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