Posted by: rcottrill | February 7, 2011

From Greenland’s Icy Mountains

Words: Reginald Heber (b. Apr. 21, 1783; d. Apr. 3, 1826)
Music: Missionary Hymn, by Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Missionary Hymn was the first tune written by Lowell Mason (in 1823). There were many more to come. The Cyber Hymnal currently lists 87 of his melodies. He was working as a bank clerk in Savannah, Georgia, when a woman named Mary Howard brought him a copy of Heber’s words, asking if he could write a tune for it. In half an hour he had done so.

There is a wide difference of opinion about this hymn. Some have lauded it as the greatest missionary hymn in the English language. I am inclined to agree that it deserves a high place. But some politically correct among us are appalled at the reference to “the heathen in his blindness” (CH-2), and at calling them “benighted” (meaning, in darkness–CH-3). After all, what about all those sincere Moslems, and Hindus, and Buddhists–and more? Aren’t they are worshiping God in their own way? Who are we to criticize them, and call them blind heathen?

In answer, how does the Bible describe the unsaved person, the one who has been born into the world, naturally, but never born again spiritually? God’s Word tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands [spiritual things]; there is none who [naturally, in his sinful state] seeks after God” (Rom. 3:9-10).

Sinners are described as “enemies” of God (Rom. 5:10), either in open rebellion, or passively indifferent to Him and His claim on their lives. The Bible says they are “[spiritually] dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). They are “children of wrath [by nature destined for eternal wrath]” (Eph. 2:3). To be “without Christ,” means “having no hope and [being] without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

And what about the matter of spiritual blindness? “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). Those who are unsaved “[have] their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:18). “Whose minds the god of this age [meaning Satan] has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (II Cor. 4:4).

Only the power of God can remedy their lost condition. And what does God say about the way of salvation–the only one? “He who believes in the Son [the Lord Jesus Christ] has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:26). “He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18).

That’s pretty plain. And so is this (Jesus speaking): “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Bishop Heber had it right.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

1) In your experience, is the emphasis on world missions in the local church weaker than it should be today? (If your answer is yes, why might this be the case?)

2) What could be done about this?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. The hymn is usually sung in the United Kingdom to the tune “Aurelia” – also used for “The Church’s One Foundation,” and for the Catholic “O Jesus Christ Remember When Thou Shalt Come Again.” Both tunes are lovely. It’s almost as difficult a choice as between “Blaenwern” and “Beecher” for “Love Divine.”

    • Thanks for your comments. Aurelia is a great tune–one of those, like Hyfrydol, that seems to fit a number of texts. Personally, though, I’d take Blaenwern over Beecher any day. 🙂


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