My choice of hymn this week was prompted by someone who emailed me to say that she had fond memories of singing it at school: ‘Summer suns are glowing’. It seems very appropriate for July, though in fact it is less about summer weather than about the theme of God’s ‘free mercy’, which streams over the whole world, like sunshine. This is developed through images of light, shining, and radiance. Reading or singing the words, we are reminded of the ancient and lovely priestly benediction in Numbers 6:25, ‘the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace’. This was one of four seasonal hymns written by William Walsham How for a collection entitled Church Hymns, which he co-edited in 1871. He was a prolific writer, and produced nearly sixty hymns, of which a dozen or so are still sung. A much-loved Bishop in East London, he was known variously as ‘the children’s bishop’, ‘the poor man’s bishop’, and ‘the omnibus bishop’ (the last from his preferred means of transport in his diocese). In 1874 ‘Summer sun’ was set to ‘Ruth’, by Samuel Smith (1821–1917), and this has always been the most frequently used tune. I’ve chosen a lovely 2013 Songs of Praise performance by the choir and congregation of St Mary’s Church, Whitby. (The third verse is omitted.)


Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
    Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire,
    That trembles in the breast.


Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
    The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye,
    When none but God is near.


Prayer is the simplest form of speech
    That infant lips can try,
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
    The majesty on high.


Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
    Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice,
    And cry, ‘Behold, He prays!’





Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
    The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death:
    He enters heaven with prayer.


In prayer on earth the saints are one,
    In word, and deed, and mind,
When with the Father and his Son
    Sweet fellowship they find.


Nor prayer is made on earth alone;
    The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on the eternal throne,
    For sinners intercedes.


O Thou, by whom we come to God,
    The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
    Lord, teach us how to pray!

            James Montgomery (1771–1854)

My chosen hymn this week is ‘Precious Lord, take my hand’, the most popular of the early African American gospel songs written from the 1920s onward. The author, Thomas A. Dorsey was a prolific composer, arranger and pianist, known as the ‘Father of Gospel Music’ in honour of his contribution to the genre. He wrote ‘Precious Lord’ in Chicago in 1932 under distressing circumstances. While he was away from home at a revival meeting, his wife died in childbirth and his newborn son died a few days later. Sitting at a piano in his grief, Dorsey remembered an old Sunday-school tune, ‘Maitland’, by George Nelson Allen (1812–77), and as he played it over the words of ‘Precious Lord’ came to him. When it was sung by the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Chapel in Chicago the following Sunday, Dorsey recalled, it ‘tore up the church’. The emotional power of the three verses of this hymn gives it something of the character of an Old Testament Psalm: we confess our helplessness; we cry for divine help in our time of trouble; and we trust that God will guide our feet, take our hand, and lead us home. ‘Precious Lord’ was the favourite gospel song of Martin Luther King, who chose it as one of the ‘freedom anthems’ of the Civil Rights Movement. The great gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson sang it at King’s funeral, following his assassination in April 1968 (and another renowned singer, Arethra Franklin, sang it at Jackson’s own funeral, in 1972). I’ve chosen a memorable 1956 recording from the album ‘Mahalia Jackson Sings the Best-Loved Hymns of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’ and a lovely performance by the Choir of Lincroft Presbyterian Church, New Jersey, recorded during the pandemic in 2020.

Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand,
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m lone;
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear, precious Lord linger near,
When my light is almost gone;
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears and the night draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
At the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand;
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993)

My hymn this week is that great song of praise, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’. The first two lines are straight from Psalm 87:3, and the hymn as a whole is inspired by Isaiah 33:27–8: Zion will never be broken or removed, but will be the city where ‘the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams’. As well as the Heavenly City, Zion is the entire host of God’s people – the creation and the dwelling place of God. The author of this masterpiece of the Evangelical imagination, John Newton, had a most extraordinary life, including a wild youth and ten years as master of a slave ship. Following a religious conversion, he entered Christian ministry as curate of Olney in 1764, and later as rector of St Mary Woolnoth, London. Repenting of his earlier life, he actively worked for the abolition of the slave trade. ‘Glorious things’ was published in Olney Hymns (1779), jointly written with Newton’s friend, the poet William Cowper. It is traditionally sung to ‘Austria’, a grand tune by Haydn, written in 1797, later used as the music for the German national anthem. Also popular is the lovely flowing ‘Abbots Leigh’, composed by Cyril Taylor (1907–91) in 1941. I’ve chosen a spirited rendition of ‘Austria’ by massed choirs of 200 voices recorded at St Andrew’s Church, Chennai, India, in 2019, and a beautiful performance of ‘Abbots Leigh’ by the Caritas Consort, also recorded in 2019.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
    Zion, City of our God!
He, whose word cannot be broken,
    Formed thee for his own abode:
On the rock of ages founded,
    What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded
    Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See! the streams of living waters,
    Springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
    And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint while such a river
    Ever flows their thirst t’assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord, the Giver,
    Never fails from age to age.

Round each habitation hov’ring,
    See the cloud and fire appear!
For a glory and a cov’ring,
    Showing that the Lord is near:
Thus deriving from their banner
    Light by night, and shade by day;
Safe they feed upon the Manna
    Which he gives them when they pray.

Saviour, if of Zion’s city
    I, through grace, a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
    I will glory in thy name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
    All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
    None but Zion’s children know.

                   John Newton (1725–1807)

My chosen hymn this week is one that is particularly popular in Scotland, ‘Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side’. It is a translation of a German hymn written by Katharina von Schlegel, of whom we know little except that she was born in 1697, may have come from an aristocratic family, and may have been head of the Evangelical Lutheran nunnery in Köthen, north of Halle. Her hymn, ‘Stille, mein Wille: dein Jesus hilft siegen’, was first published in 1752. About a hundred years later, Jane Laurie Borthwick, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, translated it into English. In collaboration with her sister, Sarah Laurie Findlater, Borthwick did much to introduce German hymns into Britain in the nineteenth century. She never married, but devoted her life to the education of the poor, and to the domestic and foreign missionary work of the Free Church of Scotland. When ‘Be still, my soul’ first appeared, in Hymns from the Land of Luther (Edinburgh, 1855), it was entitled ‘Submission’, followed by a quotation from Luke 21:19, ‘In your patience possess ye your souls’. The opening lines also echo Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’, and the last two lines of the second verse recall the words of Jesus in Mark 4:41, as he stilled the storm. Part of the continuing popularity of Borthwick’s hymn in the twentieth century is due to the inspired decision in the Revised Church Hymnary of 1927 to set it to the grand chorale-like tune in Sibelius’s Finlandia (1900). I’ve chosen a beautiful performance by the Choir of Paisley Abbey, recorded in 1972.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
    Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
    In every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
    To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
    All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
    And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know his love, his heart,
    Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay,
From his own fullness, all he takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
    When we shall be for ever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
    Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

            Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel (1697–?)
                            Trans. Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813–97)

This Sunday, 4 July, has been designated ‘Thank You Day’, and so I’ve chosen for my hymn this week a beautiful and thoughtful expression of thankfulness to God for all his blessings to us. It is a hymn often sung at harvest festival services, but there is no reason to confine it to harvest time. Particularly in the second verse, it opens out into a wider concept of ‘harvests’ as something that we share as well as receive with gratitude. As well as thanking those who labour to provide us with the goods we need, we should give them a ‘just reward’; we should help our neighbours, and care for the ‘hungry and despairing’, and we should share the ‘harvests’ of the spirit that we thank God for, above all ‘that love has found us’. The hymn here echoes the call for generosity to the ‘stranger, the fatherless, and the widow’ in Deuteronomy 24:19–22. Fred Pratt Green, the author, was a prominent Methodist minister, who wrote poetry, and became known as one of the outstanding modern hymn-writers. ‘For the fruits of his creation’ was written to be sung to ‘East Acklam’, a tune composed in 1957 by Francis Alan Jackson (1917– ), composer and organist at York Minister for many years. I’ve chosen a lovely performance by the choir of Jesus College Cambridge, recorded in 2018.

For the fruits of his creation,
    Thanks be to God;
For his gifts to every nation,
    Thanks be to God;
For the ploughing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safe-keeping,
    Thanks be to God.

In the just reward of labour,
    God’s will be done;
In the help we give our neighbour,
    God’s will be done;
In our world-wide task of caring
    For the hungry and despairing,
In the harvests we are sharing,
    God’s will be done.


For the harvests of his Spirit,
    Thanks be to God;
For the good we all inherit,
    Thanks be to God;
For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all, that love has found us,
    Thanks be to God.
                  Fred Pratt Green (1903–2000)

My choice this week is a joyful hymn of praise, ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’. It is by the seventeenth-century poet and priest George Herbert, and first appeared shortly after his death in 1633 in a collection of his religious poems entitled The Temple. Unlike others of his poems that have become hymns, Herbert seems to have written this one specifically for singing in church. It closely echoes words from the Psalms, especially the opening of Psalm 95, the ‘Venite’, sung each day in Mattins: ‘O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation. / Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving: and show ourselves glad in him with psalms. / For the Lord is a great God: and a great King above all gods. / In his hands are all the corners of the earth: and the strength of the hills is his also.’ It is characteristic of Herbert’s ‘heart religion’ to stress that, although the Church sings (‘shouts’) psalms of praise, it is ‘above all, the heart’ which must continue ‘longest’ praising God. Various tunes have been composed for Herbert’s poem, but the best known is the splendid ‘Luckington’, by Basil Harwood (1859–1949), named after a village near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. I’ve chosen a wonderfully spirited and uplifting ‘Songs of Praise’ rendition, and, as a bonus, a link to a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s truly glorious setting in his Five Mystical Songs (1911), sung by Stanford Chamber Chorale and the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford, in 2019.

Let all the world in every corner sing,
            My God and King!
     The heavens are not too high,
     His praise may thither fly;
     The earth is not too low,
     His praises there may grow,
Let all the world in every corner sing,
            My God and King!

Let all the world in every corner sing,
            My God and King!
     The Church with psalms must shout,
     No door can keep them out;
     But, above all, the heart
     Must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in every corner sing,
            My God and King!

                      George Herbert (1593–1633)

Do not be afraid,
for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by your name;
you are mine.

When you walk through the waters,
I’ll be with you.
You will never sink beneath the waves.

When the fire is burning
all around you,
you will never be consumed by the flames.

When the fear of loneliness
is looming,
then remember I am at your side.

When you dwell in the exile
of a stranger,
remember you are precious in my eyes.

You are mine, O my child;
I am your Father,
and I love you with a perfect love.
                       Gerard Markland (1953– )

My hymn this week is ‘Do not be afraid’. Written in 1978, its message of trust in a God who loves us with a ‘perfect love’ has, if anything, become even more relevant during the pandemic, and as we face the challenges of climate change. The chorus is straight out of the beautiful opening of Isaiah 43, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine’. Other verses also use words from this chapter – ‘when you pass through the waters, I will be with you’; ‘when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned’; ‘you are precious and honoured in my sight, and … I love you’. The author of this well-known hymn is Gerard Markland, an English Roman Catholic writer and teacher. He also composed the tune, and the words and music first appeared in Songs of the Spirit (Kevin Mayhew, 1978). In 2010, a leading composer of religious music, Philip W. J. Stopford (b. 1977) accepted a commission to write a choral setting of Markland’s words. Stopford’s version expresses most movingly the calmness that comes from placing our trust in God. I have chosen a solo performance of Markland’s original tune by Marilla Ness (an immensely popular Christian singer, born in Northern Ireland), and a performance of Stopford’s choral setting recorded in 2012 by Truro Cathedral Choir.

My hymn this week, ‘Come, we that love the Lord’, was originally entitled ‘Heavenly Joy on Earth’. This great hymn does indeed celebrate the joy of the Christian life here and now on this earth, in which we experience ‘a thousand sacred sweets’ even before we reach ‘the heavenly fields, / Or walk the golden streets’. The line ‘marching through Immanuel’s ground’ in the magnificent final verse is an allusion to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, where the pilgrims pass through ‘Immanuel’s Land’, a place of refreshment among ‘Delectable Mountains’, before, eventually, they enter the Celestial City. The verse also echoes Isaiah 35:10, ‘the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’. The author of ‘Come, we that love the Lord’ was Isaac Watts, a Congregational minister and one of the greatest of all English hymn-writers. First published in his collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707) as a hymn of ten verses, it is now usually shortened to the four verses given below. This is understandable, though I’m sorry to lose the lines ‘Religion never was designed / To make our Pleasures less’. The refrain is not by Watts; it was added in 1868 by the prolific American hymn-writer and composer, Robert Lowry (1826–99), who also provided a rousing new tune, ‘Marching to Zion’. Of many performances available on YouTube, I’ve chosen a lovely one by the Coventry Singers, recorded in 2013.

       Come, we that love the Lord,
       And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
       And thus surround the throne.

            We’re marching to Zion,
                Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
            We’re marching upward to Zion,
                The beautiful city of God.

       Let those refuse to sing,
       Who never knew our God;
But children of the heav’nly King
       May speak their joys abroad.

       The hill of Zion yields
       A thousand sacred Sweets
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
       Or walk the golden streets.

       Then let our songs abound,
       And ev’ry tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
       To fairer worlds on high.
                                    Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

On Wednesday 9 June, we remember St Columba, founder of a monastery on Iona in 563. He was the author of several hymns, including my choice this week, ‘Christ is the world’s redeemer’. This was part of a longer Latin hymn, which survives in two manuscripts, first published in Dublin in 1869. Duncan MacGregor, minister of Inverallochy, translated it into English for the commemoration of the 1,300th anniversary of Columba’s death, held on Iona, 9 June 1897. The hymn is very much in the tradition of Celtic Christianity, with its stress on inclusiveness. The first verse celebrates Christ as ‘the Lord of earth and sky’ as well as our redeemer, lover, fount of wisdom, trust, hope, armour, health, and everlasting life. The next two verses expand on his salvation of the world through his death, resurrection, and ascension, and the hymn ends with a grand doxology. J. R. Watson describes it as ‘a hymn filled with the joyful spirit that sent St Columba to Iona, and inspired his disciples to convert Scotland and the north of England’. It is sung to the Irish tune ‘Moville’ (referring to Movilla Abbey, County Down, where Columba went to school). I’ve chosen a fine performance by The Priory Singers, Belfast, recorded in 2002, which catches well the ‘joyful spirit’ of the ancient missionary monks.

Christ is the world’s redeemer,
    The lover of the pure,
The fount of heavenly wisdom,
    Our trust and hope secure,
The armour of his soldiers,
    The lord of earth and sky,
Our health while we are living,
    Our life when we shall die.

Christ has our host surrounded
    With clouds of martyrs bright,
Who wave their palms in triumph,
    And fire us for the fight.
Christ the red Cross ascended
    To save a world undone,
And, suffering for the sinful,
    Our full redemption won.

Down in the realm of darkness
    He lay a captive bound,
But at the hour appointed
    He rose, a victor crowned;
And now, to heaven ascended,
    He sits upon the throne,
Whence he had ne’er departed,
    His Father’s and his own.

All glory to the Father,
    The unbegotten One;
All honour be to Jesus,
    His sole-begotten Son;
And to the Holy Spirit,
    The perfect Trinity.
Let all the worlds give answer:
    Amen: so let it be!
                             St Columba (521–97)

  Trans. Duncan MacGregor (1854–1923)

My hymn this week is the best-known hymn for Trinity Sunday: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!’

My hymn this week is the best-known hymn for Trinity Sunday: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!’ The great Victorian poet Tennyson thought it was the finest hymn ever written, and it is easy to see why. The subject of the Holy Trinity is a complex one, but this hymn expresses its mystery and magnificence in memorable words and images. It draws on verses from Revelation chapter four describing heaven, with its ‘sea of glass like unto crystal’, where praises ascend to God day and night: ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come’. The three-in-one of the Trinity is emphasized throughout, not only in the repeated three ‘Holies’ but in other triple combinations like ‘power … love … purity’, ‘earth … sea … sky’. The author of this marvellous hymn was Reginald Heber, who wrote it while vicar of Hodnet in Shropshire. He was one of the pioneers of hymn-writing in the Church of England, and it is extraordinary to think that in 1820, when he sought permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London to publish a book of hymns for use by Anglicans they refused his request! ‘Holy, holy, holy’ first appeared in 1826, and then, after Heber’s premature death in India, in a collection put together by his widow, Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year (1827). The tune to which it is always sung is ‘Nicaea’, by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76), one of Dykes’s grandest compositions. I’ve chosen a beautiful performance by Cape Town Massed Choirs, accompanied by the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded in 2019.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
    Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the Saints adore thee,
    Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and Seraphim falling down before thee,
    Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide thee,
    Though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see:
Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee
    Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
    All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty!
    God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

                                           Reginald Heber (1783–1826)

My hymn this week is one often sung at Pentecost, ‘Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed’.

My hymn this week is one often sung at Pentecost, ‘Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed’.

 It opens with the promise Jesus gave his disciples that after his death he would send a ‘Comforter’, the Holy Spirit, who would teach them all things (John 14:16, 26). It then takes up the account in Acts 2:1–4 of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles at Pentecost in ‘cloven tongues as of fire’, and proceeds to explore the attributes and work of the Spirit in the lives of believers. The author of this hymn, Harriet (originally Henriette) Auber, was descended from Huguenot refugees who had settled in Spitalfields. Her father became a rector in the Church of England, and she seems to have had an uneventful life, spent mainly at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. She devoted herself to writing religious poetry, and in 1829 published an anthology of hymns and poems entitled The Spirit of the Psalms. Although including other authors, it was mainly her own work. Auber lived for many years with Mary Jane McKenzie, a writer of novels and religious works. The relationship was evidently a close one. When she died, Auber was buried beside her companion, who had died a few years earlier. ‘Our blest Redeemer’ became widely known through its inclusion in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), set to ‘St Cuthbert’ by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76). I have chosen an attractive performance recorded in 2014 by the Scottish Festival Singers.

Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed
    His tender last farewell,
A Guide, a Comforter, bequeathed
    With us to dwell.

He came in semblance of a dove
    With sheltering wings outspread,
The holy balm of peace and love
    On us to shed.

He came in tongues of living flame
    To teach, convince, subdue,
All powerful as the wind he came,
    As viewless too.

He came sweet influence to impart,
    A gracious, willing guest,
While he can find one humble heart
    Wherein to rest.

And his that gentle voice we hear,
    Soft as the breath of even,
That checks each fault, that calms each fear,
    And speaks of heaven.

And every virtue we possess,
    And every conquest won,
And every thought of holiness,
    Are his alone.

Spirit of purity and grace,
    Our weakness, pitying, see;
O make our hearts thy dwelling place,
    And worthier thee.
                     Harriet Auber (1773–1862)

My hymn this week is ‘At the name of Jesus’. 

This fine Ascension Day hymn is based on Philippians 2:9–11, where Jesus, ‘highly exalted’ by God, is given ‘a name . . . above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’. The author, Caroline Maria Noel, came from a prominent Evangelical family. 

Her father was vicar of Romsey in Hampshire, and an uncle, the Hon. Baptist Wriothesley Noel, though at first a chaplain to Queen Victoria came to believe in adult baptism and joined the Baptists. She began writing poetry at seventeen, but left it aside and only took it up again in her forties, when she became seriously ill. 

Over the next twenty-five years, she published a large number of hymns. ‘At the name of Jesus’ appeared in 1870, in a collection entitled The Name of Jesus, and other Verses for the Sick and Lonely. Four of its original eight verses not sung nowadays, but the hymn still gives voice to the great themes of Creation, Redemption, and Christ’s Ascension and Second Coming. 

Though set to different tunes, the most popular is ‘Camberwell’, a vigorous tune published in 1960 by John Michael Brierley (b. 1932), a vicar in Worcestershire who produced much modern music for hymns. I’ve chosen a lively performance by Westminster Hall Choir and the Epworth Singers.

At the name of Jesus
    Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
    King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure
    We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
    Was the mighty Word.

Humbled for a season,
    To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
    Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
    When from death he passed:

Bore it up triumphant,
    With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures,
    To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
    To the Father’s breast,
Filled it with the glory
    Of that perfect rest.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus
    Shall return again,
With his Father’s glory,
    With his Angel train;
For all wreaths of empire
    Meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him
    King of glory now.

     Caroline Maria Noel (1817–77)

When I was a boy, my mother sent my sisters and me to the local Salvation Army, to top up what we got from the Presbyterians on Sundays. My choice of hymn this week was a great Salvation Army favourite: ‘Shall we gather at the river’. The words and music of this extraordinarily popular hymn are by Robert Lowry, at that time pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church in New York, who wrote them in 1864 during a terrible outbreak of cholera. Lowry was a prolific hymn-writer, who published nearly twenty collections and composed many memorable tunes. He described how one hot afternoon he asked himself why so many hymns were written about the river of death, and why so few about the river of life that had been described in the opening verse of Revelation 22: ‘he showed me a pure river of water of life, proceeding out of the throne of God’. Fifteen minutes later, he had written the words of ‘Shall we gather’ and was composing a tune he named ‘Hanson Place’ at his parlour organ. Despite it becoming one of his greatest ‘hits’, Lowry did not much like the hymn, putting its success down to the ‘brass-band march-movement’ music. It may not be a great work of literature, but we might at least note Lowry’s resourcefulness in finding rhymes for ‘river’. Years later, overhearing it sung on a train by half-drunk lumberjacks, Lowry reflected that perhaps its spirit ‘might somehow . . . be carried forward into the lives of those careless men, and ultimately lift them upward to the realization of the hope it expressed’. In honour of its Baptist origins, I’ve chosen a heartfelt rendition by the congregation at Rowley Baptist Church, recorded in June 2010. I’ve also included a link to the famous setting of ‘Shall we gather’ by Aaron Copland, sung with great power and beauty by the American baritone Shea Owens (no relation!).

Shall we gather at the river,
    Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
    Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
    The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
    That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
    Dashing up its silver spray,
We will talk and worship ever,
    All the happy golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
    Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
    And provide a robe and crown.

At the shining of the river,
    Mirror of the Saviour’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever
    Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we’ll reach the silver river,
    Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
    With the melody of peace.
                         Robert Lowry (1826–99)

The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended’.

My choice this week is one of the loveliest of all hymns: ‘The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended’. It begins gently at evening, as darkness falls, but this day now closing had opened with ‘morning hymns’, and so the hymn suggests beautifully the movement of a whole day of praise of God. This idea of movement is the theme of the following verses, where the Church is keeping watch ‘through all the world’. Over each continent and island, ‘the voice of prayer’ and ‘strain of praise’ are never silent. As one part of the world is saying evening prayers, another part is waking up to morning prayers. This movement will continue, the hymn concludes, until the final establishment of God’s kingdom and its recognition by all his creatures. The author of this famous and much-loved hymn was John Ellerton, a mid-Victorian Anglican clergyman and hymn-writer of ‘Broad Church’ and Christian Socialist views, who, it is said composed many of his hymns as he walked to teach classes at a Mechanics Institute attended by railway workers. Some have complained of ‘imperialist overtones’ in ‘The day thou gavest’, but Ellerton is surely writing of a spiritual ‘empire’, which, unlike ‘earth’s proud empires’ will never pass away. The tune ‘St Clement’, composed in 1874 by Clement Scholefield (1839–1904) carries the sweep of the long lines admirably. It has remained popular, surviving an attack by no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang, who in 1932 denounced it in The Times as a ‘feeble waltz’ and called for its abolition! No matter, I’ve chosen what I think is a completely beautiful performance by the Choir of the Abbey School Tewkesbury, recorded in 2001.

The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
    The darkness falls at thy behest;
To thee our morning hymns ascended,
    Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank thee that thy Church unsleeping,
    While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
    And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
    The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
    Nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking
    Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
    Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,
    Like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
    Till all thy creatures own thy sway.
                         John Ellerton (1826–93)

My hymn this week – ‘O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder’ – is a great favourite, but its origins are exceedingly complicated. It started out as a Swedish hymn, ‘O store Gud’ (‘O great God’), written in 1866 by a well-known preacher in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sweden, Carl Gustav Boberg. He was inspired to write it after looking over the calm waters of the Monsteras inlet on the south east coast of Sweden as a rainbow appeared following a storm and a church bell was tolling in the distance. When first published in 1891, ‘O store Gud’ was set to a Swedish folk melody. In 1907, a German translation appeared. This in turn became the basis of a translation into Russian by Ivan S. Prokhanoff (1869–1935), a notable leader of the evangelical Christian community in St Petersburg, who published it in Moscow in 1927. Stuart Keene Hine, a Plymouth Brethren missionary working in Eastern Europe between 1923 and 1939, heard this Russian version sung in the Ukraine. Much struck by it, he began a free translation into English while travelling in the Carpathian Mountains on the border of Russia and Romania, where the spectacular scenery inspired him to add verses of his own. He brought three verses back with him to England, where he added a fourth, perhaps inspired by the flood of homeless refugees arriving from Russia and Poland in 1948. This English version appeared in print in 1949, and quickly became popular in many countries, particularly where Billy Graham promoted it in his evangelistic campaigns of 1950s and 1960s. Its evocation in simple words and imagery of the religious awe many people feel in nature, together with the wonderfully expressive Swedish folk tune, have made it internationally renowned. I’ve chosen two ‘Songs of Praise’ performances. One is by the congregation in Winchester Cathedral in 2014; the other is a solo by Katherine Jenkins, recorded in 2018.

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee,
How great thou art! How great thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees:
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:
Then sings my soul…

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die – I scarce can take it in:
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
 He bled and died to take away my sin:
Then sings my soul…

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home – what joy shall fill my heart!
Then shall I bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!
Then sings my soul…

                                       Carl Gustav Boberg (1859–1940)

Translated and adapted by Stuart Hine (1899–1989)

My hymn this week is Charles Wesley’s ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’. Although now often sung at Ascensiontide, Wesley intended it for singing at Easter, publishing it in 1746 in Hymns for our Lord’s Resurrection. It is a richly allusive hymn, particularly in the refrains. All except the last use words from the ancient Eucharistic text, Sursum Corda (‘Lift up your hearts’) and from Philippians 4:4, ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice’. In the final verse, the refrain changes to words drawn from 1 Thessalonians 4:16, describing how at the Second Coming Christ will descend from heaven ‘with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God’. ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’ was originally sung to a tune by Wesley’s friend, John Frederick Lampe but is now sung to ‘Gopsal’, one of three settings by Handel of hymns by Wesley. Although he composed them between 1749 and 1752, Handel never published the settings, and they were unknown until 1826, when Samuel Wesley (Charles’s son) discovered them in the library of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and arranged for their publication. The name ‘Gopsal’ was given to the tune in honour of Charles Jennens, who arranged the texts for Handel’s Messiah and had lived at Gopsal Hall in Leicestershire. I’ve chosen a fine performance by York Minster Choir, recorded in 1996. (It omits the fourth verse.)

Rejoice, the Lord is King!
    Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals, give thanks, and sing,
    And triumph evermore:
        Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
        Rejoice! Again I say, Rejoice!

Jesus, the Saviour, reigns,
    The God of truth and love;
When he had purged our stains,
    He took his seat above:

His kingdom cannot fail,
    He rules o’er earth and heaven;
The keys of death and hell
    Are to our Jesus given:

He sits at God’s right hand
    Till all his foes submit,
And bow to his command,
    And fall beneath his feet:

Rejoice in glorious hope;
    Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take his servants up
    To their eternal home:
        We soon shall hear the archangel’s voice;
        The trump of God shall sound: Rejoice!

                                    Charles Wesley (1707–88)

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
Now is the victor’s triumph won;
O let the song of praise be sung:

Death’s mightiest powers have done their worst,
And Jesus hath his foes dispersed;
Let shouts of praise and joy outburst:

On the third morn he rose again
Glorious in majesty to reign;
O let us swell the joyful strain:

He brake the age-bound chains of hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise his triumph tell:

Lord, by the stripes which wounded thee,
From death’s dread sting thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to thee:

         Latin hymn from the seventeenth century (?)
                             trans. Francis Pott (1832–1909)

My hymn this week is another great statement of the Easter message: ‘The strife is o’er, the battle done’. The theme is the victory over the powers of death and hell won for us by Christ through his resurrection ‘on the third morn’. The strong, clinching rhymes that bind together each of the three-line verses add to the overall effect of ‘triumph won’. The origin of this hymn is unknown. The earliest source for it is in a Jesuit book, published in Cologne in 1695, but it may be much earlier than that, perhaps even going as far back as the twelfth century. John Mason Neale (1818–66) made the first translation into English, in his Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). Ten years later, Francis Pott translated it afresh and published it in his Hymns Fitted to the Order of Common Prayer (1861), and his translation was the one that became established. Pott, who became rector of Northill, Bedfordshire, in 1866, wrote other well-known hymns, among them ‘Angel voices, ever singing’. He was on the original committee that produced Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861, where ‘The strife is o’er’ was set to a wonderful tune, ‘Victory’, adapted by William Henry Monk (1823–89) from the Gloria Patri of Palestrina’s Magnificat Tertii Toni of 1591. This perfectly captures the dignified and measured style of the hymn. I’ve chosen an attractive, stately performance by the Choir of Truro Cathedral, recorded in 2005.

My hymn this week is one of the greatest of all Easter hymns: ‘Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia’. The short, clear statement of faith in each line followed by the resounding ‘Alleluia’ make it an instantly accessible and memorable expression of the joyousness of Easter. Apparently, the medieval church forbade the use of ‘Alleluia’ from the ninth Sunday before Easter (Septuagesima) right up to Easter, and so, as J. R. Watson remarks, the effect of the continued repetition of the word on Easter Day must have been tremendous at that time. The names of the author, translator, and composer of the music for this hymn are unknown. The text originated in the form of a three-verse Latin hymn, ‘De Resurrectione Domini’ found in a Munich manuscript of the fourteenth century. Its first appearance in English was in 1708, in Lyra Davidica, or, A Collection of Divine Songs and Hymns. This presented a literal translation of the Latin, but in John Arnold’s Compleat Psalmodist of 1749, there were significant changes to the text. The second verse in 1708 was: ‘Haste ye females from your fright, / Take to Galilee your flight. / To his sad disciples say / Jesus Christ is risen today.’ The revised verse (the one we now sing, as below) strikes me as a regrettable example of the editing out of references to women in Christian worship, even when the references come straight from the Gospels themselves. Sometimes a fourth verse is added as a ‘doxology’, but the performance I’ve chosen includes only the three verses, as in the original. It is a BBC recording of a grand Easter service at Hereford Cathedral in 2017.

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!
Who did once, upon the cross, Alleluia!
Suffer to redeem our loss, Alleluia!

Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
Unto Christ, our heavenly King, Alleluia!
Who endured the cross and grave, Alleluia!
Sinners to redeem and save, Alleluia!

But the pain which He endured, Alleluia!
Our salvation hath procured, Alleluia!
Now above the sky He’s king, Alleluia!
Where the angels ever sing, Alleluia!

Since it is Palm Sunday this week, my chosen hymn is the wonderfully dramatic ‘Ride on! ride on in majesty!’ The hymn contrasts the ‘majesty’ of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem with the ‘humble beast’ on which he rides. A commentary on the events follows each repeated first line – full of foreboding in the first three verses, but then looking forward to the triumph of the Resurrection and Ascension in the last two. The whole hymn conveys powerfully a sense of the significance of his ride into Jerusalem where Jesus will face his greatest, most terrible ordeal. Even the angels in heaven look down ‘with sad and wondering eyes’ at the spectacle of this ‘approaching sacrifice’. The author, Henry Hart Milman, was vicar of St Mary’s, Reading and rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster before becoming Dean of St Paul’s. A skilled poet, he sent this hymn to Reginald Heber who was compiling a book of Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year (published in 1827). The most usual tune is ‘Winchester New’, based on a melody first published in a hymnbook in Hamburg in 1690. William Henry Havergal (1793–1870) edited the seventeenth-century tune, and in this revised form it appeared in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). I’ve chosen a fine rendition by the choir and congregation of King’s College, Cambridge, with a gloriously rich organ accompaniment and wonderful descant singing in the last verse.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Hark, all the tribes hosanna cry;
Thine humble beast pursues his road
With palms and scattered garments strowed.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ, thy triumphs now begin
O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
The wingèd squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh;
The Father on his sapphire throne
Expects his own anointed Son.

Ride on! ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die;
Bow thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, O God, thy power, and reign.
                     Henry Hart Milman (1791–1868)

‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds’.

My hymn this week is a great favourite: ‘How sweet the name of Jesus sounds’. The author, John Newton, included it in Olney Hymns (1779), the famous collection he edited with his friend the poet William Cowper. Inspired by a quotation from the Song of Solomon, 1:3 – ‘Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee’ – Newton develops this into a hymn all about the sweetness and power of the name of Jesus. This name speaks to every human situation in which we may find ourselves. It soothes and heals, banishes fear, makes wounded spirits whole, calms troubled breasts. It is a rock, a shield, a treasury of ‘boundless stores of grace’. The fourth verse reminds us of all the offices of Jesus in a list replete with images from the Old and New Testaments. No praise is great enough for such a name; its ‘music’ will ‘refresh’ our souls at the last moment of our lives and beyond, when we shall see Jesus as he is in heaven. We may feel worn down by all sorts of things – illness, caring responsibilities, loneliness, feeling unloved – but Jesus brings ‘to the weary rest’. He is our ‘Life, our Way, our End’ (see John 14:6). The tune used for this hymn is ‘St Peter’ by Alexander Robert Reinagle (1799–1877), the organist of St Peter-in-the-East Church in Oxford. I’ve chosen a suitably sweet performance by The Coventry Singers, recorded in 2013.


How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
    In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrow, heals his wounds,
    And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole
    And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
    And to the weary rest.

Dear name! the rock on which I build;
    My shield and hiding-place;
My never-failing treasury, filled
    With boundless stores of grace!

Jesus, my Saviour, Brother, Friend,
    My Prophet, Priest, and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
    Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
    And cold my warmest thought;
    But when I see thee as thou art,
I’ll praise thee as I ought.

Till then I would thy love proclaim
    With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of thy name
    Refresh my soul in death.
                 John Newton (1725–1807)

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
    urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided,
    Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Lord, for that word, the word of life which fires us,
    speaks to our hearts and sets our souls ablaze,
teaches and trains, rebukes us and inspires us:
    Lord of the word, receive your people’s praise.

Lord, for our land, in this our generation,
    spirits oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care;
for young and old, for commonwealth and nation,
    Lord of our land, be pleased to hear our prayer.

Lord, for our world; when we disown and doubt him,
    loveless in strength, and comfortless in pain;
hungry and helpless, lost indeed without him,
    Lord of the world, we pray that Christ may reign.

Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us,
    self on the cross and Christ upon the throne;
past put behind us, for the future take us,
    Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
                         Timothy Dudley-Smith (1926– )

‘On the Way’ is a project in the Diocese of Truro to help deaneries develop plans for a ‘fruitful and sustainable’ future.

On The Way – Truro Diocese : Truro Diocese

I thought that a hymn relevant to this project would be ‘Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided’, by the popular hymn-writer and Bishop of Thetford, Timothy Dudley-Smith. He wrote it in 1967 for the centenary of the Scripture Union, as a fitting hymn of thankfulness for the past and dedication for the future. It opens by looking back at how God’s love has kept and guided, urged and inspired, sought and saved, pardoned and provided for us. For these past blessings, ‘Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today’. The second verse gives thanks for the Scriptures, ‘the word of life’ that fires, speaks to, teaches, rebukes and inspires us. The hymn then moves into our contemporary society, where people’s spirits are ‘oppressed by pleasure, wealth and care’ (there is much to ponder here), and looks across a world that is ‘hungry and helpless’, lost indeed until Christ reigns. Finally, it comes back to us, praying that we might experience the ‘living power’ that can enable us to turn away from our own worldly values, and to rededicate ourselves afresh to Christ for the future. ‘Lord, for the years’ was originally set to a tune from ‘Finlandia’, the tone poem by Sibelius. Now it is always sung to ‘Lord of the Years’, a lovely tune written specially for it by Michael Baughen (1930– ), the Bishop of Chester. I’ve chosen a grand performance by the Huddersfield Choral Society, recorded in 2006.


My hymn this week is, apparently, a great favourite of the Queen: ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’. First published in 1867, it only really became popular in the twentieth century, when Ralph Vaughan Williams included it in the English Hymnal (1906) and set it to a majestic Welsh folk tune, ‘St Denio’ (or, sometimes, ‘Joanna’). The hymn is based on 1 Timothy 1:17, ‘Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever’. It also includes phrases from Daniel 7:9, 13 (‘Ancient of Days’), and echoes lines from Psalm 90, Psalm 36:6, and Genesis 1. The author of this famous hymn, Walter Chalmers Smith, was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland, and Moderator of its General Assembly in 1893. He was a prolific writer of poems, as well as religious and devotional works. ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’ was included in Smith’s Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life (1867), and was then revised and shortened by William Garrett Horder for his Congregational Hymns (1884). Horder’s revised version was the one adopted for the English Hymnal, and is the only version now included in hymnbooks. I’ve chosen a splendid ‘Songs of Praise’ rendition from Halifax Minister, recorded in 2012.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish; but naught changeth thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render: O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth thee.

                          Walter Chalmers Smith (1824–1908)

Judge eternal, throned in splendour,
    Lord of lords and King of kings,
With thy living fire of judgment
    Purge this land of bitter things;
Solace all its wide dominion
    With the healing of thy wings.

Still the weary folk are pining
    For the hour that brings release;
And the city’s crowded clangour
    Cries aloud for sin to cease;
And the homesteads and the woodlands
    Plead in silence for their peace.

Crown, O God, thine own endeavour;
    Cleave our darkness with thy sword;
Feed the faithless and the hungry
    With the richness of thy word;
Cleanse the body of this nation
    Through the glory of the Lord.

                   Henry Scott Holland (1847–1918)

My hymn this week is an eloquent call for justice and social reform: ‘Judge eternal, throned in splendour’. Based on passages from Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah 33:22 – ‘the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king: he will save us’ – the hymn prays that God will bring an end to the ‘bitter things’ that disfigure society. The second verse expresses the feelings of ‘weary folk’ in cities and in the countryside who long for ‘release’ and ‘peace’, and the third verse pleads that the hungry will be fed with ‘the richness of [God’s] word’ and that the whole nation will be cleansed ‘through the glory of the Lord’. The author of this powerful hymn, Henry Scott Holland, came from an aristocratic background. He was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, was ordained in 1872, and held various distinguished Church and academic appointments. From 1910 until his death, he was Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford. As one of a group of High Churchmen who actively campaigned for social reform, Holland co-founded the Christian Social Union, and edited its magazine The Commonwealth from 1895 to 1912. ‘Judge eternal, throned in splendour’ was first published in its pages in 1902, and included in the English Hymnal (1906). Modern hymnbooks alter two lines in the final verse, for obvious reasons. Line 3 was originally, ‘Feed the faint and hungry heathen’, and line 5 was ‘Cleanse the body of this empire’. The tune to which this hymn is always sung is the traditional Welsh melody ‘Rhuddlan’, originally written for the harp. I’ve chosen a spirited performance by The Scottish Festival Singers, recorded in 2014.


My hymn this week is about putting our trust in God: ‘All my hope on God is founded’. The English words are a free translation of ‘Meine Hoffnung stehet feste’ by Joachim Neander, a teacher in a school in Düsseldorf run by the Calvinist German Reformed Church and author of a number of popular hymns in the seventeenth century. ‘All my hope’ echoes the thought expressed in many of the psalms: even the greatest of human achievements are transient when set against the enduring goodness, wisdom, love and creative power of God. In the late nineteenth century, the poet Robert Bridges used Neander’s words as a basis for this hymn in English. Bridges had retired to the village of Yattendon in Berkshire, where he became the choirmaster, and he published a collection of hymns and translations in 1899 as the Yattendon Hymnal. His version of ‘All my hope’ retains something of the feel of the seventeenth-century original, with its slightly archaic language and syntax, but the lines are magnificently strong and rhythmical. The hymn only became widely popular, however, when the composer Herbert Howells (1892–1983) wrote a sprightly new tune for it, which he named ‘Michael’, after his son who had died in childhood. I’ve chosen a fine ‘Songs of Praise’ rendition from St Alban’s Church, Bristol.

All my hope on God is founded;
   He doth still my trust renew.
Me through change and chance he guideth,
   Only good and only true.
          God unknown,
          He alone
   Calls my heart to be his own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
   Sword and crown betray his trust;
What with care and toil he buildeth,
   Tower and temple, fall to dust.
          But God’s power,
          Hour by hour,
   Is my temple and my tower.

God’s great goodness aye endureth:
   Deep his wisdom, passing thought;
Splendour, light, and life attend him,
   Beauty springeth out of naught.
          From his store
   New-born worlds rise and adore.

 Daily doth the almighty giver

   Bounteous gifts on us bestow;
His desire our soul delighteth,
   Pleasure leads us where we go.
          Love doth stand
          At his hand;
   Joy doth wait on his command.

Still from man to God eternal
   Sacrifice of praise be done,
High above all praises praising
   For the gift of Christ his Son.
          Christ doth call
          One and all:
   Ye who follow shall not fall.

                Joachim Neander (1650–80)
         trans. Robert Bridges (1844–1930

My hymn this week is ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’, by John Henry Newman. The lines formed part of his long poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ (1865), appearing in five sets of verses sung by angels as the hero Gerontius is dying and entering purgatory. In 1868, the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern extracted six stanzas to form the present hymn for congregational singing. Few hymns expound more impressively the overarching providence of God in the salvation brought about by Christ. When the first Adam fell in ‘sin and shame’, God’s ‘wisest love’ ordained that a ‘second Adam’ would come to the rescue and overcome evil (see 1 Corinthians 15). The Incarnation, Newman says, was ‘a higher gift than grace’ because it involved God himself being present on earth. The fifth and sixth verses set out the Passion of Christ, where in his ‘generous love’ he underwent ‘the double agony’ – in the garden of Gethsemane ‘secretly’, and ‘on the Cross on high’. Having been a key leader of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England, Newman, after much agonizing, had entered the Roman Catholic Church in 1845. He became a cardinal in 1879 and was canonized in 2019. The great tune ‘Gerontius’ was written in 1868 specifically for this hymn by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76). Other tunes are also now used, especially the wonderful ‘Newman’ (also known as ‘Billing’) written in 1912 by Sir Richard Runciman Terry (1865–1938), Director of Music at Westminster Cathedral. I’ve chosen a Songs of Praise version of ‘Gerontius’ from Peterborough Cathedral in 1997 (it leaves out verses three and four), and a grand performance of the whole hymn sung to ‘Newman’ in 2013 by the choirs of The Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
   And in the depth be praise,
In all his words most wonderful,
   Most sure in all his ways.

O loving wisdom of our God!
   When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam, to the fight
   And to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood
   Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
   Should strive and should prevail;

And that a higher gift than grace
   Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence, and his very self,
   And essence all-divine.

O generous love! that he who smote
   In man for man the foe,
The double agony in man
   For man should undergo.

And in the garden secretly,
   And on the cross on high,
Should teach his brethren, and inspire
   To suffer and to die.

Praise to the Holiest in the height,
   And in the depth be praise,
In all his words most wonderful;
   Most sure in all His ways.
           John Henry Newman (1801–90)

Prompted by the Archbishops’ call for us to pray at 6.00pm each day for all those caught up in the pandemic, my chosen hymn is ‘Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire’. Not perhaps known as well as it should be, this great hymn helps us to understand something of what prayer is and the different forms it can take. Whether spoken or unspoken, prayer can come from somewhere deep inside us – perhaps only expressed in a sigh, or in the falling of a tear, or in an upward glance towards God. It can be in the simple words of a child, or be among the ‘sublimest strains’ of the human spirit. Prayer is the voice of a ‘contrite sinner’; the air in which the Christian breathes; it is what unites the Church. Nor is it only we who pray: the Holy Spirit and Jesus are praying for us in heaven (Romans 8:26, Hebrews 7:25). Finally, the one who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6) is the one who alone can ‘teach us how to pray’ (Luke 11:1). The author of this hymn was James Montgomery, a campaigning journalist and newspaper editor who ended up in prison in 1796 for his radical views. Brought up as a Moravian, Montgomery collaborated closely with Thomas Cotterill (1779–1823), perpetual curate of St Paul’s, Sheffield in the publication in 1819 of a pioneering collection of hymns for use in the Church of England. It contained more than fifty of Montgomery’s hymns, including ‘Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire’. Several different tunes are used for this hymn, but the performance I’ve chosen, recorded by the Coventry Cathedral Singers in 2013, is sung to the beautifully plaintive ‘St Agnes’ (1866) by the Revd John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76). In this recording, verses 2, 4, 6, and 7 are omitted (which is a pity).


Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
    Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire,
    That trembles in the breast.


Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
    The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye,
    When none but God is near.


Prayer is the simplest form of speech
    That infant lips can try,
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
    The majesty on high.


Prayer is the contrite sinner’s voice,
    Returning from his ways;
While angels in their songs rejoice,
    And cry, ‘Behold, He prays!’





Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
    The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death:
    He enters heaven with prayer.


In prayer on earth the saints are one,
    In word, and deed, and mind,
When with the Father and his Son
    Sweet fellowship they find.


Nor prayer is made on earth alone;
    The Holy Spirit pleads,
And Jesus, on the eternal throne,
    For sinners intercedes.


O Thou, by whom we come to God,
    The Life, the Truth, the Way,
The path of prayer Thyself hast trod:
    Lord, teach us how to pray!

            James Montgomery (1771–1854)

My hymn this week is one of the best loved of all the metrical paraphrases of Psalm 23: ‘The King of love my Shepherd is’. No other version conveys so feelingly the tender care and love of God, the shepherd whose ‘goodness faileth never’, who leads us by ‘streams of living water’, feeds our souls with ‘food celestial’, and when we stray brings us home ‘on his shoulder gently laid’. The graceful shape of the verses, their regularity and fluid movement, enact a sense of comfort and safety. The author, Sir Henry Baker, edited the famous Anglican hymnbook, Hymns Ancient and Modern, published in 1861, and ‘The King of love’ was included in the edition of 1868. He was vicar of Monkland in Herefordshire, and very much on the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church. We can see this especially in the fifth verse, with its references to anointing (‘unction’), and to the ‘transport of delight’ that flows from the chalice. Much of the success of the hymn is due to the wonderful tune written for it in 1868 by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76), the vicar of St Oswald’s, Durham, and I’ve chosen a beautiful performance by the Choir of Paisley Abbey.

The King of love my Shepherd is,
     Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am his
     And he is mine for ever.

Where streams of living water flow
     My ransomed soul he leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
     With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
     But yet in love he sought me,
And on his shoulder gently laid,
     And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
     With thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
     Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
     Thy unction, grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
     From thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
     Thy goodness faileth never:
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
     Within thy house for ever.
                     Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821–77)

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

My hymn this week is the much loved ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say’, a hymn that offers a message of consolation and assurance in a gentle, personal style. Each verse reflects on some words of Jesus in the Gospels. The first is based on the beautiful promise in Matthew 11:28–30, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. The second refers to his offer of ‘living water’ to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:10–14. The third reflects on his ‘I am the light of the world’ saying in John 8:12. This famous hymn was written in the early 1840s by Horatius Bonar, a minister of the Church of Scotland in Kelsoe, before he left at the ‘Great Disruption’ in 1843 to join the Free Church of Scotland, ministering at Thomas Chalmers Memorial Church in Edinburgh. A prolific writer, who produced over 600 hymns, he never heard them sung in his own church, which at that time only permitted the singing of metrical psalms in worship. For his English Hymnal of 1906, Ralph Vaughan Williams replaced the Victorian tune written especially for ‘I heard the voice’ with a beautiful English folk tune, ‘Kingsfold’. I’ve chosen two performances, one by the Choir of Salisbury Cathedral (2013), a second by Wendy Ritchie, from an album called ‘Celtic Source: Worship on Ancient Soil’ (1999).

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
    ‘Come unto me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
    Thy head upon my breast’:
I came to Jesus as I was,
    Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting-place,
    And he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
    ‘Behold, I freely give
The living water, thirsty one;
    Stoop down and drink and live’;
I came to Jesus, and I drank
    Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
    And now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
    ‘I am this dark world’s light;
Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
    And all thy day be bright’:
I looked to Jesus, and I found
    In him my star, my sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk
    Till trav’lling days are done.
                     Horatius Bonar (1808–89)

My hymn this week is the popular Epiphany hymn ‘Brightest and best’. It begins with a most vivid and evocative description of the journey made by the wise men led by the ‘Star of the east’. They see the ‘infant Redeemer’ among the ‘beasts of the stall’: ‘cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining’. But, we are told, it is in vain for us to offer costly gifts to Christ: ‘Richer by far is the heart’s adoration, / Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor’. The language of the first verse echoes Job 38:7, ‘when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy’. ‘Brightest and best’ was among the earliest hymns written by Reginald Heber, rector of Hodnet in Shropshire. It first appeared in 1811 in an evangelical magazine, the Christian Observer, even though Heber was strongly High Church. Hymns were not yet part of the Anglican tradition, and Heber’s collection, Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service remained unpublished until 1827, after his death. He had become Bishop of Calcutta in 1823, but died while swimming in a cold pool after preaching to a large congregation on a hot day. ‘Brightest and best’ has been set to many tunes, but the most familiar is ‘Epiphany’, composed by J. F. Thrupp (1827–67), vicar of Barrington, Cambridge. I’ve chosen a fine performance by the Choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury, recorded in 2015.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
    Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
    Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on his cradle the dew-drops are shining,
    Low lies his head with the beasts of the stall:
Angels adore him in slumber reclining,
    Maker and Monarch and Saviour of all.

Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
    Odours of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
    Myrrh from the forest or gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
    Vainly with gifts would his favour secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
    Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning;
    Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
    Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.
                           Reginald Heber (1783–1826)

One of the best-known Epiphany hymns is ‘As with gladness men of old’. In simple language, it follows the journey of the Magi as they are led by the star to give to the infant Jesus their ‘gifts most rare’.

The first three verses link the ancient story with the present-day lives of singers of the hymn. ‘As’ the Magi were led onwards, ‘so’ may ‘we’ be led to our ‘gracious Lord’. ‘As’ they sped with joyful steps, ‘so’ may we with ‘willing feet / Ever seek the mercy-seat’. ‘As’ they brought gifts, ‘so’ may we bring ‘our costliest treasures’ to ‘our heavenly king’.

The themes of journeying and light continue in the final two stanzas, with their transition from ‘earthly things’ to the ‘heavenly country’. The author, William Chatterton Dix, was a committed high church Anglican who worked in marine insurance but was also a prolific writer of hymns and devotional works.

He wrote ‘As with gladness’ around 1859, and it was included in Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861), whose musical editor, William Henry Monk (1823–89) provided the tune ‘Dix’, adapted from a German chorale.

Dix disliked the tune, but it has continued to be the one most commonly used. I’ve chosen a lovely ‘Songs of Praise’ performance, from St Mary le Tower Church, Ipswich, in 2016 (they omit the fourth verse).


As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to thee.

As with joyful steps they sped,
Saviour, to thy lowly bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek thy mercy-seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At thy cradle rude and bare;
So may we with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin’s alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ, to thee, our heavenly king.

Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light;
Thou, its light, its joy, its crown,
Thou its sun which goes not down;
There for ever may we sing
Alleluias to our king.
            William Chatterton Dix (1837-98)

The season of Christmas would not be complete without ‘Silent Night’. However many times I hear it, it can still bring tears to my eyes. In simple words set to an affecting tune, this famous hymn beautifully expresses the awe and wonder of Incarnation, as the birth of the ‘holy infant’ brings ‘redeeming grace’ into the world. Joseph Mohr, a young assistant priest in Oberndorf, Austria, wrote ‘Stille Nacht’ in 1816, and it was set to music by the church organist, Franz Gruber (1787–1863). Its first appearance in public was on Christmas Eve in 1818, at midnight Mass in Oberndorf – sung to a simple guitar accompaniment, because the church organ had broken down. It quickly became popular, and publication in German followed in 1838. There have been many translations. The earliest in English was by the hymn-writer Emily E. S. Elliott (1836–97), who produced ‘Stilly night, holy the night’ for the choir of St Mark’s, Brighton, in about 1858. The most familiar English translation dates from 1863, by John Freeman Young, assistant rector of the historic Trinity Church in Manhattan. I’ve chosen three performances, one in English and two in German. They are all quite different, but I find each one intensely moving in its own way. The first is from a candlelit service in 2019 by the choir and congregation of First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee; the second is by massed choirs outdoors in the town square in Steyr, Austria in 2018; and the third is an exquisite performance by The King’s Singers, recorded in 2013.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

      Joseph Mohr (1792–1848)

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon virgin mother and child;
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.


Silent night, holy night.
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing alleluia:
Christ, the Saviour is born,
Christ, the Saviour is born.


Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace:
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

       trans. John Freeman Young (1820–85)

My hymn for this Christmas week is the universally loved ‘Once in royal David’s city’, a great example of a hymn that is childlike but not childish. It tells the story of the incarnation in terms a child can understand – beginning, as all the best stories do, with that magical word ‘once’ (‘once upon a time’). There are no angels, shepherds, or wise men here: only the child, his mother, and the children told the story. A baby is born in a ‘lowly cattle shed’, with ‘a manger for his bed’. Though ‘God and Lord of all’, he is cared for by his loving mother, growing up to ‘honour and obey’ her. So too, ‘Christian children’ must be ‘mild, obedient, good as he’. (Some people have felt it necessary to cut or replace these gently admonitory Victorian sentiments, but I’ve never understood what harm they think it could do to modern children to sing them at Christmas.) The author of this famous hymn was Cecil Frances Alexander, born in Dublin in 1818 and known to her family as Fanny. A devoutly religious woman, she became a prolific poet and hymn-writer. In 1850, she married the Revd William Alexander, who ended up as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland. She published ‘Once in royal David’s city’ in 1848, in a hugely popular collection entitled Hymns for Little Children. The lovely tune, ‘Irby’, is by Henry John Gauntlett (1805–76), who produced over 1,000 hymn tunes of which this is the best known. I’ve chosen a beautifully tender and heart-felt performance by the Dublin-based Trinity Singers, with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. (They omit the fourth and fifth verses.)



Once in royal David’s city
    Stood a lowly cattle-shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
    In a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.

He came down to earth from heaven
    Who is God and Lord of all,
And his shelter was a stable,
    And his cradle was a stall;
With the poor and mean and lowly
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

And through all his wondrous childhood
    He would honour and obey,
Love, and watch the lowly maiden,
    In whose gentle arms he lay.
Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as he.

For he is our childhood’s pattern
    Day by day, like us he grew;
He was little, weak and helpless,
    Tears and smiles like us he knew;
And he feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see him,
    Through his own redeeming love,
For that child so dear and gentle
    Is our Lord in heaven above;
And he leads his children on
To the place where he is gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
    With the oxen standing by,
We shall see Him; but in heaven,
    Set at God’s right hand on high;
When like stars his children crowned
All in white shall wait around.
         Cecil Frances Alexander


The Link is the the BBC Songs of Praise version of O Come O Come Emmanuel


My hymn this week is ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, the hymn that perhaps most famously heralds the approach of Christmas. In its Latin form – Veni, veni, Emmanuel – it is very ancient, going back to about the eighth century. It is not difficult to imagine it sung by monks, holding flickering candles. Much of the imagery comes from the Old Testament, as interpreted through the New Testament. In waiting for the birth of Jesus, we are like the Israelites in exile in Babylon, waiting for the promised Emmanuel who will come to ‘ransom’ them (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22–3). The ‘Rod of Jesse’ signifies Jesus’s connection back to the patriarchs (Isaiah 11:1; Matthew 1:6); ‘Dayspring’ refers to the messianic prophecies quoted by Zechariah (Luke 1: 78); the ‘Key of David’ comes from Isaiah 22:22 (and see Revelation 3:7); and the ‘Lord of Might’ is the one who gave the commandments to Moses on Sinai (Exodus 19–20). John Mason Neale (1818–66) translated the Latin text into English in 1851, and a revised version was included in Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861). This was for long the standard text, though some modern versions make further alterations. The tune, ‘Veni Immanuel’, was composed by Neale’s friend, Thomas Helmore (1811–90), based, apparently, on an ancient French melody. I’ve chosen a heart-warming Songs of Praise performance by the congregation of Hereford Cathedral recorded last year. (It leaves out the final verse.)


O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer,
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.



O come, thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, thou Lord of Might,
Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
    Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
    Shall come to thee, O Israel.

                      Latin Advent antiphons
       trans. John Mason Neale (1818–6)
       text as altered in Hymns Ancient & Modern




My hymn this week is ‘O little town of Bethlehem’, written in about 1868 for the Sunday School of Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia by the rector, the Reverend Phillips Brooks. A leading Episcopal churchman, who became Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891, Brooks was a prominent opponent of slavery and supporter of the Union during the Civil War. While on a visit to Bethlehem at Christmastime in 1865, he found the singing in the church, close to the spot where Jesus was born, intensely moving. His hymn memorably evokes the atmosphere of the ‘little town’, with its ‘dark streets’ under ‘silent stars’. From this opening description of the scene, the hymn moves to a reflection on the wider meaning of Christmas: how God’s ‘wondrous gift’ blesses ‘human hearts’, brings love and charity where ‘misery cries out’, and offers hope in a troubled world. First published in a hymnbook in 1874, ‘O little town’ became an essential feature of Christmas services in the United States and, later, in Britain. There were five verses, though, regrettably, the fourth is now usually omitted. The tune ‘St Louis’ was specially written for it by Lewis H. Redner, but in Britain the most popular tune is ‘Forest Green’, an arrangement by Vaughan Williams of an English folk song. I’ve chosen a lovely unaccompanied performance by the young singers of Genesis Sixteen, together with one by The Sixteen using a less familiar, but no less beautiful tune by Walford Davies called ‘Christmas Carol’. (This performance gives the second verse in its original form, starting with ‘For Christ is born of Mary’.)

O little town of Bethlehem,
    How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
    The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
    The everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years
    Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
    Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
    And peace to men on earth;
For Christ is born of Mary;
    And, gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
    Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
    The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
    The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
    But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
    The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
    Pray to the blessed child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
    Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
    And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
    And Christmas comes once more.

O holy child of Bethlehem,
    Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
    Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
    The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
    Our Lord Emmanuel.
                    Phillips Brooks (1835–93)

My hymn this week, ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’ is one of those many hymns by Charles Wesley that look simple but are in fact very skilfully constructed and written, as satisfying to read as they are to sing. In four short verses, it presents the Advent hope as of universal significance, drawing on the New Testament story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, which incorporates within it references to the Old Testament promises of the Messiah (‘Israel’s strength and consolation’), the long awaited saviour who will set his people free. Jesus is this Messiah, ‘born a child and yet a king’. Bringing salvation for Gentiles as well as Jews, he is the ‘desire of every nation, / Joy of every longing heart’. He will inaugurate his ‘gracious kingdom’ on earth, will ‘reign in us for ever’, and, through the ‘Spirit’, will ‘rule in all our hearts’ and bring us to eternal life. ‘Come, thou long-expected Jesus’ was first published by Wesley in 1745, in a much-reprinted pamphlet collection of eighteen Hymns for the Nativity of our Lord. There are two tunes to which it is sung. One is ‘Stuttgart’ by the Lutheran composer Christian Friedrich Witt (1660–1716), first published in 1715, but the more usual tune nowadays is ‘Cross of Jesus’, from the 1887 oratorio The Crucifixion by John Stainer (1840–1901). I’ve chosen a lovely performance by the choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
    Born to set thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
    Let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
    Hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation,
    Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
    Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us for ever,
    Now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thy own eternal Spirit
    Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thy all-sufficient merit,
    Raise us to thy glorious throne.

                         Charles Wesley (1707–88)

My hymn this week is ‘Lo! He comes with clouds descending’. It is a powerful hymn, with a wonderful tune, but it is also a complicated one. First, during Advent, we prepare not only for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, but also for the Second Coming of Christ. It is on the Second Coming that this hymn concentrates, drawing on imagery from Revelation, especially 1:7, ‘Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him’. Second, it is a hymn of multiple authorship. The first version was the work of John Cennick (1718–55), born of Quaker parents, but who became an Anglican, then a Methodist lay preacher, before ending up as a Moravian minister. Cennick’s version appeared in a collection of his hymns in 1752. Charles Wesley then took it over, made many sensitive improvements to the wording, and published it again in 1758. Two years later, another Methodist hymn-writer, Martin Madan (1726–90) made further changes, and it is this composite version that we now sing. The magnificent tune is ‘Helmsley’, which may have been by Madan, or by yet another Methodist preacher, Thomas Olivers (1725–99). Queen Victoria was very keen on this tune. When a new organist in her private chapel played another tune to ‘Lo, He comes’, he was left in no doubt that in future only ‘Helmsley’ should be used! I’ve chosen a performance sung with real feeling and reverence by the Scottish Festival Singers.

Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
    Once for favoured sinners slain;
Thousand thousand Saints attending,
    Swell the triumph of his train;
    God appears, on earth to reign.

Every eye shall now behold him
    Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at nought and sold him,
    Pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
        Deeply wailing,
    Shall their true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
    Still his dazzling body bears,
Cause of endless exultation
    To his ransomed worshippers:
        With what rapture
    Gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee
    High on your eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory,
    Claim the kingdom for your own;
        O come quickly!
    Everlasting God, come down!
                    Charles Wesley (1707–88), and others

My hymn this week is ‘Crown Him with Many Crowns’, a hymn celebrating the kingship of Christ. The title comes from Revelation 19:12 (see also 5:11–13), and the hymn proceeds through the attributes of Christ as ‘Virgin’s Son’, ‘Lord of love’ exemplified in his suffering on the Cross, ‘Lord of peace’ who will bring wars to cease in his coming Kingdom, and finally ‘Lord of years’ as Creator and Redeemer. The author, Matthew Bridges, though brought up as an Anglican, became a Roman Catholic in 1848. He first published the hymn in his own collection Hymns of the Heart (1851), where, in the preface, he described his eight-year process of conversion to ‘that holy and Apostolic Church’. His new allegiance influences the second verse, with its reference to the ‘mystic Rose’, a medieval title for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus is both the ‘fruit’ and the ‘stem’ of that ‘Rose’ (he is Mary’s son but also, as God, her creator, and so she is in a sense the daughter of her own son). Perhaps because of its Catholicism, several other writers produced their own versions of the hymn, but most hymnbooks now print the original words by Bridges. The tune to which his hymn is usually sung is ‘Diademata’ (crowns), written especially for it by Sir George Elvey (1816–93), organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor. I’ve chosen a beautifully enunciated performance by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

   Crown him with many crowns,
   The Lamb upon his throne;
Hark, how the heavenly anthem drowns
   All music but its own:
   Awake, my soul, and sing
   Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless King
   Through all eternity.

   Crown him the Virgin’s Son,
   The God Incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won
   Which now his brow adorn;
   Fruit of the mystic Rose
   As of that Rose the stem,
The root whence mercy ever flows,
   The babe of Bethlehem.

   Crown him the Lord of love;
   Behold his hands and side,
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
   In beauty glorified:
   No angel in the sky
   Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
   At mysteries so bright.

   Crown him the Lord of peace,
   Whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
   And all be prayer and praise:
   His reign shall know no end,
   And round his piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend
   Their fragrance ever sweet.

   Crown him the Lord of years,
   The Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres,
   Ineffably sublime.
   All hail, Redeemer, hail!
   For Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
   Throughout eternity.
                    Matthew Bridges (1800–94)

My hymn this week is ‘O Jesus, I have Promised’, written in 1866 by the Rev’d John Ernest Bode for the confirmation of his three children (and so it originally began ‘O Jesus, we have promised’). Although a classic confirmation hymn, churches of all denominations now sing it more generally. The central idea comes from some words in John 12:26, ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me, and where I am, there shall also my servant be’. The theme of service develops through each of the verses, with an emphasis on the nearness of Jesus, our master and friend – the one who guides, shields, and speaks reassuringly to us, and whose footsteps we can follow. Bode was educated at Eton, Charterhouse and Christ Church Oxford, and was rector of Westwell, Oxfordshire, and then Castle Camps in Cambridgeshire. Though a prolific poet and hymn-writer, who wrote hymns for every Sunday, ‘O Jesus’ is the only hymn of Bode’s which survives. First published in 1868, with the title ‘A Hymn for the Newly Confirmed’, it was subsequently included in many hymnbooks. The tune to which it is most often sung is ‘Wolvercote’, composed around 1910 by the Rev’d William Harold Ferguson (1874–1950), chaplain and musical director of Lancing College and, eventually, precentor of Salisbury Cathedral. I’ve chosen a lovely Songs of Praise performance from St Alban’s Church, Bristol (which omits the second and third verses).

O Jesus, I have promised
    To serve Thee to the end;
Be Thou forever near me,
    My Master and my Friend;
I shall not fear the battle
    If Thou art by my side,
Nor wander from the pathway
    If Thou wilt be my Guide.

Oh, let me feel Thee near me;
    The world is ever near;
I see the sights that dazzle,
    The tempting sounds I hear;
My foes are ever near me,
    Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
    And shield my soul from sin.

Oh, let me hear Thee speaking,
    In accents clear and still,
Above the storms of passion,
    The murmurs of self-will;
Oh. speak to reassure me,
    To hasten, or control;
Oh, speak, and make me listen,
    Thou Guardian of my soul.

O Jesus, Thou hast promised
    To all who follow Thee
That where Thou art in glory
    There shall Thy servant be;
And Jesus, I have promised
    To serve Thee to the end;
Oh, give me grace to follow,
    My Master and my Friend.

Oh, let me see Thy footmarks,
    And in them plant mine own;
My hope to follow duly
    Is in Thy strength alone.
Oh, guide me, call me, draw me,
    Uphold me to the end;
And then to rest receive me,
    My Saviour and my Friend.
                  John Ernest Bode (1816–74)

My hymn this week is ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’. This magnificent hymn – often sung at Remembrance Day services – reminds us of our human condition. Drawing on the first five verses of Psalm 90, the original title was ‘Man frail, and God eternal’. The words look backwards and forwards: God has helped us in the past, and is our hope for the future; he was there before the creation of the earth, and will be there for ‘endless years’. God’s timeframe is not ours: a thousand years to him are as but an ‘evening gone’ or even just the short watch before dawn. Written in short, plain words, there is a monumental grandeur about this hymn: its evocation of the transience of human lives is unforgettable. The author, Congregationalist pastor Isaac Watts, published it in 1719. The tune to which it is always now sung is ‘St Anne’, probably by William Croft (1678–1727), organist of Westminster Abbey; it was first published in 1708. In fact, however, ‘St Anne’ was first set to these words over a century later, in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). It is a majestic, dignified tune, which allows the words their full weight. I’ve chosen a grand performance with music arranged by John Rutter, sung by the Cambridge Singers in 2000. By way of contrast, I’ve also included an unaccompanied performance by the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute Singers, in 2013.

O God, our help in ages past,
   Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
   And our eternal home:

Under the shadow of thy throne
   Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
   And our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
   Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
   To endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight
   Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
   Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
   Bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream
   Dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
   Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
   And our eternal home.

                                    Isaac Watts (1674–1748)

For All Saints’ Day, I’ve chosen one of the great processional hymns, ‘For All The Saints, Who From Their Labours Rest’.

It has a three-part structure. First, it remembers saints from the past, who have gone before us to their reward in heaven; then it moves into a present in which we are continuing their fight against evil; finally, it looks to a future when all the saints stream triumphantly into the heavenly city. 

The imagery comes not only from Revelation but passages such as 2 Timothy 2:3, where Timothy is exhorted to ‘endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’. In its Victorian (somewhat Pre-Raphaelite) style, the hymn conveys an inspiring sense of the communion of saints as a ‘cloud of witnesses’ from all ages (Hebrews 12). 

The words are by a much-loved High Churchman, William Walsham How, who wrote them in 1864 while rector of Whittington in Shropshire. Appointed Bishop of London in 1879, he was nicknamed the ‘omnibus bishop’ because he travelled everywhere by public transport rather than a private carriage. 

The tune ‘Sine Nomine’, composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams for this hymn in 1906, contributes powerfully to the sense of a great procession, each verse building towards its repeated ‘Alleluia’. I’ve chosen a fine performance by St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, recorded in 2008.

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesu, be forever blest:                                 Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear their one true light:             Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, the victor’s crown of gold:              Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine:                           Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong:         Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest:                          Alleluia!

But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way:                             Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:                                    Alleluia!
                                   William Walsham How (1823–97)

My hymn this week is by the poet, William Cowper: ‘God Moves In A Mysterious Way’. This great hymn of trust in the goodness of the Almighty at work in the Creation comes to rest with a call to patience and faith, affirming the words of Jesus in John 13:7 ‘What I do thou knowest not now: but thou shalt know hereafter’. The monosyllabic verbs (God ‘moves’, ‘plants’, ‘rides’, ‘works’, ‘hides’) create a strongly visual representation of a God who actively ‘works his sovereign will’ in the world. Similarly, the confident, steady rhythms of the lines inspire confidence that the ‘clouds’ we ‘so much dread’ are ‘big with mercy’, and buds that have a ‘bitter taste’ will give way to the sweetness of the flower. God’s purposes may be ‘mysterious’, and his ‘bright designs’ may be hidden, but ‘fearful saints’ should ‘take courage’ and ‘trust him for his grace’. Remarkably, and sadly, Cowper wrote this hymn not long before he had a serious mental breakdown (one of several in his lifetime). First published anonymously in 1774, it was identified as his when it was included in Olney Hymns (1779), the joint collection edited by Cowper’s great friend John Newton. The tune to which this hymn is usually sung is known as ‘London New’, originally published in a seventeenth-century collection, The Psalmes of David (1635). I’ve chosen a beautiful performance by the choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, recorded in 2012.

God moves in a mysterious way
   His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
   And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
   Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
   And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
   The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
   In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
   But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
   He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
   Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
   But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
   And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
   And He will make it plain.

                        William Cowper (1731–1800)

October is Black History Month, and so I’ve chosen ‘Deep River’, one of the best-loved of all African American spirituals, as my hymn of the week. Spirituals were the songs through which African American slaves expressed their faith, their yearning for freedom, and their hope of deliverance, drawn from the promises in the Bible. Some are lively and up-tempo (‘Joshua fit de battle of Jericho’); others, like ‘Deep River’, have slow, haunting melodies, and words expressing weariness and sorrow as well as aspiration and hope. We don’t know who the author was, or who composed the music for ‘Deep River’. Although simple, the words have rich layers of meaning, especially the central image drawn from the crossing of the Israelites over Jordan into the Promised Land of Canaan. ‘Campground’ refers to the outdoor ‘camp meetings’ where slaves sang, preached and prayed together, but it signifies here the ultimate ‘campground’ – Heaven. ‘Gospel-feast’ recalls both Luke 14:13–14, where Jesus speaks of the feast to which the poor and suffering are invited, and the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’ of Revelation 21:9.

‘Deep River’ first appeared in print in 1877, but only became widely known in the early twentieth century. The black English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor transcribed the music for piano in 1905, and the prominent black singer and composer Henry T. Burleigh published an influential arrangement in 1913. It was the first piece to be recorded (in 1924) by the great African American contralto, Marian Anderson (1897–1993). In 1939, Anderson – by then famous – was banned from singing before an integrated audience in Washington D.C.’s Constitution Hall, just because of the colour of her skin. Such was the outrage that an outdoor recital was organised, with support from Eleanor Roosevelt and the President. Over 75,000 people attended, and millions more listened on radio as Anderson sang from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Listening to her rendition of ‘Deep River’ on the recording I’ve chosen is an intensely moving experience. This beautiful spiritual continues to resonate powerfully for people in America – and beyond. I’ve provided a link to a modern arrangement of the music for two violins and piano, with an eloquent accompanying video, recorded just a month ago for the ‘Songs of America’ series.

Deep river,
My home is over Jordan,
Deep river, Lord,
I want to cross over into campground.

Oh don’t you want to go to that Gospel-feast,
That promised land where all is peace?
Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

I’ll go into heaven, and take my seat,
Cast my crown at Jesus’ feet.
Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

Oh, when I get to heaven, I’ll walk all about,
There’s nobody there for to turn me out.
Lord, I want to cross over into campground.

My chosen hymn this week is ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. It is easy to see why people love this hymn. It evokes a feeling of calmness, peace, and quiet through phrases like ‘without a word’, ‘deep hush’, ‘tender whisper’, ‘dews of quietness’. It encourages us to open ourselves to a world where the ‘silence of eternity’ is ‘interpreted by love’. We can all appreciate those times when the ‘strain and stress’ is lifted from our souls and we experience the beauty of peace in our lives. The final line refers to the ‘still small voice’ Elijah heard (1 Kings 19:12): God was not in the earthquake, wind, or fire, but in the ‘still small voice of calm’. 

The popularity of the hymn also owes much to the lovely tune ‘Repton’ – its repeated final line of each verse contributing to the mood of quiet contemplation. Originally written by Hubert Parry (1848–1918) for an aria in his oratorio Judith (1888), it was set to ‘Dear Lord and Father’ by Parry’s friend George Gilbert Stocks (1877–1960), director of music at Repton School. But who was the ‘author’ of this hymn? 

The six verses we sing were part of a strange poem, ‘The Brewing of Soma’, published in 1872 by the American poet, John Greenleaf Whittier. As a Quaker, Whittier greatly disliked noise or physical activity of any kind in religious services, and did not approve of hymns. His lengthy poem compared emotionalism in Christian worship to the sensual ecstasy achieved in some Indian religions by use of a hallucinogenic drug brewed from Soma (a plant). Some years later, however, William Garrett Horder (1841–1922), a Congregationalist minister in England, saw the potential of these six verses, and published them in his collection Congregational Hymns (1884). 

So perhaps we really owe the hymn to Horder, even though the words are by Whittier. From many performances available, I’ve chosen one by The Graduate Choir of New Zealand, recorded in 2012, which includes a beautiful arrangement of the third verse by David Willcocks (the fourth verse is omitted).

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
     Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
     In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
     Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
     Rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
     O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity,
     Interpreted by love!


With that deep hush subduing all
     Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of thy call,
As noiseless let thy blessing fall
     As fell thy manna down.

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
     Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
     The beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
     Thy coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire,
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
     O still, small voice of calm!

                        John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–92)

Will Your Anchor Hold?

A hymn that seems distinctly relevant to our current situation is an old favourite: ‘Will Your Anchor Hold’. The words are by the poet and hymn-writer Priscilla Jane Owens, a schoolteacher from Baltimore, Maryland and a Sunday School teacher at Union Square Methodist Episcopal Church for over fifty years. Most of her hymns, including this one, were written for her Sunday School students. In 1883, only a year after its publication, this hymn became the official hymn of the Boy’s Brigade, founded that year in Glasgow. Its emblem was an anchor, with the words ‘Sure’ and ‘Steadfast’, taken, as in Owens’s hymn, from Hebrews 6:19, which speaks of our Christian hope as ‘an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast’. There are other hymns based on nautical imagery, but Owens exploits the metaphor with particular skill and imagination – I like the ‘cables passed from His heart to mine’, and the idea of heaven having a ‘harbour bright’ where we will ‘anchor fast … for evermore’. The rousing tune is by William J. Kirkpatrick (1838–1926), a carpenter and musician in Philadelphia who published over fifty collections of hymn tunes, and apparently died while at his desk writing another one! I’ve chosen a wonderful performance by the choir of Ely Cathedral, from a CD recorded in 1999 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the foundation of the RNLI.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.

It is safely moored, ’twill the storm withstand,
For ’tis well secured by the Saviour’s hand;
And the cables passed, from His heart to mine,
Can defy that blast, through strength divine.

It will firmly hold in the Straits of Fear –
When the breakers tell that the reef is near;
Though the tempest rave and the wild winds blow,
Not an angry wave shall our bark o’erflow.

It will surely hold in the Floods of Death –
When the waters cold chill our latest breath,
On the rising tide it can never fail,
While our hopes abide within the Veil.

When our eyes behold through the gath’ring night
The city of gold, our harbour bright,
We shall anchor fast by the heav’nly shore,
With the storms all past for evermore.

                                                Priscilla Jane Owens (1829–1907)

It will come as no surprise that my hymn this week is ‘We Plough the Fields, and Scatter’. What may surprise you is that what we think of as a quintessentially ‘English’ hymn is, in fact, a translation based on a German poem of the eighteenth century. It first appeared as seventeen verses in praise of country life included in a short story by Matthias Claudius published in 1782. Then, when made into a song of six verses and chorus, published in a collection for schools in 1800, it became very popular. In 1861 Jane Montgomery Campbell, daughter of the vicar of St. James’s, Paddington, translated it as three verses of eight lines with a chorus to form the English hymn we know. She translated many German hymns and published a music book for children, but this harvest hymn is her most famous work. The refrain comes from James 1:17, but what makes the hymn so memorable is its strong rhythmic structure and praise of the God who provides the food we depend on for life. Attempts have been made to update the words (‘We plough the fields with tractors, / With drills we sow the land’), but this hardly seems necessary. The lively and joyous tune by J. A. P. Schultz (1747–1800), known as ‘Wir Pflügen’, was first published as a setting for the German text, but Campbell’s English words fit it perfectly. I’ve chosen a lovely ‘Songs of Praise’ version of 2018, from All Saints’ Church, Northampton.

We plough the fields, and scatter
     The good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered
     By God’s almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter,
     The warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes, and the sunshine,
     And soft, refreshing rain.
          All good gifts around us
             Are sent from heav’n above;
          Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
             For all His love.


He only is the maker
     Of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
     He lights the evening star;
The winds and waves obey him,
     By him the birds are fed;
Much more to us, his children,
     He gives our daily bread.


We thank thee then, O Father,
     For all things bright and good,
The seed-time and the harvest,
     Our life, our health, our food:
Accept the gifts we offer
     For all thy love imparts,
And, what thou most desirest,
     Our humble, thankful hearts.

                                    Matthias Claudius (1740–1815)

               trans. Jane Montgomery Campbell (1817–78)

My hymn this week is ‘All Creatures of our God and King’ – the greatest of all hymns on the theme of God as creator and sustainer of life. 

The words we sing are a free translation of the ‘Cantico di fratre sole’ (‘Canticle of brother Sun’) by St Francis of Assisi. He based it on Psalm 148, but, charmingly, names each element and creature in terms of human relationships: the fire is our ‘brother’, the water our ‘sister’, and so on, thus emphasizing the interconnectedness of all creation. 

As well as grandeur, there is a tenderness running through the hymn – even death is ‘kind and gentle’. The English translation is by William Henry Draper, then Rector of Adel, near Leeds, who made it for a children’s Whitsuntide procession in the early twentieth century. Draper was a leading figure in the High Church Oxford Movement, and translated many ancient hymns. 

The German tune, ‘Lasst Uns Erfreuen’ (‘Let us rejoice’) dates from the early seventeenth century, and Draper’s hymn was first set to it in The English Public School Hymn Book of 1919.

 I’ve chosen a performance by the Cambridge Singers in an arrangement by John Rutter (starting with a bright fanfare), and give all the words below (the fifth and sixth verses are left out in this performance, which is a pity, I think).

All creatures of our God and King,
Lift up your voice and with us sing
    Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam,
    O praise him, O praise him,
    Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heaven along,
    O praise him, alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice:

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
    Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light:

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
    O praise him, alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them his glory also show:

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
    O sing ye, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on him cast your care:

And thou, most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
    O praise him, alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod:

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship him in humbleness;
    O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One:
    O praise him, O praise him,
    Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

                St Francis of Assisi (1182–1226)


  trans. William Henry Draper (1855–1933)

My hymn this week is the famous Welsh anthem, ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer’ – one of those hymns that stretch out beyond the confines of ‘church’ to become popular songs. Written in Welsh by William Williams in 1762, a translation into English appeared about ten years later.

 Williams was a priest in the Church of Wales, but left to become a travelling Methodist preacher and a prolific hymn-writer, earning the nickname ‘sweet singer of Wales’. The word ‘Redeemer’ in the first line was originally ‘Jehovah’, because the hymn is based on the story in Exodus 13–16 of the flight of the Israelites out of Egypt and their forty-year travel through the wilderness (the ‘barren land’). 

God (‘Jehovah’) provided them with manna (the ‘bread of heaven’), water from the rock (the ‘crystal fountain’), and led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night until, eventually, they crossed Jordan into the promised land of Canaan.

 In John 6:30–35, Jesus refers to this story, describing himself as ‘the bread of life’. Various tunes were used for the hymn, but in 1905 John Hughes (1873–1932), a Welsh Baptist, composed ‘Cwmn Rhondda’ and this became indissolubly linked to ‘Guide me, O thou great Redeemer’. 

According to legend, in the First World War, German soldiers were so impressed with the melodious singing of this hymn by Welsh troops that they took it up and sang it themselves.

 I’ve chosen a stirring rendition by a Welsh Chapel congregation, and – a bonus track – a lovely version sung feelingly by Harry Secombe (in a snowy Rhondda valley) with the Treorchy Male Choir.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
    Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
    Hold me with thy powerful hand:
        Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
    Feed me till I want no more.

Open thou the crystal fountain,
    Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
    Lead me all my journey through:
        Strong deliv’rer, Strong deliv’rer,
    Be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
    Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
    Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
        Songs of praises, Songs of praises,
    I will ever give to thee.

                                        William Williams (1717–91)

                              trans. Peter Williams (1722–96) and others

My hymn this week is ‘Here am I, Lord’, written in 1979 by Daniel L. Schutte, at that time a young Jesuit studying theology, now Composer-in-Residence at the University of San Francisco. It is an enormously popular hymn, sung by all Christian denominations. 

The words are based on moments in the Bible where a prophet is called by God – Samuel (1 Samuel 3), Isaiah (6:8), Jeremiah (1:5–6) – and where they all express their feelings of human weakness and self-doubt. A great hymn of vocation and consecration, it is no surprise that ‘Here I am, Lord’ became an anthem of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. (My wife Patti remembers it sung at one of the first women’s ordination services, at St Paul’s in 1994.) But Schutte’s hymn speaks to and inspires all of us on our spiritual journey, when at some point we have to say ‘Here I am Lord, and I’m going to trust you to be with me whatever I may have to face’. 

The tune is Schutte’s own composition. I’ve chosen an uplifting congregational ‘Songs of Praise’ version, recorded at St Andrew’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Glasgow in 2016, and a performance by the Cathedral Choir of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa in 2019, where the young singers all hold hands and sing with feeling an arrangement that beautifully catches the note of hesitation and trust in ‘Is it I, Lord?’.

I, the Lord of sea and sky,

I have heard my people cry.

All who dwell in dark and sin

My hand will save.

I, who made the stars of night,

I will make their darkness bright.

Who will bear my light to them?

Whom shall I send?


Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?

I have heard you calling in the night.

I will go, Lord, if you lead me.

I will hold your people in my heart.


I, the Lord of snow and rain,

I have borne my people’s pain.

I have wept for love of them,

They turn away.

I will break their hearts of stone,

Give them hearts for love alone.

I will speak my word to them,

Whom shall I send?


I the Lord of wind and flame,

I will tend the poor and lame,

I will set a feast for them.

My hand will save.

Finest bread I will provide

Till their hearts be satisfied.

I will give my life to them.

Whom shall I send?


Here I am, Lord . . .                               Daniel L. Schutte (1947– )

Who would true valour see

My hymn for this week is ‘Who Would True Valour See’ by John Bunyan, who died on 30 August 1688. It first appeared in 1684 as a song celebrating the courage and constancy of Mr Valiant-for-Truth, a character in the second part of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Surprisingly, it didn’t get into the hymnbooks until 1906, when Percy Dearmer included it in the English Hymnal. Dearmer, alas, freely altered Bunyan’s robust language, fearing that modern church people would not want to sing about hobgoblins or foul fiends. I’m glad to say the original version has now come back into use – though when Patti and I got married we cheerfully pluralized the words

(‘Here’s two will constant be … They’ll labour night and day / To be true Pilgrims’). It’s a finely-crafted poem, making resourceful use of two-syllable as well as single-syllable rhymes leading up to the final, unrhymed ‘pilgrim’ in each verse.

The hymn epitomizes the spirit of Bunyan himself, not only as author of one of the greatest books about the Christian life, but as a prisoner of conscience who spent twelve years in Bedford prison for his nonconformist religious beliefs – true valour indeed.

The tune is known as ‘Monks Gate’, because it came from a traditional folk song collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a woman in the village of Monks Gate, near Horsham in Sussex, and he recognized how wonderfully it would fit the rhythms of Bunyan’s lines.

I’ve chosen a rousing performance by the choir and congregation at Southwark Cathedral (where there is a beautiful John Bunyan window), and, as a bonus, Maddy Prior’s jaunty folk-song style rendition.

Who would true valour see,
     Let him come hither:
One here will constant be,
     Come wind, come weather.
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
     To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
     With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound:
     His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
     To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
     Can daunt his spirit:
He knows he at the end
     Shall life inherit.
Then, fancies, fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
     To be a pilgrim.

                                    John Bunyan (1628–88)

Now Thank We All Our God

My hymn this week is ‘Nun danket alle Gott’, by Martin Rinkart, a Lutheran pastor at Eilenburg in Saxony, translated into English as ‘Now Thank We All Our God’. Amazingly, this heart-warming hymn of thanksgiving and praise appeared during the Thirty Years’ War in central Europe (1618–1648), a time of famine, disease, suffering and death on an apocalyptic scale. Rinkart saw thousands of his parishioners die, including his own wife. In the nineteenth century Catherine Winkworth translated this great hymn into English. A pioneer in higher education for women, she produced hundreds of translations of German hymns and their chorale tunes. Rinkart based the first two verses on Ecclesiasticus 50:22–3, ‘Now bless the God of all, who everywhere works great wonders, who fosters our growth from birth, and deals with us according to his mercy. May he give us gladness of heart, and may there be peace in our days in Israel, as in the days of old.’ The words praise God’s ‘countless gifts of love’ to us with a strong forward movement leading to a final verse praising all three Persons of the Trinity. The majestic tune ‘Nun danket’ is by Johann Crüger (1598–1662), a well-known Lutheran composer and contemporary of Rinkart. I’ve chosen a wonderful performance by massed choirs and a congregation of about 5,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall, included in the BBC Songs of Praise ‘Big Sing’ of October 2012.

Now thank we all our God,
    With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
    In whom his world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
    Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
    And still is ours to-day.

Oh may this bounteous God
    Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
    And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us still in grace,
    And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
    In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
    The Father, now be given,
The Son, and Him who reigns
    With them in highest heaven;
The One eternal God,
    Whom earth and heaven adore,
For thus it was, is now,
    And shall be evermore!

                              Martin Rinkart (1586–1649)

                                    trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827–78)

My hymn this week is ‘Tell Out, My Soul’, by the contemporary hymn-writer, Timothy Dudley-Smith. Written in 1961, it was inspired by the first line of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46–55) in The New English Bible. 

The King James Version may be more familiar – ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord’ – but what struck Dudley-Smith was the directness and strength of the modern translation: ‘Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord’. 

The hymn was an immediate success, and Dudley-Smith went on to write around 400 more. An Evangelical, and later Bishop of Thetford, he was a leading figure in the Church Pastoral Aid Society (set up to support poorer parishes). 

The four verses here ‘tell out’ the words of Mary as she expresses her sense of what it means for her to be the bearer of Christ and how this will change the world forever. 

We perhaps forget how radical her exultant words are – she is far from the silent, demure figure we often see portrayed. In 1969 the hymn was set to ‘Woodlands’ by Walter Greatorex (1877–1949), a grand, sweeping melody with a dramatic high note on ‘soul’ in each first line.

 I’ve chosen a fine performance by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, recorded in 1995.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
His mercy sure, from age to age to same;
His holy name, the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by;
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
The hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
To children’s children and for evermore!
Timothy Dudley-Smith (1926– )

My hymn choice this week was inspired by looking out the window one morning and remembering that beautiful hymn, ‘Morning has Broken’. 

It’s a good example of a hymn written to order. When Percy Dearmer was putting together a new edition of his Songs of Praise in 1931, he asked Eleanor Farjeon to write a hymn ‘on the theme of thanksgiving for each day as it comes’ – and it had to fit the Scottish Gaelic tune ‘Bunessan’. 

Being an amazingly inventive writer (later famous as a children’s author), Farjeon produced this delightful hymn. 

The words and lilting rhythm of the music together evoke the freshness of that morning in Eden, as Adam and Eve delight in the first blackbird, rain, grass, light. 

At a time when we are concerned about the effects of climate change on our world, this hymn becomes ever more relevant. Farjeon had a strong interest in religion all her life (her father was Jewish), and on her seventieth birthday she was received into the Roman Catholic Church. 

She described this as a natural progression, flowing out of her ‘increasing sense of the immortal spirit from a source I could only think of as God’. Cat Stevens (as he then was) made ‘Morning has Broken’ a worldwide hit in the early 1970s, and I’ve included his version to take us all back to our youth. 

But I’ve also given a link to a 2013 performance by pupils from Milkwood Junior School, Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape province of South Africa. If the hand-bell performers here don’t bring a smile to your face . . .

Morning has broken
Like the first morning,
Blackbird has spoken
   Like the first bird.
       Praise for the singing,
       Praise for the morning,
       Praise for them springing
          Fresh from the Word.

Sweet the rain’s new fall
Sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall
   On the first grass.
       Praise for the sweetness
       Of the wet garden,
       Sprung in completeness
          Where his feet pass.

Mine is the sunlight!
Mine is the morning
Born of the one light
   Eden saw play!
       Praise with elation,
       Praise ev’ry morning,
       God’s re-creation
          Of the new day!

                                                Eleanor Farjeon (1881–1965)

My hymn this week has impressive cross-European credentials: written in French by a Swiss Protestant to fit a tune by a German Lutheran and translated into English by a Lancashire-born Baptist pastor.

It is ‘A toi la gloire, O Ressuscité ’ – better known to us as ‘Thine be the Glory, Risen, Conquering Son’.

The author was Edmond L. Budry, a minister in the Free Evangelical Church in French-speaking Switzerland. He wrote it in 1884, to the tune of ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’, a chorus from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus (1746). 

The tune ‘Maccabaeus’ became famous beyond the oratorio (it is still whistled by the audience at the Last Night of the Proms). In the early twentieth century, Richard B. Hoyle, a Baptist pastor at Kingston-upon-Thames, translated the words into English. 

He was a skilled translator (fluent in twelve languages), and ‘Thine be the Glory’ was published in 1924 in the first edition of the hymnbook of the World Student Christian Federation. 

The words draw on the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection and St Paul’s inspired passage on death and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 (esp. verses 55 and 57). 

Although certainly this is one of the Church’s great ‘hymns of triumph’, it should not, I think, sound ‘triumphalist’. 

Handel’s music is strong and confident, not brash or foot stamping. With that in mind, my chosen performance is by the choir of York Minster, recorded in 1996.

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,
Endless is the victory, thou o’er death hast won;
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
Kept the folded grave-clothes where thy body lay.

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,
Endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.

Lo, Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
Let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing,
For her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting:

Thine be the glory . . .

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without thee: aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors through thy deathless love;
Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above:

Thine be the glory . . .

                                                            Edmond L. Budry (1854–1932)

  1. Richard B. Hoyle (1875–1939)


My hymn this week is ‘Steal Away to Jesus’, one of the most famous of all African-American Spirituals – those songs that were such a source of consolation and hope for an enslaved people. 

The term ‘spiritual’ derives from Colossians 3:16 and the songs invariably draw on stories from the Bible – especially ones depicting the triumph of the weak over their enemies, or speaking of deliverance from oppression. In ‘Steal Away’, Jesus understands and shares the suffering of slaves. In stealing away (secretly?) to Jesus, homeless slaves were also ‘stealing away home’. 

That little word ‘home’ is so moving in this context, representing as it does a place free of earthly pain and sorrow. The images of ‘thunder’ and ‘green trees bending’ causing poor sinners to ‘tremble’ suggest that a great change will come – heralded by the trumpet that sounds ‘within-a my soul’. The words are attributed to a slave called Wallace Willis, written sometime before 1862. 

At the time they may have had a double meaning, referring also to schemes to help escaped slaves get to the North and Canada, but their message that ‘freedom’ will come is as relevant as ever. In singing hymns like these prayerfully and as an expression of our common humanity we all ‘steal away home’. 

Of the many versions available, I’ve chosen the great rolling basso profundo voice of Paul Robeson, recorded in 1934, and a beautiful choral setting by the composer Moses Hogan, editor of The Oxford Book of Spirituals

The links are below, with the words following.

My hymn for this week is ‘In Heavenly Love Abiding’.

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home
I ain’t got long to stay here

My Lord, He calls me
He calls me by the thunder
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul
I ain’t got long to stay here

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home
I ain’t got long to stay here

Green trees are bending
Po’ sinner stand a-trembling
The trumpet sounds within-a my soul
I ain’t got long to stay here

Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home
I ain’t got long to stay here

My hymn for this week is ‘In Heavenly Love Abiding’. Written by the Welsh poet Anna Letitia Waring, and published in her first collection, Hymns and Mediations (1850), it is all about trusting in God, even when the storm is roaring ‘without’ (i.e. outside). The reference to God’s love ‘abiding’ alludes to John 15:10 and the second verse summarises Psalm 23. There are also echoes of Psalm 34:1–8 throughout. Waring had a remarkable knowledge of the Bible: she taught herself Hebrew to read the Old Testament in the original language. Although brought up a Quaker, she was baptized into the Church of England at the age of nineteen. She not only published poetry and hymns, she lived out her faith as an active prison visitor and a worker for the Discharged Prisoners’ Aid Society. The tune most often used for her beautiful hymn is ‘Penlan’, composed in 1898 by David Jenkins (1848–1915), Professor of Music at University College, Aberystwyth. The performance I’ve chosen is, fittingly, one recorded for Songs of Praise in 2016 in St Germans Church, Cardiff. The words are under the link.

In heavenly love abiding,
    No change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding,
    For nothing changes here:
The storm may roar without me,
    My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
    How can I be afraid?

Wherever he may guide me
    No want shall turn me back;
My Shepherd is beside me
    And nothing can I lack:
His wisdom ever waketh,
    His sight is never dim;
He knows the way he taketh,
    And I will walk with him.

Green pastures are before me,
    Which yet I have not seen;
Bright skies will soon be o’er me,
    Where the dark clouds have been:
My hope I cannot measure,
    My path to life is free;
My saviour has my treasure,
    And he will walk with me.

                        Anna Letitia Waring (1823–1910)


My hymn for the week of ‘Sea Sunday’ could be no other than ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’, known in the Royal Navy as ‘The Sailor’s Hymn’ and often sung at great naval occasions.

 Written in 1860 by William Whiting, master of Winchester College Choristers’ School, it was included the following year in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern

There are echoes of Psalm 107:23–30, and of lines from Milton’s Paradise Lost, but the structure is Trinitarian, the first three verses praying to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ending in the fourth with the resounding ‘O Holy Trinity of love and power’. 

The powerful tune to which it is always sung is ‘Melita’, composed by John Bacchus Dykes (1823–76), vicar of St Oswald’s, Durham who wrote nearly 300 hymn tunes. 

Here, the rising swell of the music enacts the movement of the sea, achieving a wonderful integration of thought, feeling, and melody. 

I’ve chosen a sensitive and moving performance by the choir of Wells Cathedral, recorded in 1986. The words follow the link below:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep:
    O hear us when we cry to thee,
    For those in peril on the sea.

O Saviour, whose almighty word
The winds and waves submissive heard,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep,
And calm amid its rage didst sleep:
    O hear us when we cry to thee,
    For those in peril on the sea.

O sacred Spirit, who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
Who bad’st its angry tumult cease,
And gavest light and life and peace:
    O hear us when we cry to thee,
    For those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them wheresoe’er they go:
    And ever let there rise to thee
    Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.
                                    William Whiting (1825–78)