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Words: Henry Alford (b. Oct. 7, 1810; d. Jan. 12, 1871)
Music: Alford, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)
Note: Early printings of this hymn have only the first three stanzas. Alford added the final several years later. The stirring tune Alford was written especially for this hymn, in 1875.
T his is a gloriously triumphant hymn, taking its content mainly from the book of Revelation. The images are so clearly drawn that it stirs the blood to read the words, let alone sing them with Dykes’s rousing tune. Albert Bailey’s criticism, in his book The Gospel in Hymns (p. 393), is both unfounded and uncalled for. He states that Dean Alford’s glorious picture is “all based upon Christian mythology.” He continues, writing in 1950:
“Our concepts of God, of Jesus, of salvation, of the universe shot through with gamma rays, cosmic rays and radio activity, have so changed within the last hundred years that modern man can find no place for such a heaven.”
Really? Then we must fault “modern man,” not the Bible. To dismiss the facts about heaven recorded in God’s Word as mere “mythology” is folly in the extreme. Granted that there are some visionary images in the book of Revelation, but we must avoid dismissing all the book as such. Consistent literal interpretation allows for figurative language, but we are not free to turn into symbols whatever we like.
The Reformation, and all the great revivals in history were rooted in the literal interpretation of God’s Word. In the classic definition of the term, we interpret the Scriptures literally by giving to each word its plain, natural sense, the same meaning it would have in normal use, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking. In other words, the language of the Bible works the way God designed all language to work.
Henry Alford, an eminent New Testament scholar, certainly understood Christ’s return and heaven that way. He died expecting that he would join the thronging saints on resurrection day. His wonderful hymn was sung at his memorial service and, according to his instructions, his grave marker was inscribed (in Latin) with the words, “The inn of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem.”
To deny the concrete reality of heaven is to reject the words of Jesus who told His followers, “I go to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2)–a place, not a state of mind. And to deny the concrete reality of heaven is to deny the full nature of man, “spirit, soul, and body” (I Thess. 5:23). Man has an immaterial part of his nature, but he also has a material part. God created us to exist in time and space. We won’t simply be incorporeal spirits, wandering in some blissful nothingness.
Let us turn from the unbelief of “modern man” to enjoy the thrilling picture Dr. Alford paints for us.
CH-1) Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.
The “ten thousand times ten thousand” comes from Revelation 5:11, the robes of the saints are mentioned several times in the book (Rev. 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13-14; 19:7-8). The gates of the heavenly city are described in Revelation 21:12-13, 15, 21, 25; 22:14). Though they are said to be gates of pearl, rather than gold, we know that the heavenly city is a city of gold (Rev. 21:18, 21), and a city of glorious light (Rev. 21:11, 23-24; 22:5). The idea of throwing open of the gates to admit this triumphal procession may be taken from Psalm 24:7-10).
CH-2) What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousandfold repaid!
“Alleluia” is a cry we’ll no doubt hear many times (Rev. 19:1, 3, 4, 6). That is the Greek form of the Hebrew word hallelujah, a compound word meaning hallel (praise) + Jah or Yah (a contraction of Jehovah, or Lord). So, “Praise the Lord!” The “harps” of heaven are mentioned a number of times (Rev. 5:8; 14:2; 15:2). The Greek word for harp, kithara, gives us our English word guitar. This triumph of the saints, exalting our glorious King, is what history has been heading for all along.
CH-3) O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.
When the Lord returns with His saints (I Thess. 4:14), to catch away His bride, the church (vs. 16-17), we will have a grand reunion with those who have gone on before us. There are so many that I’m looking forward to meeting–and the older I get, the more reunions there are to contemplate!
CH-4) Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Saviour, come.
Dr. Alford ends with a great prayer which actually has its roots in what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), as it will when Christ comes to reign.
He is “the Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), and the frequent use of that title in Revelation surely indicates that Christ is the central figure in the heavenly kingdom (Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13; 6:1, 16; 7:9, 10, 14, 17; 12:11; 13:8; 14:1, 4, 10; 15:3; 17:14; 19:7, 9; 21:9, 14, 22-23, 27; 22:1,3). Christ is also the “Desire of nations” (Hag. 2:7), the “Prince” of peace (Isa. 9:6-7) and the “Saviour,” a title used of Him many times (e.g. Lk. 2:11; Acts 5:31; Phil. 3:20; Tit. 2:13; I Jn. 4:14).
1) What is the most thrilling thing to you, mentioned in Dr. Alford’s hymn?
2) What other hymns about heaven have been a special blessing to you>