Words by Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

(Also included in Favorite Hymns of Praise,  Tabernacle Publishing Co., Chicago, 1969  – #25, title in this collection includes the full first line of the poem; Inspiring Hymns, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1968 – #3; The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, Word, Waco, 1986 – #62.)

I found it interesting that this old hymn found little interest in most of the newer (post-1970) hymnals. Perhaps it is the ancient language, or maybe the traditional coupling with Haydn’s Creation music which might seem even more high-brow than the ancient language.

The Hymn

  1. The spacious firmament on high,
    With all the blue ethereal sky,
    And spangled heavens, a shining frame
    Their great Original proclaim.
    Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
    Does his Creator’s powers display,
    And publishes to every land
    The work of an Almighty Hand.
  2. Soon as the evening shades prevail
    The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
    And nightly to the listening earth
    Repeats the story of her birth;
    While all the stars that round her burn
    And all the planets in their turn,
    Confirm the tidings as they roll,
    And spread the truth from pole to pole.
  3. What though in solemn silence all
    Move round the dark terrestrial ball?
    What though no real voice nor sound
    Amid the radiant orbs be found?
    In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
    And utter forth a glorious voice,
    Forever singing as they shine,
    “The hand that made us is divine.” (Hymn words accessed at Cyber Hymnal)

Scriptural Connection

One hymnal offers Psalm 19 as a connection for this hymn because of the psalm’s reference to Creation praising God. This is a good option, but I would rather make a connection with the Creation story found in Genesis 1. This also gives us another connection with the Haydn music that is so readily attached to the poem.

What does it mean?

In this hymn we find one of the reasons that many modern people have difficulty with the old hymns and sacred songs. We just don’t talk that way anymore. Even so, this language (especially coupled with the classical selection from Haydn’s work) brings beauty to the mind.

Even though we would consider the word “firmament” archaic at best and dead at worst, it brings to mind the great expanse of the heavens. That’s the point. Our mind is drawn to the canvas of the skies upon which God has painted the whole of Creation. We hear the words “star spangled” and our mind rushes to the scattering of thousands of stars across an unbroken night sky. Bowing to those who would choose Psalm 19 for the Scripture connection, my own heart thrills at the thought of these mighty heavens filled with unreachable stars praising God (their “Original”).

Granted I would rarely (if ever) use the contraction for “the unwearied” but for meter’s sake, the poet gives us a beautiful contraction which teaches us that the heavens (and creation with them) never tire of broadcasting (“publishing”) the story of the Great Creator—identified here as the “great Original,” the “Creator,” and the “Almighty Hand.”

The second stanza draws our attention again to Genesis 1 as the moon relates to us the “story of her birth.” The “orbs” mentioned in the third stanza would be all the heavenly bodies (stars, planets and natural satellites alike) all lifting up their voices in the song that proclaims that Almighty God is the maker of them all.

This wonderful hymn is filled with ancient language that speaks volumes. It is sad that it took a study such as this one to open my eyes to it. Though it is in the hymnal that I grew up with it was often skipped in favor of other praise hymns. Consequently it slipped out of usage in my own tradition and now is not to be found in the newer hymn collections. The music that is the poem’s traditional partner is taken from a section of Franz Haydn’s opus called Creation. This fact alone suggests that we might want to resurrect the use of this song in our own proclamation of the greatness of our God.

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