Words: William Walsham How (b. Dec. 13, 1823; d. Aug. 10, 1897)
Music: Sine Nomine, by Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. Oct. 12, 1872; d. Aug. 26, 1958)
Note: Called simply “Saints’ Day Hymn” originally, Dr. How’s song (considered the finest of the fifty he wrote) was first published in 1864 with eleven stanzas. Hymnals today that don’t include them all, select various stanzas. One book I pulled from the shelf uses CH-1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11; another uses CH-1, 2, 6, 7, 8 and 11.
Williams’ tune is called Sine Nomine (without a name), and it’s been suggested that this beautifully recognizes the many saints of God who have also served Him well, without the public recognition of those whose names we know. The tune is wonderfully suited to a large congregation accompanied by a majestic pipe organ, but here’s an a capella version by a smaller group that is effective too.
Though most Protestant churches don’t celebrate All Saints’ Day (on or near November 1st), we can surely use this joyful hymn. It parades before our mind’s eye a great host of faithful servants of God, like the “cloud of witnesses” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. There are apostles (CH-3), evangelists (CH-4), martyrs (CH-5), and stalwart soldiers of the cross (CH-7), following in the glorious procession of the triumphant King of glory, summoned to a heavenly rest from their earthly labours at last (Rev. 14:13).
CH-1) For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
If Hebrews 12:1 provided the inspiration, there is also much from the book of Revelation that is implied or alluded to in How’s words. We hear echoes of a final great battle, and the triumph of the Lord of hosts (cf. Rev. 19:11-21; and see II Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7).
CH-7) 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.
CH-8) 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.
With further allusions to the book of Revelation, we see the victorious saints “in bright array” (Rev. 4:4; 19:7-8), entering the heavenly city with songs of praise (Rev. 21:23-26).
CH-10) But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
CH-11) From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Liturgical churches have regularly celebrated the contribution made by many of God’s servants down through the centuries–even giving some their special days. Non-liturgical churches, perhaps fearful of the charge of idolatry, have largely ignored this heritage. But surely there is an appropriate balance, a middle ground.
Our congregations need to be aware of: great reformers, martyrs, missionaries and evangelists, notable pastors and preachers, pioneers in the Sunday School, and the Bible college movement, pioneers in the use of the media, and (appropriate to this blog) our great hymn writers.
Though many have served the Lord and been engaged in the conflict, down the years, it is with the gifts and opportunities the Lord has given, and it’s God who deserves the glory for what was accomplished, and for their final victory. “Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed” (CH-1).
CH-2) 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.
1) Does your church celebrate the lives and accomplishments of saints that God has used in wonderful ways over the years? (If not, why not?)
2) What are some practical ways this can be done, while bringing due glory to God for the fruit of their labours?