One of the frequent conversations held inside the esoteric world of hymn book editing is the use of supposedly archaic words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy. This issue reflects the general flattening of our language when it comes to the distinction between levels of personal intimacy. Most recently this has shown up in children and teen’s addressing of adults; especially in addressing their teachers by some form of their first name, whether or not it is proceeded with a Ms., or Mr. This over familiarity has blurred the line which once demarcated the youth from the adult. In several European languages there still exists a clear form of addressing a close friend or family member which is distinctively different from an address towards anybody else. And culturally, it requires a direct invitation to address someone with the intimate form.
One might assume that words such as: Thee, Thine, Thou and Thy, are a hyper formal form of address which is reserved only for religious usage. Nothing could be further from the truth. As our language has changed, we have not made everybody more intimate in our address (school children being excepted). Rather, we have made our intimate relationships no different in address than what is used for a total stranger. An address of “Thou” marked the greatest intimacy. It was reserved only for a lover, spouse, family member, or very close personal friend.
A true “Thou” intimacy is very rare in our lives, we may only have a handful during our entire lifetime. I had a “Thou” with my late, best friend Ralph Bus. Ours was a relationship built upon a complete openness and honesty and uncompromising love for each other. And yet we were as different as two men could be. He loved jazz, and well, I didn’t, but we shared a love of learning and exploring, so when I started to rent pianos to area jazz musicians, Ralph came along and loved getting to go behind the scenes. He also attended every concert I gave without fail.
“Thou” is characterized by a deathbed presence. When I received the call that Ralph had been taken to the Elmhurst hospital and was probably not going to survive the day, I raced to the hospital; getting my first speeding ticket of my life! If my dear friend had been awake, he would have died from laughing at me! But, alas, thou, my friend, we will have to wait for eternity to continue our exploration of our faith and what it means.
As rare as a true “thou” may be, we all have at least one “thou” and that is our Father who knows us better than we know ourselves. The use of Thee, Thine, Thou, and Thy in our hymns is not a religious formality, but a reflection of the greatest of intimacies. An intimacy which burrows into our very being and holds our heart in the strongest and gentlest of hands. So use the “Thou” to address our most intimate of friends, it is the most appropriate way to address the one who loved us so much, the gave his only begotten Son to the cross, so that all may know the love which passes all understanding. Amen.
O Sing a Song of Bethlehem
Text by: Louis F Benson 1899
Generally sung to: Kingsfold, a traditional English melody
Here is a YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/nRXvyIjWEHQ
O sing a song of Bethlehem, of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them from angels in the air.
The light that shone on Bethlehem fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth the angels sing alway.
O sing a song of Nazareth, of sunny days of joy;
O sing of fragrant flowers’ breath, and of the sinless Boy.
For now the flowers of Nazareth in every heart may grow;
Now spreads the fame of His dear Name on all the winds that blow.
O sing a song of Galilee, of lake and woods and hill,
Of Him Who walked upon the sea and bade the waves be still.
For though like waves on Galilee, dark seas of trouble roll,
When faith has heard the Master’s Word, falls peace upon the soul.
O sing a song of Calvary, its glory and dismay,
Of Him Who hung upon the tree, and took our sins away.
For He Who died on Calvary is risen from the grave,
And Christ, our Lord, by Heaven adored, is mighty now to save.
Louis F Benson (1855-1930) was born and lived most of his life in Philadelphia, PA. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and was admitted to the Bar in 1877 and practiced law until about 1884 when left the legal profession and started his theological studies. He was ordained as a Presbyterian Minister in 1888. In 1894 he resigned his position and devoted the rest of his life to literary efforts. He is most well-known for his work on hymnody, writing several books about the history of various hymns, collections of hymns, and translations of hymns. His personal library numbered over 9000 volumes upon his death.
Benson spent a considerable effort in editing the text of the most commonly used hymns in the English speaking churches. Before his work, changes and revisions had been made to many hymns to such an extent the original meanings and theology were often completely altered; as it continues to this day. He listed five characteristics which define a good hymn: 1) lyrical quality; 2) literary excellence; 3) liturgical propriety; 4) a tone of reverence; 5) spiritual reality. His editorial efforts were directed to returning the hymn text to their original versions as much as possible. He would allow for some alterations but demanded the changes fit his criteria of a “good hymn” and did no damage to the author’s original text.
While this hymn is often used exclusively during the Advent and Christmas seasons, it can just as easily be used throughout the year. Within its four short stanzas it traces the ministry of Christ from his birth in Bethlehem, life in Nazareth, his work in Galilee, and finally his death at Calvary.
Fairest Lord Jesus
Generally sung to “Crusader’s March” This tune is sometimes known as St. Elizabeth. Composer of tune unknown. It first appeared in Schlesische Volkslieder (Sicilian Folk Songs) in 1842.
Here is a link for a YouTube recording:
“Crusader’s March” http://youtu.be/XW5bkIUQqZc
“Schonster Herr Jesu” http://youtu.be/zxC2VlKjZC4 (a less commonly used tune)
1 Fairest Lord Jesus,
ruler of all nature,
O thou of God and man the Son,
Thee will I cherish,
Thee will I honor,
thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.
2 Fair are the meadows,
fairer still the woodlands,
robed in the blooming garb of spring:
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer
who makes the woeful heart to sing.
3 Fair is the sunshine,
fairer still the moonlight,
and all the twinkling starry host:
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer
than all the angels heaven can boast.
4 Beautiful Savior!
Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor,
now and forevermore be thine.
The first thing I would like to do, in this hyper-politically correct era, is deal with the title of the tune most commonly associated with this wonderful text. It is not, as the title might suggest, something which was sung by the crusaders on their way to liberate Israel. The earliest evidence of the tune is from the Schlesische Volkslieder (Sicilian Folk Songs) which was published in 1842. Here the tune was known as: “Schönster Herr Jesu” (Most beautiful Lord Jesus). Franz Liszt used the tune in his oratorio “The Legend of St. Elizabeth” (1862) for the Crusader’s March. This is where the names “St. Elizabeth” and “Crusader’s March” originated.
As a song of adoration “Fairest Lord Jesus” is second to none. This hymn uses the physical world, and all of its beauty to set the beauty of the Lord Jesus as being even greater.
Here are some of the Scriptural references from the first stanza:
Psalm 27:4 One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.
Mark 9:3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.
John 5:23 That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honors not the Son honors not the Father which hath sent him.
These poetic expressions of the beauty of Christ are developed and expanded through the balance of the hymn.
There is an important development with the 4th and 5th lines of each stanza. 1) Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor, 2) Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer 3) Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer and finally 4) Glory and honor, praise, adoration, now and forevermore be thine. The song moves from our reactions towards the Son to ever more powerful descriptions of Jesus, each one building upon the previous. In the final stanza the initial: “O thou of God and man the Son,” becomes: “Son of God and Son of Man!” And with this the declaration that all glory and honor, praise and adoration, are forever Jesus’.
This is My Father’s World
By: Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901)
Usually sung to: Terra Beata by: Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930)
Here is a YouTube recording:
1 This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas–
His hand the wonders wrought.
2 This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.
3 This is my Father’s world:
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let earth be glad!
Maltbie Davenport Babcock was born in Syracuse, NY on August 3, 1858 and died in Naples, Italy on May 18th, 1901 as he was returning from a trip to the Holy Land. He graduated from Syracuse University and Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. After briefly serving two smaller congregations in Lockport, NY, he became the pastor at the Brick Church in Lockport. He would take frequent walks in the countryside surrounding his hometown which sat upon a hill overlooking Lake Ontario. He would often explain that “I am going out to see my Father’s world” as he set off on these outings. He was very athletic, having been recognized for his accomplishments in swimming and baseball at the university. He was also a skilled amateur musician playing both the organ and piano.
This poem originally had 16 four-line stanzas. Shortly after his death, his good friend Franklin Shepherd (1852-1930) adapted an old English folk melody he learned as a child and condensed Babcock’s poem to the form we find today. The tune he wrote for it he titled: “Terra Beata” which means: terra (earth) beata (blessed… as in “beatitudes”)
Recently, I came across three different articles which look at various cosmological issues of time, space, and dimensions. One was written from the perspective that if it were not for the absolute precision of the universe; so many aspects of cosmological history and law having to be exactly as they are, the universe couldn’t exist in its current state if this were not the case. The conclusion was there must be a God for this to have happened. Another looked at the same set of issues and concluded that this was proof that there was no God. The final article looked at the 10 dimensions of reality physicist/philosophers believe can be postulated. One of the most fascinating part of this article was the discussion of the 4th and 5th dimensions. I won’t even begin to try to explain these; I will leave that to my physicist brother. But suffice it to say what was described as being knowable from these perspectives completely explained the Biblical concepts of Jerimiah 1:5 “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Or: Romans 8:29 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Existing outside of time (the 4th dimension) would put one in the position to see all of time in an instant and not experience it linearly as we must.
As I look out of my office window, I see snow covered ground, evergreen bushes, and bare, leafless trees. The sky is clear with only a few whiffs of clouds. This could be seen as either the end of life which winter inevitably brings to the north, or the season which is preparation for the return of life in the spring. Our understanding of time, the seasons, and God’s providence would determine how we understand the world we live within.
This is our Father’s world! All of nature loudly proclaims this to be true. From the cosmos filled with galaxies unknowable, whose light we finally see hundreds of millions and billions of years after it was made, to the strangest sub-atomic particles and dark matter we can only theorize about, we can rest assured that His hand is present.
For all we know about life, we still do not understand what it is which is life. Yet, this mystery we see all around us, the birds in the air and spider descending on a thin string, all share in this wondrous mystery. Everything which has the breath of life declares the wonder of our Father and his work. In this we should take eternal comfort. Though we cannot always understand why Evil might overcome Good for a day, God is the ruler over everything, it is our Father’s world, and in this we shall be glad.
The God of Abraham Praise
By: Thomas Olivers (1725-1799)
Commonly sung to: Leoni
Here is a YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/IDzjmW25HTg
The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and Heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name forever blessed.
The God of Abraham praise, at Whose supreme command
From earth I rise—and seek the joys at His right hand;
I all on earth forsake, its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only Portion make, my Shield and Tower.
The God of Abraham praise, whose all sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days, in all my ways.
He calls a worm His friend, He calls Himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end, thro’ Jesus’ blood.
He by Himself has sworn; I on His oath depend,
I shall, on eagle wings upborne, to Heav’n ascend.
I shall behold His face; I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace forevermore.
Tho’ nature’s strength decay, and earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way, at His command.
The wat’ry deep I pass, with Jesus in my view;
And thro’ the howling wilderness my way pursue.
The goodly land I see, with peace and plenty bless’d;
A land of sacred liberty, and endless rest.
There milk and honey flow, and oil and wine abound,
And trees of life forever grow with mercy crowned.
There dwells the Lord our King, the Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin, the Prince of peace;
On Sion’s sacred height His kingdom still maintains,
And glorious with His saints in light forever reigns.
He keeps His own secure, He guards them by His side,
Arrays in garments, white and pure, His spotless bride:
With streams of sacred bliss, with groves of living joys—
With all the fruits of Paradise, He still supplies.
Before the great Three-One they all exulting stand;
And tell the wonders He hath done, through all their land:
The list’ning spheres attend, and swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end, the wondrous Name.
The God Who reigns on high the great archangels sing,
And “Holy, holy, holy!” cry, “Almighty King!
Who was, and is, the same, and evermore shall be:
Jehovah—Father—great I AM, we worship Thee!”
Before the Savior’s face the ransomed nations bow;
O’erwhelmed at His almighty grace, forever new:
He shows His prints of love—they kindle to a flame!
And sound thro’ all the worlds above the slaughtered Lamb.
The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham’s God, and mine! (I join the heav’nly lays,)
All might and majesty are Thine, and endless praise.
Author: Daniel ben Judah (14th century) Title: Yigdal Elohim Hai
English translation (Wikipedia)
- Exalted be the Living God and praised, He exists – unbounded by time is His existence;
- He is One – and there is no unity like His Oneness – Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness;
- He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal – nor has His holiness any comparison;
- He preceded every being that was created – the First, and nothing precedes His precedence;
- Behold! He is Master of the universe – Every creature demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty;
- He granted His flow of prophecy – to His treasured, splendid people;
- In Israel, none like Moses arose again – a prophet who perceived His vision clearly;
- God gave His people a Torah of truth – by means of His prophet, the most trusted of His household;
- God will never amend nor exchange His law – for any other one, for all eternity;
- He scrutinizes and knows our hiddenmost secrets – He perceives a matter’s outcome at its inception;
- He recompenses man with kindness according to his deed – He places evil on the wicked according to his wickedness;
- By the End of Days He will send our Messiah – to redeem those longing for His final salvation;
- God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness – Blessed forever is His praised Name.
The relationship between the Christian Hymn “The God of Abraham Praise” and the Jewish Doxology “Yigdal” is reflective of the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament Church. Thomas Olivers was a man who had spent his youth in profligate living. While living in Bristol, England, miserably poor and destitute he heard the preaching of George Whitefield. Whitefield was preaching on Zachariah 3:2 “2And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Olivers was so moved by the message that he gave his life over to God and began to make amends to all those he owed money to. He initially wanted to join with the Whitefield movement but was discouraged from doing so. He eventually joined up with Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement. During this time he continued to work as a shoe maker. As his knowledge and skills as a preacher increased, he joined the Wesleyans as an evangelist in Cornwall.
One evening, Olivers attended services at a Jewish Synagogue where he heard the Cantor, Leoni, sing his Hebrew Doxology, the Yigdal. Olivers was so inspired by the experience, he adapted the tune and elements of the text to write one of the greatest of all hymns in Christendom.
The opening stanza is full of Old Testament imagery and references. The two greatest patriarchs of the OT are referenced; Abraham and Moses. When Moses asked of God in the burning bush who he should say had sent him, God answered: Gen 3:14 14And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
Throughout the first three stanzas, Olivers draws from OT imagery, but half way through the third stanza he introduces aspects of the New Testament. The idea of God being a “friend” draws strongly from Jesus’s relationship to mankind. The phrase: “He calls a worm His friend” sets the stage for the coming act of grace through Jesus’ blood.
Through the next several stanzas the work of Christ is seen as flowing out of the Prophets and all that was spoken of in the OT. It is not seen as something separate, but rather as the ultimate conclusion and continuation of the story begun with Abraham. The story ends with the triumphant cry of “Holy, holy, holy! Almighty King, Who was, and is, the same, and evermore shall be: Jehovah – Father – the great I AM”. Abraham’s God and my God are the same! The living God, unbound by time, inscrutable and infinite. He is the first, there was nothing before Him. He is the Master of the universe, all of his creation demonstrates His glory and sovereignty. He spoke His word through the prophets and His word is unchanging. He knows all secrets and will visit upon each their due in the end. Yet, He has sent His Messiah to redeem His people, to pay the ransom for the final salvation of His people. Praise forever His Name, which is above all names. Amen.
I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God
By: Isaac Watts 1709
Commonly sung to: “Ellacombe” and sometimes “Zerah”
Here are two YouTube recordings:
- I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.
- I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.
- There’s not a plant or flow’r below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God, art present there.
Though Isaac Watts had no children of his own, he was very concerned with the education of children. He wrote an entire book of children’s songs called: “Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715)” for use in worship and education. “I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God” is the only one left in common use.
Its original title was: “Praise for Creation and Providence”. Though traditionally titles are taken from the opening phrase of the text, the original title covers the entirety of the text very appropriately. The first two stanzas speak to the various manifestations of God’s power and goodness. It is His power which made the mountains and seas and set the sun to rule the day and the moon the night. It is His goodness which filled the earth with food and made all of the creatures. In every aspect of the creation the providence and power of God can be seen; from the flowers to the storms, everything is in His order and care.
Much has changed in the 300 years since this text was penned. In Isaac’s time, life could be easily described and short and brutish. Disease, war, famine, and death were a daily presence. The notion that we should expect anything less if God was indeed “good” was inconceivable. Life was a continuous dance with death. Yet, out of this existence, which would be seen as utter barbarous to a 21st Century American gave rise to this exquisite recognition of the undeniable evidence of God’s hand in all of life. And we, as simply borrowers of life for a short time, must continue to see God’s presence in his creation and our experience of it.
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