Friday, February 28, 2014

The Fruit of Our Lips: A Cappella Praise through the Centuries (Part 6)

The final installment of this overview will focus on the history of a cappella worship in the United States. The very nature of Americans and religion--our strong tradition of religious liberty, from a legal standpoint, and the wide dispersal of independent communities--makes it nearly impossible to summarize the subject. I hope, however, to provide an introduction to a few of the major threads in this story, by following the history of a cappella singing in some of the major religious bodies, and by featuring those groups from within each that remain a cappella today.

A Cappella Singing of the Anabaptist Churches

The third post in this series introduces the interesting origins of the Anabaptist movement and its a cappella singing, which I will not repeat here. The best known Anabaptist groups in the United States, of course, are the "plain people", such as the Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites. Not surprisingly, all but a small minority of reform groups have retained the a cappella singing of their ancestors.

Old Order Amish

The Old Order Amish still sing from the Ausbund, a German Anabaptist hymnal first published in 1564, supplemented by a few other later collections. The video below, repeated from the previous blog post, is a recording of the "Loblied" or "Praise Song" which is traditionally the second hymn in the service. This recording is audio only, out of respect for the Amish aversion to creating images. At the beginning of each line you will hear the leader "lining out" the opening phrase before the congregation begins, a practice common to many older a cappella traditions.

(recording begins with 2nd stanza)


The Mennonite fellowships, being larger and more diverse, exhibit variety in worship practices just as they do in the manner of the observance of "plain living." Originally, however, they were strictly a cappella; the first pipe organ was not installed in a Mennonite church building in the U.S. until 1874. By 1890 the General Conference Mennonite Church allowed instruments, but the more conservative Mennonite Church opposed their use down to the 1950s. These two denominations merged in 2012 to form the Mennonite Church (USA), the largest denomination of Mennonites. Another Mennonite denomination, the Brethren in Christ, also refrained from instrumental music in worship until the 1950s (Krahn).

Many Mennonite congregations, however, remain a cappella. Not surprisingly, of course, the Old Order Mennonites ("horse and buggy Mennonites") continue to sing as they always had. The same stand has been maintained, however, by groups toward the middle of the Mennonite spectrum. As the larger conferences moved in the direction of using instruments (among other changes), these conservative-to-moderate Mennonites coalesced into what is loosely called "Conservative Mennonites" (Wikipedia).

As might be expected, there is a diversity of repertoires and styles among the Mennonites, from the German hymns of the Old Order to contemporary praise choruses among the more modern conservatives. The video below presents an hour's worth of singing from the Sequoia Bible Fellowship in Squaw Valley, California, a conservative Mennonite congregation. (N.B. This is was a special singing night, so there were visitors present who did not adhere to the usual conservative Mennonite practice of head coverings for women.) The first song, "Behold the glories of the Lamb" (ST. MARTIN), goes back to the Harmonia Sacra, a Mennonite hymnal first published in Philadelphia in 1832. The style is very similar to that of Sacred Harp singing and other older shape-note traditions.

Later in the video one may hear more recent Southern gospel songs, such as "Higher ground", that are also common in the traditional repertoire of the Churches of Christ.

A Cappella Singing in Methodist Churches

Though Methodists are not usually thought of as an a cappella tradition, some were at one time opposed to the use of instrumental music in worship. At the 1846 conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and again in 1874, the formal Pastoral Address expressed disapproval of instruments in worship, though no formal action was taken (Westerfield Tucker, 167ff.). It is not surprising that it was the Southern branch of Methodism that was the last to adopt the use of instruments; Southerners of every religious stripe seem to have been more conservative in theology and practice than their Northern counterparts, perhaps reflecting the natural tendencies of a predominantly rural society with few major urban centers. This scenario played out among many religious groups, including, in its own way, the Restoration Movement.

Two groups that refused to follow the Methodist Episcopal mainstream during this time, the Free Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Methodist Church (later just the Wesleyan Church), continued in a cappella singing for several more decades. The Free Methodist Church was organized at a meeting in 1860 on the basis of "primitive Methodism," part of which was stated to be "congregational singing, without instrumental music in all cases" (Fortner). Half a century later, the Doctrines and Discipline of the Free Methodist Church still contained the frank statement, "In no case let there be instrumental music or choir singing in our public worship" (D&D 1915p. 42). This remained the position of the group until 1943, when the General Conference voted to allow local congregations to decide whether or not to introduce instruments (Daily Times (Beaver & Rochester, NY) 19 June, p. 2).

The Wesleyan Methodist Connection of America, later just the Wesleyan Church, had a less united stance on this and many other issues. The Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of America contained until 1896 this somewhat equivocal statement: "We recommend the churches to dispense with instrumental music." (Discipline 1896, p. 115) It was omitted, however, from 1911 onward (Discipline 1911, p. 205). Many of the Holiness groups related to this tradition adopted instruments over the years, though others remain a cappella. One example of the latter is Christ's Sanctified Holy Church, which was organized in 1892 on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, and has spread through the southeastern U.S. as far as Mississippi ("About us"). The following video is from a singing in Leesburg, Georgia.

The Pentecostal movement, rooted in Wesleyan Methodism, began with a surprisingly strong a cappella worship tradition. For at least the first decade after its beginning in 1906, the famous revival at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles did not have instrumental music (Robeck).

A Cappella Singing in Baptist Churches

According to David W. Music and Paul A. Richardson, Baptists in the United States were opposed to instrumental music in worship well until the 19th century. Even then, "it is safe to say that few congregations introduced instruments without stirring controversy" (102). Baptists in the South, ancestors of the largest Protestant body in the U.S. today, were still in opposition in large numbers at mid-century. Music & Richardson cite the sentiments of Jeremiah B. Jeter of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, who wrote in 1840:
I am not favorable to the use of instrumental music in the worship of God. It is warranted neither by precept, nor example, under the new dispensation. . . . On this there is but little difference of opinion among the Baptists of Virginia" (103)
Music & Richardson offer some instructive insights into the shift in Baptist thinking. Foremost was a change in thinking about how Scripture guides what is done in worship. Earlier generations had followed the "regulative principle", that is, they believed that Scripture regulates what is done in worship. But later generations adopted the "normative principle", assuming that anything not prohibited by Scripture is lawful. The authors also note that this change coincided with a rise in affluence and education, as well as an increasing desire to make the Baptist faith more attractive to a wider segment of the population (109ff.). Readers of Earl West's Search for the Ancient Order will recognize an almost identical transformation within the Restoration Movement, only a few decades later. But as can be seen with other major religious groups, there are still remaining branches of the Baptists practicing the a cappella singing that was once universal.

Old Regular Baptists

Found primarily in the Appalachians along the borders of Kentucky and the Virginias, the "Old Regular" Baptists trace their heritage to the New Salem Association founded in 1825. Though their principal distinction is their stance on the relationship between grace and free will, they have also traditionally been among the most resistant to changes in congregational organization and worship, and continue many practices dating from the 18th century (Grammich & Young). In addition to continuing the a cappella practice, they have retained the "lining out" procedure of singing in which the leader chants the words of each line quickly, then leads the congregation through the line following the tune, usually in a very slow, almost arhythmic fashion. This is a tradition dating back to very early Protestant congregational singing, allowing one person with a hymnal (or just a good memory) to lead a congregation that may not have had hymnals, or the literacy to use them.

Primitive Baptists

Primitive Baptists began to be recognized as a distinct group during the 1820s as they rejected the introduction of the missionary societies, seminaries, and Sunday School organizations that were later accepted by the majority of Baptists. They were also known for being the strictest Baptist adherents to the doctrine of predestination, thus receiving the (not always kindly) nickname of "Hard-shell" Baptists. The moniker "Primitive" or "Old-School" is more generally accepted, reflecting the view that they have simply remained in the faith of their fathers while others have moved in more liberal directions (Young). A cappella singing in worship is one of the distinct practices strongly maintained and defended by mainstream Primitive Baptists. The article "Instrumental music in the church" by Elder Bill Walden, which is linked on several Primitive Baptist websites, presents a rather familiar approach to the topic!

Primitive Baptist hymnals include the Old School Hymnal and Old Baptist Hymns, The video below is a group of Primitive Baptists singing SOAR AWAY, a hymn from the Sacred Harp tradition of shape-note music (to be discussed later). The videographer starts the recording well outside the little church building and slowly walks inside, giving an excellent demonstration of how this vigorous style of singing could roll across the "hills and hollows" back in a less noisy age. It also shows the amazing acoustical properties of the small, high-roofed wooden buildings of an earlier era, which make the small group of singers sound much louder.

A Cappella Singing in Reformed & Presbyterian Churches

Those closest to the roots of Calvinism might be expected to hold onto his teachings about worship the longest, and to a great extent this was true. In 1842, the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the largest Presbyterian body in the country at that time, published Questions on the Confession of Faith and Form of Government, a brief work in question-answer format intended to instruct the faithful in the official positions of the denomination. It included this statement:
[Sec. V.] Q. 6. Is there any authority for instrumental music in the worship of God under the present dispensation?
A. Not the least; only the singing of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs was appointed by the apostles; not a syllable is said in the New Testament in favour of instrumental music; nor was it ever introduced into the Church until the eighth century, after the Catholics had corrupted the simplicity of the gospel by their carnal inventions. It was not allowed in the Synagogues, the parish churches of the Jews; but was confined to the Temple service, and was abolished with the rites of that dispensation (Weed 55).
But this position did not hold. In 1845 the Synod of Cincinnati put forward an overture requesting a formal declaration from the General Assembly on the matter of instrumental music in worship; the Committee on Bills and Overtures stated,
Whereas by our Constitution, (Form of Government chap. ix. sect. 6, and Directory for Worship, chap. iv. sect. 4,) the whole internal arrangement of a church as to worship and order, is committed to the Minister and Session, therefore,
Resolved, That this Assembly do not feel themselves called upon and obliged to take any further order on this subject, but leave to each Session the delicate and important matter of arranging and conducting the music, as to them shall seem most for edification; recommending great caution, prudence, and forbearance, in regard to it" (UPC-USA Minutes 21-22).
I am no expert in the ecclesiastical politics of mid-19th century Presbyterians, but I think I recognize a "punt" when I see one. The simple assertion that it was out of their hands left it open to the factions within each congregation to fight it out, and the recommendations, sincere though they must have been, say nothing about the Scriptural points of the matter--implying by their silence that it had become a matter of expedience.

The United Presbyterian Church of North America was more heavily influenced by the Scottish Covenanter tradition, and held out for another generation. Until 1882 the UPCNA's "Directory of Worship"--its approved regulations for conducting worship--explicitly forbade the use of instruments in worship. This was repealed at the 24th General Assembly (UPCNA Minutes, 519), over considerable protest. The following year saw the "Convention of United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God," held in Allegheny, Pennsylvania.

Eventually the two United Presbyterian bodies combined, and, through a further series of mergers, became today's Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest Presbyterian group in the United States. But other Presbyterian fellowships resisted this trend of merger for a number of reasons. The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod (an ancestor of today's conservative Presbyterian Church of America, and not to be confused with the modern "Covenanter" group, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America) did not allow instrumental music in worship until 1905, when the synod decided to allow the matter to be addressed at the congregational level (Hutchison 92). Other Presbyterian fellowships remain a cappella to this day.

Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America

The largest of the Presbyterian groups in the U.S. that continue the a cappella practice of their forbears is the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, also known (like their Scottish counterparts) as "Covenanters" because of their historic connection to the Solemn League and Covenant dating from the English Civil War. (Not surprisingly, the Covenanters were some of the staunchest proponents of independence when the American Revolution came!) Organized in this country during the 1700s, the RPCNA has resisted merging into one of the larger Presbyterian conferences, though it has at times lost significant portions of its membership to these bodies (Wikipedia). Following the original practice of Scottish Presbyterianism, they sing only the Psalms. The official position of the RPCNA on instruments in worship is expressed thus: "In keeping with the New Testament Church’s directive for heart worship, we sing without the aid of musical instruments" ("Convictions").

Two Uniquely American A Cappella Traditions

The focus of this series has been on the practices of specific religious bodies, but a discussion of a cappella singing in worship in the United States would hardly be complete without mentioning two other vital traditions that are not associated with any particular religious group.

The African American Tradition

During the period of slavery, music was a prized possession that could be shared but never taken away, and became a means of preserving the history and experiences of the community. The "spirituals" are a genre of great variety, combining uniquely African musical elements with those of the Protestant hymn tradition, and crafting lyrics that express a distinct voice of the African American Christian experience. The hymn "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" is a haunting and evocative text on its own; it becomes all the more powerful when one considers that it came from a people who had really seen men lashed, beaten, and executed. Yet the same spiritual tradition gave us songs of hope and joy, as well as such humorous but thoughtful lines as, "Everybody talking about heaven ain't going there."

The video below is a 1909 recording by the Fisk Jubilee Quartet, a group of African American singers from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. The song is one of the more lively of the spirituals, and prefigures much of the style of Southern gospel quartet singing in the 20th century.

For African American slaves, who were typically forbidden by law to read or write, it was a matter of practicality to have a leader with a good memory "line out" the longer hymns for the congregation. It also gave vent to the typically African musical aesthetic of "heterophony", in which a group can sing the same song together but with great individual freedom. (There is a good argument to be made that a cappella congregational singing tends to be that way by nature!) This practice is still maintained among the African American Old Baptists; in the video below the song leader "lines out" the Isaac Watts hymn, "When I can read my title clear".

The Shape-Note Tradition

As we have seen, during the first 200 years or so of European settlement in North America, many of the largest Protestant religious bodies sang a cappella in worship. Because of this shared practice, it was not uncommon to have community hymn singings that were not under the auspices of a specific denomination. During the Colonial and early Federal era "singing-schools" became a big business, making full-time careers for composers such as William Billings and Jeremiah Ingalls. A hymn from this era that is still in many hymnals today is Oliver Holden's CORONATION, "All hail the pow'r of Jesus' name". Below is a video of the original version of this hymn sung at a Sacred Harp singing in Stroud, Alabama. In keeping with the singing-school tradition, the group runs through the music with solfege syllables first, then sings the words. (WARNING: Sacred Harp singing is very loud and enthusiastic; adjust your volume accordingly!)

Though the more refined tastes of 19th-century urbanization gradually displaced this music from its cradle in New England, it found a welcome in the frontier states of the Midwest and South, and evolved into a musical tradition of its own. The invention of shape-note systems for indicating the scale steps made it easier to teach a basic level of music reading very quickly, and rural and frontier communities dearly appreciated this outlet for education, edification, and socializing.

The best-known book today from this tradition is the Sacred Harp (1860), but it was preceded by the equally important Southern Harmony (1835). (See the "Introduction to Sacred Harp shape note singing" at for more information on these hymnals.) The composers of this early shape-note music were typically self-taught, or rather, taught by one another, in a rough-and-ready style that must have horrified Lowell Mason and the Bostonians but well suited the loud and enthusiastic singing of the little country meeting-houses. This genre was also deeply imbued with the modal scales of Anglo-Scots-Irish folk music, as can be heard in WONDROUS LOVE.

By the dawn of the 20th century this music was largely crowded out by the new gospel genre, but in the folk music revival of the 1960s, and in the renewed study of American roots music coinciding with the Bicentennial, many people rediscovered this indigenous tradition. Today singings from the old four-shape books are held all over the nation. In the video below, singers in western Massachusetts, one of the states that gave birth to the singing-school movement, sing the most famous tune ever to come from the South, NEW BRITAIN.

A Cappella Singing in the Restoration Movement

The Rise of the "Organ Question"

It should come as no surprise that, at the beginning of the American Restoration Movement (or Stone-Campbell Movement, as some historians prefer), a cappella singing was the norm. Most of those involved came out of denominations that already eschewed instruments in worship, and in their pursuit of the restoration of an ideal New Testament Christianity, they found nothing to change their position on that subject. Musical instruments in worship are not documented among their congregations until two instances from the late 1850s, at Midway, Kentucky, and at the 6th Street congregation in Cincinnati. This practice was met with widespread disapproval, both at home and in the fellowship at large (Ferguson).

The instrument question was increasingly discussed in the second half of the century, however, beginning with an informal written debate between two formidable opponents, Amos Sutton Hayden (1813-1880) and John W. McGarvey (1829-1911), carried out in the pages of the Millennial Harbinger during 1864-1865. Isaac Errett, editor of the Christian Standard (a leading journal among brethren in the North), wrote an editorial in May 1870 declaring his belief that the use of instruments was an expedient, but should not be adopted anywhere if it would cause division. Opposition quickly evaporated in most Northern congregations, however, and by the 1880s most had adopted instruments in worship. Meanwhile, the leading editor in the South, David Lipscomb of the Gospel Advocate, supported the view that instruments were an unauthorized addition to worship. Many more congregations in the South resisted the adoption of instruments than in the North, and the numerical strength of the non-instrumental Churches of Christ in the U.S. is concentrated in the South to this day (Ferguson).

Whatever impact sectional prejudice had in the resulting division, the facts seem better to support an economic and theological interpretation: the wealthier, more socially mobile, and more theologically liberal congregations tended to adopt instruments in worship, and these congregations were much more concentrated in the North. This was true of other religious groups as well; the Southern Baptists have remained much more conservative than most of their Northern counterparts, and the Presbyterian Church of America, composed of conservative Presbyterians who wished to remain separate from the PCUSA, is also concentrated in the South.

The Hymnody of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.

The hymn repertoire of the early Restoration Movement sprang from the music common to the Baptist and Presbyterian churches of the Midwest, crystallized in Alexander Campbell's influential hymnal Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. First published in 1828, this went through numerous editions before undergoing a more wholesale revision into the Christian Hymnbook in the 1860s. Though Campbell objected to the inclusion of musical notation as a distraction from worship, he did include suggested tunes for many texts (Mankin 11-12). A survey of these tune suggestions reveals a familiarity with the contemporary repertoire of Midwestern shape-note tunes (MEAR, PLEASANT HILL, STAR OF THE EAST) as well as the more traditional psalm and hymn tunes from previous centuries.

Campbell's vision of a common hymnal for all the congregations was probably never realistic, but whatever hold it ever had was certainly broken during the "hymnal dispute" of 1866. Following the death of Campbell, the ownership of his hymnal went to the American Christian Missionary Society, which was disavowed by many of the more conservative congregations as an unauthorized innovation in church organization, and a step toward the loss of congregational autonomy. The hymnal underwent an extensive revision and enlargement, was renamed the Christian Hymnbook, and was put up for sale with the understanding that all proceeds would go to the Missionary Society. David Lipscomb and Tolbert Fanning, writing in the conservative Gospel Advocate, strongly objected to the common hymnal of the brotherhood being tied to support of an organization of which many disapproved. They also noted that the increase in price put it out of reach of many of the impoverished congregations of the war-ravaged South (Bowman 57-58).

By the 1880s Lipscomb had decided to publish hymnals through the Gospel Advocate, catering to the needs of the Churches of Christ. The first of these was Christian Hymns (1889), with texts edited by Lipscomb's associate E. G. Sewell and music edited by Methodist hymnwriter and publisher Rigdon McIntosh. The contents lean heavily toward the Southern gospel song; it is striking, in fact, just how "contemporary" this hymnal was when it appeared. It was certainly a marked departure from the Campbell hymnal, and raises the question of just how closely the Southern congregations were aligned with the "common hymnal" to begin with.

In the early 20th century, Churches of Christ in the U.S. were very active in the shape-note singing-schools of Southern gospel, and produced at least one famous gospel songwriter, Albert E. Brumley (1905–1977), author of songs such as "If we never meet again this side of heaven" and "I'll fly away." The latter is sung in the video below, recorded at a singing in Gadsden, Alabama.

Though not enjoying Brumley's commercial success, other songwriters such as Tillit Teddlie and Lloyd O. Sanderson contributed significant new gospel repertoire to the Churches of Christ during this era.

The introduction of Elmer Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church, a tremendously popular hymnal first published in 1921, did more than anything else to swing the stylistic pendulum back toward a balance of gospel and classical hymns. His book was even arranged with that in mind: the "gospel songs" were in one section, and the "hymns" in another nearly equal section. (It is interesting to see which songs went in which section!) Though Jorgenson's book was initially resisted in some quarters because of his controversial Premillennial views, it took on a life of its own, and outlasted the hymnal series from publishers such as Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation. No other hymnal has had such a profound impact on the repertoire sung by the Churches of Christ in this country and abroad.

In the second half of the 20th century, a new hymnal publisher, Alton H. Howard, captured a large portion of the market in the South with Songs of the Church (1971). The success of this hymnal led to another influential book, Songs of Faith and Praise (1994), which was the first major hymnal among the Churches of Christ to incorporate a significant selection of contemporary "praise and worship" music. The contributions of African American Churches of Christ were also significant during this era, particularly in the works of Sylvia Rose Cobb. Her popular "Mansion, Robe, and Crown" is featured in the video below, recorded at the lectureship held by the Southwestern Christian College.

The trend toward using overhead projection instead of hymnals gathered momentum at the turn of the century, and early technologies which had only lyrics raised concerns over what would happen to congregational singing in parts. Fortunately, advances in desktop music publishing have made it possible to project both words and music--even in shape notes--in a practical and effective manner. The Paperless Hymnal product offers songs in batches of 100-200 each, at about $1 per song; congregations can mix and match depending on the repertoire desired.

Resolving the issue of the selection of songs, however, is not amenable to a simple technological fix. The Churches of Christ have not been to the "worship wars" experienced by nearly every other religious group in our time; the main difference has been, where others fight their generational battles over the use of guitars vs. organs, we have sometimes argued over which particular style of a cappella music we will sing. Cool heads, open minds, and loving hearts will get us through these problems. 

It is less easy to say what will happen with the small but increasing trickle of congregations that have begun to use instrumental music in their worship services. It is a disturbing trend--but in no case where I have been familiar with the congregation have I been taken completely by surprise. Just as it was in the late 1800s, the actual adoption of instrumental music in worship is typically a trailing indicator of a larger realignment in theology and practice. I pray that it is not as extensive in our day, as it was in the former.


On reaching the end of this series, it seems useful to repeat its aims. It is not an attempt to argue the case of what kind of music is pleasing to God in Christian worship; others have done that exceptionally well over the years. In fact, I believe one could look at the literature on that subject today, fifty years ago, a century ago, and even further back, and find very little new to be said. My goals instead have been two in number: 1) to frame the argument in context of historical norms of worship practice, and 2) to introduce lovers of a cappella worship today to the rich variety of a cappella praise from ages past. The first goal is of course the more important, and can be restated more plainly as an attempt to encourage a cappella congregations not to accept the "born yesterday" mentality that views us as somehow odd and out of step, simply because we are in a minority at this particular moment in history.

I also hope to stir the honest consciences of those who practice instrumental worship, or those who may be undecided. Of course, the fact that any particular practice or point of view is accepted or rejected at some point in time is really beside the point; what matters is whether that practice or point of view is accepted or rejected by the Holy Spirit through His inspired Scriptures. But if we find that a matter has been settled among most of those calling themselves Christians, for much of the history of Christianity, and has only been changed in the last few centuries--with considerable acrimony and division--is it not worth a second look? 

This was the approach taken recently by John Price in his Old Light on New Worship: Musical Instruments and the Worship of God (Avinger, Texas: Simpson, 2005). I do not agree with all his reasoning, and would hardly expect to, since he is an old-school Calvinist. But the criticisms his book has received are all too familiar (just check Amazon or GoodReads)--He is living in the past. This isn't relevant to today's problems. These arguments were settled a long time ago. Surely he doesn't mean to bring this up again. All of which amounts to what C. S. Lewis wittily called, "chronological snobbery."

When I gather with my brothers and sisters this Sunday--God willing--if we open our mouths to "sing with the spirit and the understanding" (1 Corinthians 14:15), "singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16), and "making melody" with no other instruments but hearts filled with love and gratitude (Ephesians 5:19), we can be sure that we are praising God in the way that He has appointed, that honors His will and is pleasing to His ears. We will also be joining, in spirit, the hosts of others who have done the same, down through the centuries, offering God "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15).

References: "About us." Christ's Sanctified Holy Church

Bowman, John. Sweetly the Tones are Falling: A Hymnal History of Churches of Christ. Brentwood, Tenn.: Penmann Press, 1984.

"Conservative Mennonites." Wikipedia.

"Convictions." The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.

Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection (or Church) of America. New York: A.W. Hall, 1896.

Discipline of the Wesleyan Methodist Connection. Syracuse, N.Y.: Wesleyan Methodist Publishing Association, 1911.

Doctrines and Discipline of the Free Methodist Church. Chicago: Free Methodist Publishing House, 1915.

Ferguson, Everett. "Instrumental music." The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Fortner, Cathy. "Happy 152nd birthday, Free Methodist Church."

"Free Methodists to Have Church Music." The Daily Times (Beaver & Rochester, New York), 19 June 1943, p. 2.,7104324

Grammich, Clifford A., Jr., & Chester Raymond Young. "Old Regular Baptists." Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005, p. 570-572. 

Hutchison, George. The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

Krahn, Cornelius, and Orlando Schmidt. "Musical Instruments." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989.

Mankin, Jim. "Alexander Campbell's contributions to hymnody." The Hymn, vol. 49, no. 1 (January 1998), pp. 10-14.,%20Alexander%20Campbell's%20Contributions%20to%20Hymnody.pdf

Music, David W., and Paul A. Richardson. I Will Sing the Wondrous Story: A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2008.

Minutes of the . . . General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, vol. 5 (1875-1883). Pittsburgh: United Presbyterian Board of Education, 1883.

Minutes of the . . . General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, vols. 15/2 & 16/2. Philadelphia: Clerk of the General Assembly, 1845.

"Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America." Wikipedia.

Robeck, Cecil M. "Azusa Street: 100 years later." Enrichment Journal (Springfield, Mo.).

Weed, Henry Rowland. Questions on the Confession of Faith and Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, with a Selection of Scripture Proofs : Designed for the Instruction of Classes in the Doctrines of Said Church. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Education, 1842.

Westerfield Tucker, Barbara. American Methodist Worship. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Young, Chester Raymond. "Baptists, Primitive." Encyclopedia of Religion in the South. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005, p. 107-108.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Father and Friend

Praise for the Lord #140

Words: John Bowring, 1824
Music: HESPERUS, Henry Baker, 1866

Sir John Bowring (1792–1872), son of an Exeter wool merchant, was a man of remarkable accomplishments in a number of fields. His intelligence, energy, and uncanny ability to learn new languages led to a lengthy and often controversial career in international trade and politics, culminating in his appointment as the fourth governor of Hong Kong (1854-1859). Along the way he published translations of poetry in half-a-dozen different European languages and wrote major works on political science, history, linguistics, and prison reform (Stone).

Bowring's "Father and Friend" first appeared in the 1824 edition of his popular devotional collection Matins and Vespers (London: G. & W.B. Whitaker), which was dedicated to fellow poet and sometime hymnwriter Anna Laetitia Barbauld ("Again the Lord of Light and Life"). The preface to this volume contains this worthwhile sentiment on the nature of good hymn-writing:
I trust I have never forgotten that the substance of piety is of higher interest than any of its decorations,--that the presence of truth is of more importance than the garment it wears (vii).
Bowring understood the reason that so few of the great English poets have written great hymns, and that so few of the great English hymnists are considered great poets in the broader sphere of literature. Though a man of considerable literary accomplishments, in his hymns he spoke in an intimate, unassuming style that has worn well over the centuries. Other well-known hymns by Bowring include "God is love; His mercy brightens," "Watchman, tell us of the night," and "In the cross of Christ I glory."

John Bowring had a penchant for describing God as "Father and Friend." In his Matins and Vespers, his devotional poem for Tuesday evening (p. 26ff.) includes the stanza,
Appalling Power! Thy awful majesty
Might scatter us in dust--but, lo! Thy grace,
Milder and softer than the early dew,
Invites us to Thy presence. Lord! forgive
Thy trembling children--Father! Friend! receive
Their tribute, humble and unworthy too.
And at the end of the same poem,
Source of joy!--my Friend! my Father!
In Thy presence let me be,--
Here the flowers of Virtue gather,
Blooming for eternity.
The poem for Thursday morning opens with a similar theme:
Come forth in thy purple robes again,
Thou brightest star of heaven!
Another day the Guardian of men
Has to His children given.
Receive the gift with gratitude;
My soul! to thy Maker ascend,
And bear thy songs to the Source of good,
To thy Father and thy Friend.
"Father and Friend" must have meant more to Bowring than just the pleasing assonance and rhythm of the phrase. It expresses both the immanence and transcendence of God--the fact that "the God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, . . . is actually not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:24, 27). There is much more to say on the subject of how God chose to bridge the gap between Deity and humanity, but for now let us follow Bowring's text, which celebrates what we can learn through the "general revelation" of God through His creation.

Stanza 1:
Father and Friend, Thy light, thy love,
Beaming through all Thy works we see;
Thy glory gilds the heav'ns above,
And all the earth is full of Thee.

Bruce Demarest's classic work, General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1982), suggests the following conclusions that a reasonable person can make from God's revelation through His creation (p. 242-243, quoted & summarized by Rick Wade):
  • He is uncreated and universal: "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man" (Acts 17:24).
  • He is transcendent: "When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place; what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4).
  • He is immanent: "Yet he is actually not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27).
  • He is the Creator: "We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them" (Acts 14:15).
  • He is self-sufficient, and our Sustainer: "Nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25).
  • He is eternal: "Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting" (Psalm 93:2).
  • He is majestic: "The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty" (Psalm 29:4)
  • He is powerful: "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"(Romans 1:20).
  • He is wise: "O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures" (Psalm 104:24).
  • He is good: "Yet He did not leave himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17).
  • He has a sovereign will: "He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place" (Acts 17:26).
  • He has standards of right and wrong: "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them" (Romans 2:14-15).
  • He should be worshiped: "For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:23).

Bowring opens with the claim that God's "light" and "love" are seen "through all [His] works." He expands on the idea in the last two lines of the first stanza: "Thy glory gilds the heav'ns above," that is, God's physical creation of light is seen in the heavens; "And all the earth is full of Thee," suggesting that the love of God is observed directly in His provision for our physical needs on this earth.

Light was the subject of the first recorded command of God, in His first recorded words: "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3). Light was the positive, energetic exercise of God's will. The earth was "without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep" in verse 2, but God's voice brought forth light and made things begin to happen. Without the light of our sun, this earth would be a dead world, lost in the dark. Its life-giving energy allows us to see where we are and what we are doing, and provides warmth, energy, and growth without which we could not long continue. But God's light, in its metaphorical sense, is even more important. It is a favorite theme in the Psalms:
Send out Your light and Your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling! (Psalm 43:3).
You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence (Psalm 90:8).
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105)
Without the light of God's truth, we would be just as lost and dead as a world without a sun. But God was not content to reveal this light through the words of Scripture; He also sent His Son, "to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79). When Jesus made that wonderfully outrageous claim, "I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12 ESV), He was declaring himself to be the life-giving sun of our spiritual world. "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4-5). When we see glory of the physical sun that "gilds the heavens above," we can be reminded that Jesus' glory fills a heavenly realm that "has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23).

Just as God has revealed His glory in the heavens, He has revealed His goodness in the fullness of good things in this earth. When the creation account in Genesis 1 comes to the actual shaping of this earth into a home suitable for humanity (v. 10), we read after each phase that "He saw that it was good." The Hebrew word for "good" in these instances, טוֹב (towb), could also be used to describe a "good" field, or "good" tree, a "good" herd, in the sense of fertility and productiveness (Strong's H2896). God did not just make it "good enough!" Genesis goes on to tell us that, "the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Gen 2:8-9a). It was a good world when it was made, but God prepared something even better when He made Eden--a perfect home for the humanity He had created.

Even though this world is fallen (Genesis 3:17-19), and we have often done a sorry job of its stewardship, it is still an amazingly beautiful and abundant place. We need only look to the other planets in our solar system, and then back at our earth again, to see what a precious and beautiful thing it is--teeming with life, abundant with provision and care from our heavenly Father. Truly the Psalmist said, "The earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD" (Psalm 33:5; cf. Psalm 119:64).

Stanza 2:
Thy voice we hear, Thy presence feel,
While Thou, too pure for mortal sight,
Enwrapt in clouds, invisible,
Reignest the Lord of life and light.

Though in one sense God's "ways are past finding out" (Romans 11:33)--we do not, and really cannot, understand everything He has done--He "did not leave himself without witness" (Act 14:17). David's beautiful 19th Psalm affirms,
The heavens declare the glory of God,
And the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
Whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
(Psalm 19:1-4)
But in a way, our knowledge of Him is similar to Robinson Crusoe's discovery of the footprints in the sand. We conclude from the evidence of His works that there is a God, and that He has certain qualities; but "no one has seen God" (John 1:18), at least not in His true splendor. One of the few approaches to that kind of encounter is revealed in this strikingly odd event in the Hebrew Testament:
Moses said, "Please show me Your glory." And [God] said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," He said, "you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live." And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me where you shall stand on the rock, and while My glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen" (Exodus 33:18-23).
There is a similarity here to the Transfiguration of Christ, and also to Jesus' appearance to John at the beginning of the Revelation:
And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah." For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified (Mark 9:2-6).
In the midst of the lampstands one like a Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, from His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and His face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead (Rev 1:13-17).
In both the latter cases, we are struck by the fact that the true appearance of Jesus in His glory inspired terror; how remarkable it must have been, to see a familiar Friend so transformed! We have to conclude that we humans simply cannot handle the truth of God's glory. We cannot stare at the sun (at least not for very long) because its power can destroy our sight. How much more would it be to look on the Creator of that sun? He is the One "who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16).

The reason we cannot stand this light, of course, is simple: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), but "people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil" (John 3:19). We need to be "delivered . . . from the domain of darkness" (Colossians 1:13); but how would the light of God's infinite holiness be mediated to "those who walk in darkness" (Isaiah 9:2, cf. Matthew 4:16)? More on this later!

Stanza 3:
We know not in what hallowed part
Of the wide heav'ns Thy throne may be;
But this we know, that where Thou art,
Strength, wisdom, goodness, dwell with Thee.

I once asked my daughter, when she was a small child, where she thought God lives. She was fairly certain that He does not live on a cloud up in the sky (as seen in many artistic portrayals for children), because they are just made of water. Since she was very interested in outer space--at the time she could name not only the planets of our solar system, but many of their moons--I asked her if she thought God lives in space. After one of those sidelong looks that precede her more thoughtful statements, she said cheerfully, "God lives on top of space!" That answer settled the question in her mind, and after nearly two decades I cannot improve on it. The Creator of this universe was somewhere before the universe existed, and will be there (wherever, and whatever, "there" is) when this universe comes to an end.
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same, and Your years have no end. (Psalm 102:25-27).
With this in mind, we have to agree with Bowring that, "We know not in what hallowed part / Of the wide heav'ns Thy throne may be." We know vastly more about the "wide heav'ns" than did the science of Bowring's day; but the more we learn about the depths of space around us, the more we realize how little we know, even about the physical universe. It should be a lesson to us that, if we really understand so little of what we can see, we should be hesitant to make pronouncements about what might be beyond that. I read somewhere recently the profound statement that "science cannot prove the existence of an afterlife." No, it cannot, for the same reason that a yardstick cannot give you the temperature. It's the wrong tool for the job.

 Unlike almost all of the ancient systems of belief, the followers of Jehovah never even tried to locate their God on the top of a high mountain, or in some remote sanctuary on this earth. Isaiah 40:22 expresses the Hebrew concept of God's relationship to this world: "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in." Isaiah speaks poetically, of course, but the point is clear: God is so great that He cannot be properly described in terms of having a dwelling place on this earth. As our horizons have expanded beyond this planet, just in this moment of time in human history, we find that Scripture anticipated us: His glory is "above the heavens" as well (Psalm 8:1).

Leaving aside the question of where it is located, what do we know about the dwelling of God? John's Revelation gives us word-pictures of extravagant beauty, but Bowring's hymn chooses to focus on qualities and ideas rather than physical appearances: "Strength, wisdom, goodness, dwell with Thee." Scripture tells us that God's presence is characterized by many such qualities, of which these are just a few:
  • It is a place that is eternal: "Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15).
  • It is a place of goodness and purity: "I dwell in the high and holy place" (Isaiah 57:15).
  • It is a place of justice and righteousness: "LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart" (Psalm 15:1-2).
  • It is a place of peace and refuge: "Let me dwell in Your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of Your wings!" (Psalm 61:4).
  • It is a place of fellowship: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Revelation 21:3).

Certainly it is a far cry from any place we know upon this earth--but if we follow His will, and He dwells in us, we can see glimpses of it. A good Christian home, and a good Christian congregation, can be a little bit of heaven on earth, if God dwells in them. But God does not choose to force His way into our homes, or into our assemblies; if we want God to dwell with us, we will have to submit to His will, and make our homes and congregations places where God's presence is welcome.

Stanza 4:
Thy children shall not faint nor fear,
Sustained by this delightful thought:
Since Thou, their God, art everywhere,
They cannot be where Thou art not.

The fact that we cannot physically locate God does not detract from our ability to be connected with Him; far from it! Tacitus records that when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem and entered the temple in 63 B.C., "it became commonly known that the place stood empty with no similitude of gods within, and that the shrine had nothing to reveal" (Histories, bk. 5, para. 9). Worthy historian though he was on other topics, Tacitus had no grasp of what the Jews really believed. When the temple was first built on that site, Solomon said in his dedicatory prayer, "But will God indeed dwell with man on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You, how much less this house that I have built!" (2 Chronicles 6:18). God manifested His presence there in a special way, in keeping with the religious economy of that dispensation; but the ancient Hebrews had a far more expansive view:
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. (Psalm 139:7-10)
How one feels about that watchfulness, of course, depends on one's relationship with God. C. S. Lewis summed it up rather well in Mere Christianity when he described the difference between an impersonal "creative force" behind the cosmos (shades of Star Wars?) and the personal God of Scripture:
When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children (27).
Those who walk with God take comfort in that omnipresence, of course, and can say with David:
Hear my cry, O God,
Listen to my prayer;
From the end of the earth I call to you
When my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
That is higher than I
(Psalm 61:1-2)
But how does the sinful, imperfect creation get into such a close relationship with the all-wise, all-powerful, and terribly holy Creator? Can He truly be "Father and Friend?" This is a problem that any serious religion has to address. If God is wise enough and powerful enough to create the cosmos, how can we who are so weak and limited in wisdom and power expect to understand Him, and why would we expect Him to care about us? Throughout history people have vaguely understood the necessity of that distant, dimly understood Deity, and have tried to approach Him through lesser gods and demi-gods that are more like us and less like Him. But "friendship" with God is not the friendship of equals. In fact, references to friendship between God and humanity are very scant in the Hebrew Testament. Abraham is twice called the אָהַב ('ahab, "friend") of God , (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8), in the sense of one who loves God and is loved by God (Strong's H157). James tells us that "The Scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"--and he was called a friend of God (2:23). God favored the obedient Abraham with His friendship in the sense that Abraham was in a special relationship, under God's protection and care. But only once in the Hebrew Scriptures is the common term for "friend" or "companion" (רֵעַ rea`) used to describe God's relationship to a human being: "The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11).

Yet even this "face to face" relationship, as mentioned previously, was qualified; Moses could only see the "back" of the Lord's glory (Exodus 33:18-23). There was just no bridging that gap from Creator to Friend, until God presented His solution. That solution was even more unexpected: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which means, God with us" (Matthew 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7:14). If it was odd for Moses to see God's "back" from a cleft in the mountain, it was even more wonderfully strange that night when common shepherds looked down into a feeding trough and saw the Creator of the Universe. John's gospel account states with simple grandeur: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The beloved apostle went on at greater length in the opening of his first letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--the Life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
Perhaps the rambling style of that paragraph-sentence conveys the difficulty of describing what it was actually like to know Jesus as a Man upon this earth! But certainly John gets across the main point: He was my Friend; I saw Him, I touched Him.

Jesus Christ is the means by which God chose to become our Friend as well as our Father. (Ironically, Bowring, the author of this hymn, was Unitarian.) This new intimacy with God is perhaps best revealed in the 15th chapter of John, when Jesus told His disciples:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you (John 15:12-15).
The Son of God is the living bridge between Creator and the created; He was human in every physical way, yet "in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19). The "unapproachable light" of God's glory is mediated through His Son, the "Light of the World" (John 8:12). "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).

About the music:

Henry Baker (1835-1910)--not to be confused with Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877), editor of Hymns Ancient & Modern--read for the Bachelor of Music degree at Oxford (New College), graduating in 1867. Among his fellow students was the well-known English composer Charles Hubert Parry (1848-1918), future teacher of Vaughan Williams and Holst (Williams 109). Baker, however, turned to a career in civil engineering, eventually traveling to India where he worked in the railroad business (Cyberhymnal). Such a mix of interests is really not that surprising--the ancient Greeks placed the study of music theory alongside mathematics, geometry, and astronomy, and some of the best music students I have taught were also math or engineering majors.

Baker apparently wrote this tune early in his student days and laid it aside; James Love dates it to 1854 (69). Later, a friend submitted it without his knowledge to a competition, sponsored by London's Penny Post, to find a suitable tune for John Keble's hymn "Sun of my soul". Baker's tune was first published in the Hymnal for Use in the English Church (London, 1866) compiled by John Grey (QUEBEC).

Bowring's text presents a bit of a problem for matching with a tune; it is Common Meter (, but the first two lines substitute trochees for the initial iambs:
Fa- ther and Friend, Thy light, Thy love
ing through all Thy works we see.
This creates an initial triplet rhythm with a heavy downbeat, unlike the usually strictly iambic Common Meter rhythm:
Praise God from whom all bles- sings flow;
Praise Him all crea- tures here be- low.
Bowring does not maintain this substitution in all the stanzas, which makes a musical setting all the more tricky. Triple meter makes the best of the situation, giving the opening lines a strong rhythmic cast and glossing over the inconsistencies in later stanzas. The same kind of tune is employed to help with similar problems in the hymns "Father of Mercies", "Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts", and "Faith of our Fathers".

Baker's tune manages these rhythmic wobbles (which are even more pronounced in "Sun of my soul", the text with which it was originally matched) through a crafty use of repeated notes. Each line of music, in fact, begins with three repeated pitches in even quarter notes, which allow the emphasis to shift according to the demands of the poetry. The range of the tune is remarkably simple; with the exception of one note, it could be played on the piano in a "five-finger" position (the thumb resting on tonic and each successive finger on the next note of the scale), covering a mere five steps of the scale.


Bowring, John. Matins and Vespers: with hymns and occasional devotional pieces. 2nd ed. London: G. & W.B. Whitaker, 1824.

"Henry Baker (1835-1910)." Cyberhymnal

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.

Love, James. Scottish Church Music: Its Composers and Sources. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1891.

"QUEBEC." Hymnary.org

Stone, Gerald. "Bowring, Sir John (1792–1872)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., May 2009.

Strong's H157 (הַב 'ahab). Hebrew Lexicon. Blue Letter Bible.

Strong's H2897 (טוֹב towb). Hebrew Lexicon. Blue Letter Bible.

Strong's H7453 (רֵעַ rea`). Hebrew Lexicon. Blue Letter Bible.

Tacitus. Histories, from The Complete Works of Tacitus, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. New York: Random House, 1942.

Wade, Rick. "The doctrine of revelation: how God reveals His nature and His will." Probe Ministries.

Williams, Charles Francis Abdy. A Short Historical Account of the Degrees in Music at Oxford and Cambridge. London: Novello, 1893.