Sunday, February 15, 2009

All Things Praise Thee

Praise for the Lord #25

Words: George W. Conder, 1853
Music: Conrad Kocher, 1838; arr. William Monk, 1861

George William Conder (1821-1874) was a Congregationalist pastor in Leeds, England. He wrote very few hymns (or they did not gain much currency), though this example shows an obvious talent. During the 1850s Conder helped to compile a hymn collection commonly called the Leeds Hymn Book, and it was in that publication that this hymn first appeared.(Cyberhymnal)

Stanza 1:
All things praise Thee, Lord most high,
Heav’n and earth and sea and sky,
All were for Thy glory made,
That Thy greatness thus displayed
Should all worship bring to Thee;
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

He is "the Lord, who made heaven and earth."(Psalm 121:2) He is "The God who made the world and everything in it."(Acts 17:24) Psalm 147 speaks extensively of the unfathomable immensity of what God has done in creating this planet we call home:

He covers the heavens with clouds; He prepares rain for the earth; He makes grass grow on the hills. ... He gives snow like wool; He scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down His crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before His cold? He sends out His word, and melts them; He makes His wind blow and the waters flow.(Psalm 147:8, 16-18)

Everything on this earth, above this earth, and under it are His creation; it is the duty, the natural response, of His creation to ascribe glory to Him for what He has done:

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"(Revelation 5:13)

Only humanity stands in the shameful position of not recognizing His power and authority over His creation:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools...(Romans 1:19-22)

We may make fools of ourselves in many ways in life, but may we at least have wisdom enough to give glory to God when we see the world He has created!

Stanza 2:
All things praise Thee--night to night
Sings in silent hymns of light;
All things praise Thee--day to day
Chants Thy power in burning ray;
Time and space are praising Thee,
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

A question that many believers raise is, why did God create such an immense universe? And what is out there? We can only say that it gives glory to God, and that beyond that we do not know. The best our scientists can do is estimate the size of the universe, and that is a figure that has been revised numerous times! We might be able to say more accurately that we guess there is a lot more out there than we have been able to see so far, or likely ever will.

But God knows. "He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names."(Psalm 147:4) And whatever may be out there, it gives God glory. Conder's language here describing "silent hymns of light" perhaps references the ancient concept of "music of the spheres", which correlated the ratios of the orbital mechanics of the planets to the ratios of musical intervals. Some even went so far as to suggest that the motions of the heavenly bodies actually produced musical sounds. This was later dismissed, but a modern equivalent might be heard in our studies of the radio emissions of distant stars. The heavens are certainly not silent!

Conder climaxes the stanza saying that "time and space are praising [God]." As we consider the mysteries of the cosmos, contemplating the little part that we think we understand so far, it is good to remember that whatever the truth of these things may be, God is so far above it that it is a mere toy to Him. He is the One who calls himself "I AM".(Exodus 3:14; cf. John 8:58, Matthew 22:32) He is not "I WAS" or "I WILL BE", because our laws of time have no meaning to Him.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. ... For a thousand years in Your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.(Psalm 90:2,4)

The laws of space as we understand them likewise have no hold upon Him:

Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.(Psalm 139:7-12)

Once again we are compelled to bow before Him and worship, remembering that "He is not a man, as I am..."(Job 9:32)

The following stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord, and is not familiar to me from any of the hymnals used in the U.S. Churches of Christ:

All things praise Thee--high and low,
Rain and dew and sparkling snow,
Crimson sunset, fleecy cloud,
Rippling stream, and tempest loud;
Summer, winter, all to Thee
Glory render--Lord, may we!

It is a fine verse, and one wonders why it has been omitted. Perhaps--it can only be speculation, of course--the three stanzas that we have were selected because they get to the point rather quickly, progressing rapidly through 1) the earthly creation, 2) the cosmic creation, and 3) the heavenly creation.

Stanza 3:
All things praise Thee--Heav’n’s high shrine
Rings with melody divine;
Lowly bending at Thy feet,
Seraph and archangel meet;
This their highest bliss, to be
Ever praising--Lord, may we!

The term "seraphim" occurs only once in Scripture, in the great throne room scene of Isaiah chapter 6:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!"(Isaiah 6:1-3)

These are often identified with the beings described in Revelation chapter 4, verses 6-8:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

They are intriguingly similar to the beings described in Ezekiel chapter 1, verses 5-18 as well:

... And this was their appearance: they had a human likeness, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot. And they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went. As for the likeness of their faces, each had a human face. The four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle. Such were their faces. And their wings were spread out above. ... And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. ... And their rims were tall and awesome, and the rims of all four were full of eyes all around.

There are strong similarities, but there are differences in details as well. These beings are apparently identified as "cherubim" in Ezekiel 10:2, and according to long-standing tradition are a separate class of heavenly entities.("Angels", Catholic Encyclopedia) At any rate, we can be sure that there whereas the typical "angels" mentioned in the Bible are (or can be) human in appearance, there is a class of beings the like of which we can barely imagine. They never sleep, they never rest; their entire existence is the praise of God. They are represented as those beings closest to the throne, and therefore (we can assume?) of the greater honor, yet they cover their faces in His presence.

Archangels are mentioned twice in Scripture: once by name, Michael, in Jude 9, contending with Satan, and once unnamed, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where we are told that its voice will announce the end of the world. The second is traditionally identified as Gabriel. Gabriel's identification as an archangel seems to rest largely on his association with Michael in the apocryphal books of Enoch and Tobit, where they are both listed among seven angels that are in turn equated to the seven angels with trumpets in Revelation 8:2 who "stand before God".("Gabriel", Catholic Encyclopedia) In support of this association, Gabriel identified himself to Mary as "Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God."(Luke 1:19) Unlike the seraphim, the archangels are sent out on missions away from the presence of God: Michael to the wilderness of the trans-Jordan in Jude 9, and Gabriel to Daniel in Babylon (Daniel 8-9) and to Mary in Galilee (Luke 1).

Obviously much of this is speculation, and if God had wished us to know more, He would have told us. But it is worth understanding the framework within which Conder makes the statement "seraph and archangel meet". Regardless of their ranks, they are all equally humbled in the presence of God. When we try to grasp the glory of such beings, and distinguish between them, we are forced to recognize that we are speaking of entities of ancient and unknown power and glory, who have stood in the presence of God Almighty since before the world began; beings before whom the typical Biblical response is terror and dread. Yet even these bow themselves prostrate before God. In Revelation 4:9-11 we have this picture of the worship around God's throne:

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

Conder's point is simply this--how much more humbly and reverently should we, by comparison, worship our Creator?

The original closing stanza is omitted in Praise for the Lord:

All things praise Thee--gracious Lord,
Great Creator, powerful Word,
Omnipresent Spirit, now
At Thy feet we humbly bow;
Lift our hearts in praise to Thee;
All things praise Thee--Lord, may we!

It is a fine summarizing stanza, invoking praise to the Trinity, and I am somewhat sorry that I haven't had the opportunity to sing it. On the other hand, the stanza before it is more striking in its images and drives home the point so powerfully--a call to follow suit to all God's creation and worship Him--that it actually seems a stronger place to end the hymn.

About the music: Conrad Kocher (1786-1872) is one of those legions of obscure composers who are remembered for one or two great tunes. This tune was picked up and arranged by William Monk, the music editor of the widely influential Hymns Ancient and Modern and composer of the music for "Abide with me". This tune, "DIX" is also commonly sung with the text "For the beauty of the earth"(PFTL#157). It has a charmingly simple classical style, moving largely by step and with no chromatic departures from the key. The contrary motion between the soprano and bass throughout the first phrase is particularly effective.


Cyberhymnal. George William Conder.

Angels. Catholic Encyclopedia.

St. Gabriel the archangel. Catholic Encyclopedia.

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