Words: Samuel Stennett (b. June 1, 1727; d. Aug. 24, 1795)
Music: Ortonville, by Thomas Hastings (b. Oct. 15, 1784; d. May 15, 1872)
Note: Pastor Stennett’s beautiful hymn of worship was published in 1787, and back then called “Chiefest Among Ten Thousand, or the Excellencies of Christ,” originally a reference to the bridegroom in the Song of Solomon (5:10). The hymn had nine stanzas, of which CH-1, 4, 5, 7, and sometimes 9 are commonly used today. (With the tune Ortonville, the last line of each stanza is repeated.)
Little of Stennett’s work has been altered, though the second line of CH-1 was changed from “Upon His awful brow.” (Awful, now, is usually taken to mean disgusting or revolting, though it used to refer to something that filled one with awe and reverence.) Stennett began the hymn with CH-2, which is certainly an appropriate summons to praise:
CH-2) To Christ, the Lord, let every tongue
Its noblest tribute bring
When He’s the subject of the song,
Who can refuse to sing?
Samuel Stennett was a fifth generation pastor, and an able and godly man. His mind seemed to be full to overflowing with the things of the Lord. On one occasion, because of a throat problem, he was given a concoction to gargle that contained vinegar and other ingredients. Immediately, he said, with great emotion:
“‘And in His thirst they gave Him vinegar to drink’ [Ps. 69:21]. Oh, when I reflect upon the sufferings of Christ, I am ready to ask, ‘What have I been thinking of all my life? What He did and suffered are now my only support.”
The phrase “majestic sweetness” (CH-1) is an interesting combination. The latter word is used in the sense of pleasing and agreeable. Christ in heavenly majesty, crowned with glory at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 1:3), is not seen as harsh and tyrannical, but as abundantly gracious. In this character He is approachable by the children of God in their need.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
CH-1) Majestic sweetness sits enthroned
Upon the Saviour’s brow;
His head with radiant glories crowned,
His lips with grace o’erflow.
This is the One who willingly humbled Himself, and became obedient to the Father’s will, even to the point of suffering the cruelty of the cross (Phil. 2:8). He did it to pay our debt of sin, so that we, through faith in Him, could be delivered and receive the gift of eternal life (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:4-5).
CH-5) He saw me plunged in deep distress
And flew to my relief;
For me He bore the shameful cross
And carried all my grief.
Several of the stanzas that are seldom used also have a tender message for us. It’s worth going to the Cyber Hymnal and reading them all. But here are a couple of examples. Pastor Sennett glories in the beauty of His Saviour (CH-3), and revels in the blessings He has poured out “upon my guilty [unworthy] head.”
CH-6) His hand a thousand blessings pours
Upon my guilty head:
His presence gilds my darkest hours,
And guards my sleeping bed.
After dealing in depth with the subject of our great salvation, earlier in Romans, the Apostle Paul says there is only one possible response to what the Lord has done for us.
“I beseech you [appeal to you] therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God [because of all that He has done for you], that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
With the able pen of Samuel Stennett, this becomes:
CH-9) Since from His bounty I receive
Such proofs of love divine,
Had I a thousand hearts to give,
Lord, they should all be Thine.
1) What truth in particular about our Saviour strikes you, in Pastor Stennett’s hymn?
2) What other hymns do you know and use that have this kind of warmth in worship, while also expressing strong doctrinal teaching?