Monday, May 4, 2009

Blessed be the Name

Praise for the Lord #52

Words: William H. Clark, 1887; refrain, Ralph E. Hudson, 1887
Music: Ralph E. Hudson, 1887; arr., William J. Kirkpatrick, 1888

I can find no information about William H. Clark, and no other hymn texts under his name. The text was adapted and a refrain added by Ralph Erskine Hudson (1843-1901), similar to his setting of the Isaac Watts hymn "Alas! And did my Savior bleed?"(PFTL#12) The nature of William Kirkpatrick's contribution is unclear.

Stanza 1:
All praise to Him Who reigns above
In majesty supreme,
Who gave His Son for man to die,
That He might man redeem!


The first stanza sings the praises of God the Father, whose majesty is above all. King David phrases these sentiments beautifully in his public prayer at the coronation of his son Solomon, recorded in 1 Chronicles 29, verse 11:

"Yours, O Lord , is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is Yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord , and You are exalted as Head above all."

In "majesty", we see combined both immense power and serene dignity. We seldom see it among our fellow human beings; we get a better glimpse of it, perhaps, in the works of nature--in the whale, or an ancient oak, or the mountains. The problem with our fellow humans, of course, is the self-conscious concern that their power be recognized and their dignity respected; thus we seldom see the serene calm that is also necessary to the quality. With God, of course, this is no concern; He is the one who could flatly state, "I AM who I AM", with no need for further explanation.(Exodus 3:14)

Clark juxtaposes the royal majesty of God with His personal concern for His fallen creation. Majesty does not have to stoop down to redeem us; but love compels itself to do so. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."(Romans 5:8)

Refrain:
Blessed be the Name! Blessed be the Name!
Blessed be the Name of the Lord!
Blessed be the Name! Blessed be the Name!
Blessed be the Name of the Lord!


Singers have at times wondered if it is appropriate to speak of us "blessing" the Lord, since "It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior."(Hebrews 7:7) But Psalm 113:2 proclaims, "Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!" It is important to note the difference between "blessing" in the sense of giving one's approval and favor (the usual sense, and the one used in Hebrews 7) and "blessing" in the sense of offering honor and worship. The Hebrew barak, usually translated "bless", literally means to bend the knees or to bow down.(Strong's H1288)

Usually it is done on behalf of another person; that is, one "blesses" the other by kneeling down and invoking God's favor for that person. God, of course, does not kneel to Himself, but the expression was extended to include God's blessing (invoking His own favor) to a person. Inherent in any blessing of another person, then, is the recognition of God's sovereignty in the affairs of this world, and an appeal to Him to do good for the person. When "blessing" God we do not ask for blessings to His welfare, of course, but instead we recognize His sovereignty and worthiness of praise.

In Nehemiah 9:5, at the restoration of the Feast of Tabernacles, the priests said: "Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise." The name of God is to be kept holy, that is, recognized as special and deserving of respect. This is clearly taught in the second of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:7) and reiterated at the beginning of the Lord's Prayer.(Matthew 6:9) But how many times a day do we hear it used as a casual curse? Many people who would be shocked and outraged to see our country's flag desecrated, think nothing of dishonoring the name of our Creator. Where are our priorities?

Stanza 2:
His Name above all names shall stand,
Exalted more and more,
At God the Father’s own right hand,
Where angel hosts adore.
(Refrain)


The second stanza turns from God the Father to praise God the Son,

Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:6-11)

There are many names in this world that command respect and power, whether the names of individuals, the names of institutions, or the names of nations; but the day is coming when the name of Jesus will transcend them all, and they will all have to recognize (to their joy or dismay, as the case may be) that His is the name that truly matters. Until that day, "[He] has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him."(1 Peter 3:22)

Stanza 3:
Redeemer, Savior, Friend of man
Once ruined by the fall,
Thou hast devised salvation’s plan,
For Thou hast died for all.
(Refrain)


It is a matter of profound wonder that God devised the plan of salvation, even to the death of His Son, from before the time began; Jesus is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."(Revelation 13:8) We are quickly in over our heads, trying to understand the "definite plan and foreknowledge of God"(Acts 2:23) that sent Jesus to the cross. We must accept, however, that "in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross."(Colossians 1:19-20) C.S. Lewis summarized the philosophical debates over atonement thus in Mere Christianity:

We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ's death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself.(Lewis, ch.4, para.5)

It is worthwhile to try to understand such things; but it is best to remember that all the theological understanding in the world is no substitute for an obedient faith.

There was originally a fourth stanza as well:

His Name shall be the Counselor,
The mighty Prince of Peace,
Of all earth’s kingdoms Conqueror,
Whose reign shall never cease.
(Refrain)


I have never encountered it before, and I'm not sure why it was dropped. It is clearly rooted in scripture:

For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Isaiah 9:6)

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”(Revelation 11:15)

About the music: Having so little other music by Hudson, it is hard to form an opinion of him. His two extant musical settings--the other is "Alas! And did my Savior bleed!"(PFTL#12)--would seem to place him in the mainstream of 19th-century gospel. The repeated bass and tenor notes on the words "rolled away" in the chorus of "Alas!" are a typical feature of this style. But most gospel songs fit into a popular genre of their time; what is the genre of this one? "Blessed be the name" could almost be a Sacred Harp tune--compare it to "All hail the power of Jesus name"(PFTL#19).

A signature feature of this melody is found in the first three notes, outlining an inverted form of the tonic chord--SOL DO MI, or E,A,C-sharp in this key. This occurs at the beginning of the chorus as well, and within the stanza again as well. A little unifying "hook" can go a long way in making a melody that sings well and is easily remembered. The rhythmic shift at the chorus is also a welcome bit of variety (similar to what Hudson did in "Alas! And did my Savior bleed?").

References:

Strong's H1288. Blueletterbible.org. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H1288&t=KJV

Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed your article on the hymn "Blessed Be the Name." (And I've been unable to track down any information on Clark either.) Especially appreciated your explanation of what it means to bless God. Well done.

    ReplyDelete