save, and removing an idea of power in the hands of those who sin. Sin is our typical reaction, which is replaced by God’s love.

The replacement of the word “life” in stanza three with the word “grace” would seem to have more to do with a desire of the hymn collector to emphasize God’s grace in the act of Salvation than the life that is the result of that act.

The final exchange of words—verse 4 “sinless” to “spotless”—is more of a poetic than doctrinal one, which doesn’t seem to affect the power of the words.

Scriptural Connection

General consensus among hymnal editors focuses this lyric on its stated title—“Love Divine” or God’s love. I John 4:16 is chosen as the scriptural connection: And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (KJV)

What does it mean?

The love of God is the power to salvation. It is embodied in Jesus (see verse 1, lines 5 and 6). Wesley presents an evangelistic zeal here with a note that his desire is for “every trembling heart” to experience the salvation of Christ. With each stanza, Wesley creates a fuller and deeper portrait of God’s saving love. He assures the worshiper that not only does salvation begin with God, but it is God who completes the work, cleansing our sinfulness and sinful nature. In this the Love of God moves beyond all other loves that can be experienced by humanity.

*Hymn # refers to the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal, Convention Press, Nashville, TN

Words by Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

(Also included in The Broadman Hymnal, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1940 – #6; Baptist Hymnal – 1975 ed. #1; 1991 ed. #2; 2008 ed. #68; Favorite Hymns of Praise, Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1967 – #2; The Celebration Hymnal, Word/Integrity, Waco, 1997 – #3; Voice of Praise, Broadman Press, Nashville, 1947 – #126; Inspiring Hymns, Singspiration/Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1951 – #20; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #262; Heavenly Highways Hymns, second edition, Stamps-Baxter/Brentwood-Benson, Franklin, TN, 1989 – #1)

This old hymn has been included in numerous volumes of hymnals. As you can see from the list of my personal collection (I don’t think Heber’s hymn was excluded from any hymnal I own), this is a favorite song of praise. It remains a favorite for many Christians today.

The Hymn

  1. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
    Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
  2. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
    Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
    Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
    Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.
  3. Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
    Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
    Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
    Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.
  4. Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
    All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
    Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessed Trinity! (source for Hymn words: Timeless Truths)

Scriptural Connection

These words, Heber’s paraphrase of Revelation 4.8-11, first appeared in a collection of hymns as early as 1826 (see William J. Reynolds, Companion to Baptist Hymnal, Nashville: Broadman Press, pp. 88-89). Several hymnals include verse 8 of this passage as a reference point for the worshiper. We are called to worship by the four creatures surrounding God’s throne as they cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!”

Another possibility for connection is suggested by the editors of the 1991 edition of the Baptist Hymnal: Isaiah 6.3. In Isaiah 6 the prophet is in the Temple praying at the occasion of the death of the beloved king Uzziah. Here he has a vision of God and of angels crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.”

In both cases the reader/singer is called into a spirit of worship and praise of the only One worthy of such praise. We can be pretty confident that this song is meant for the purpose of the worship of God Almighty.

What does it mean?

Scripturally the triple repetition suggests perfection. Thus, when we hear the creatures or the angels, or when we ourselves proclaim, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” we can know that the One we are describing or addressing is the ultimate of holiness—sacredness particularly set apart from known worldliness. Each verse gives us another note on our praise:

Verse one teaches us to begin our praise of God—the Holy One, the Almighty One, the Trinity (see the teaching at the end of the verse: “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!”)—as the very first thought of our day. Verse two draws our mind to the picture drawn by John in the book of Revelation. The saints of all time—that is those who have accepted the Gospel—are bowing down before God and Christ, tossing their crowns at His feet. This is a symbol of giving honor and accolade to One who deserves all our rewards. The setting is given as the “glassy sea” which is a reference to the pure, clear waters of Heaven. We are also told that the angels themselves (cherubim and seraphim) worship Him, too. Verse three reminds us of our unworthiness before the Christ. We cannot see Him, we cannot look upon Him because we are sinful, and He is holy. And verse four teaches us that not only does mankind praise God, but all of creation does—because He is God.

If you have opportunity to sing this hymn in church in the near future, take a moment to consider all that is being told about God and who He is in the words penned so long ago, and see if these very words don’t draw you into the presence of Lord God Almighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

*Hymn # refers to the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal, Convention Press, Nashville, TN

A couple of years ago I started what I thought would be a nice devotional moment for the week. Like many of my ideas for this blog, when the new wore off, my imagination ran out. I think the difficulty with the original “Weekly Hymnsing” series is that I wanted to just pick my favorite hymns and blast you with what a wonder they were to me. I may still do this kind of thing from time to time, but will not label it “weekly” nor will it be part of this series. Now, I have a little more direction for this article (which I hope to present on Mondays if I can keep my discipline up).  I’ll start with a bit of background, suggest my premise and in my next post begin the actual “singing.”

Background

My Blushing Bride shared a conversation she had recently. A young Christian woman who happened to be working with my Bride for a time said that she knew she should be in church, but that the hymns didn’t hold any meaning for her. She wished that someone would write a book of definitions to help her understand what the hymns were saying. Note that she was not necessarily interested in changing the songs sung in worship (which is what we church people often think is the answer when someone doesn’t understand) but asking for help in knowing what these great hymns of faith that she knew held great meaning meant. (It’s okay to read that sentence two or three times to see if I said what I meant to say–because I did.)

One solution that some worship leaders are latching onto today is to change some of the archaic language so that it speaks to the hearts of modern worshipers. I don’t have a big issue with this, because we do much the same thing when we translate a hymn from one language to another so that it can be sung in a praiser’s native tongue. I do think sometimes though that the changing of the language weakens what is being said (and sometimes we can strengthen a lyric by adjusting a word).

Let me illustrate both sides to that coin: With a mind to “modernizing” an old hymn some have changed the following lyric from Fanny J. Crosby’s hymn “To God Be the Glory” (find it in verse three) — “But purer and higher and greater will be/Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.” Some modern hymnals (not all) have opted to exchange the word “transport”  for the contraction “vict’ry” (I’ve seen this mostly in Baptist Hymnology). While this change may seem insignificant and address some of the concerns that some hymnological theologian might dream up, the depth of what Crosby said in that one word, transport, is missed.

At other times, I find myself changing words that speak more to me than the author’s original. For example, I like to listen to or to sing “God of Wonders” written by Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong. It is a song that draws our attention to the greatness of our God. However, when I reach the chorus instead of the written “God of wonders beyond our galaxy” I sing, “God of wonders beyond all galaxies.” I don’t think that I’m misinterpreting the authors’ original intent here, but adding a vastness that they would perhaps agree with.

Action Plan

So what do I propose? I will start with my favorite hymnal–that is the Baptist Hymnal 1956 edition–and work through the text of the hymns there. These will necessarily be older hymns because the book is older than I am. (And I’m pushing half a century.) In doing this I want to try to find the Scriptural basis for the hymn, dissect the language to shine a little light on some of the more archaic terminology. I’ll also try to include a variety of hymnals which include the week’s choice. And when appropriate, I’ll try to include a little history of the hymn and maybe even include a devotional thought.
Recently and older minister (now retired) shared with me his view of hymns. In preface, he remarked that he was not complaining, and then he proceeded to do just that. His statement was that the older hymns always included the Gospel message. I don’t want to disagree with that statement outright, but I believe that our study to follow will help us get to that point–namely, do all the hymns include the Gospel or is it just a perception by those who have determined that the praise songs and choruses of the 1980s and ’90s are worthless. This won’t be our focus, but it will be interesting to see if this assumption is good or not.

With all of this in mind, join me each Monday as we learn more about what the ancient hymn writers were saying. Keep in mind that my background is in theology, literature and history (with my comfort being in the order I’ve listed these areas) and not necessarily hymnody, so if I don’t understand why a hymn would be included/excluded from a particular edition of a hymnal, then you can trust that it’s because I’m probably talking out of school on this one.

Or whatever you want to call it.  This will sound suspiciously like a rant, and may I apologize in advance for that. Now, on to the show:

I just received an e-mail from our wonderful state Baptist offices. You have them in your state too.  Some of you may even have more than one form. And within the confines of the attached invitation, I discovered that there are those who don’t really understand Southern Baptist Life. (Admittedly, such life has morphed and transmuted and otherwise distorted itself over the years that perhaps I’m the one who doesn’t understand, but let’s go with this for now.) I learned in reading that missive that the event advertised is a free event “provided through generous donations to the Cooperative Program.” (emphasis mine)

I love my fellow workers in this not so southern state where Southern Baptists are still seen as interlopers on northern soils, but to misunderstand the Cooperative Program (or even to change it to fit a form that those outside the SBC would recognize) is to reach a total misconception of who Southern Baptists have historically been.

A Quick History Lesson

The Cooperative Program (CP) was developed in the mid 1920s as a response to the Southern Baptist charge to help churches to fund the various missions/ministry efforts chosen by the convention, and to do so outside of the Society concept. In the old society method, representatives would come to churches to sell their particular cause. If a particularly good communicator showed up, a church might remove support from a prior ministry and funnel those funds toward the nice speaker’s cause. Another difficulty arose when so many good/worthy causes were presented to the churches: so much was being sent to these efforts that churches were having trouble keeping up with local on-going needs. On top of this, pastors were asked to relinquish their pulpits so often that they rarely had ample opportunity to preach the Word.

And so the CP was born. This new concept (growing out of a unified effort of fund-raising previously devised by the convention) was indeed that–a new concept. Simply put, the idea was to ask churches to designate an amount–whatever amount deemed appropriate to the local congregation (eventually the SBC narrowed its encouragement on a goal of 10% of undesignated gifts to the church) to send cooperatively in order to pay ongoing costs of the Convention.

Until recent years, this method has been the well-worn practice of Southern Baptists. During the last couple of decades (has it really been that long?), we have changed and whittled the CP to something that it is not. It has only been in the last few years that churches have been allowed by convention ruling to include designated giving in their CP funds. We have always been given the privilege to designate gifts, but for a gift to be considered CP, it was given with no strings attached–if you were dissatisfied with where CP money was spent, you made a trek to the annual SBC meeting and voiced your opinion as a duly elected messenger (not delegate–that’s a whole different post), hoping to convince the budget and finance committee of the convention to redirect funds to a more appropriate recipient.

Semantics at Its Best

Now we get down to the nitty-gritty of my tirade. We must begin to understand what the CP truly is. It is not an offering that we give to. We have plenty of those–one at Christmas (named in memory of the late Lottie Moon) which is designated for the use of the International Mission Board’s ministry budget–every penny is to go to the work our missionaries are doing overseas; another (memorializing the champion of missions Annie Armstrong) is designated for use by the North American Mission Board; and others set up by various state conventions and local churches to benefit a variety of needs. All of these are good. But the Cooperative Program is not like this.

Instead of seeing CP as a special offering to which we give, we must reorganize our thinking to see it as a conduit through which we finance the work and ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s how we as Baptists get things done.

My point in all of this is that we need to educate our state and national Baptist employees and team members to use the right language in order for all of us to understand that we have the concept right. Perhaps then people will cease in trying to designate their “tithe” or trying to control their church from the grave by bequeathing a large sum of money to the church “to be used for ________” (fill in the blank).

Why do these words get me bothered? It’s because one says one thing and the other says an entirely other thing. So don’t donate generously to the CP, but give generously through it!