Posted by: rcottrill | February 8, 2012

The God of Abraham Praise

Words: Thomas Olivers (b. _____, 1725; d. Mar. ___, 1799)
Music: Leoni (or Yigdal), by Meyer Leoni (b. _____, d. _____, 1797)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The exact dates of the births and deaths of these two men are presently unknown. (In fact, hymn historian Robert McCutchan gives the year 1800 for the death of Meyer Leoni.) Around 1770, Wesleyan preacher Thomas Olivers attended a Jewish synagogue in London, and heard the Hebrew Doxology (Yigdal) sung by the famous cantor Meyer Leoni. He adapted the tune, and paraphrased the words, to create what is now recognized as one of the greatest hymns in the English language.

Lavish praise has been heaped upon this song. Hymn writer James Montgomery (Angels from the Realms of Glory) said, “There is not in our language a lyric of more majestic style, more elevated thought, or more glorious imagery.” J. R. Watson, in his book An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford University Press, 2002) states, “[Olivers’] daring hymn shows why the Methodists were distrusted on account of their enthusiasm: its verses proceed from earth to heaven in an ecstasy of imaginative excitement.”

The stanzas are loaded with biblical quotations and allusions, showing that Thomas Olivers is not simply succumbing to unbridled emotionalism. This is a carefully reasoned hymn of praise, that nonetheless rises in exalted bliss to God’s very heaven itself.

In a published version of the hymn in 1772 it was given the ponderous title: A Hymn to the God of Abraham, in three parts: Adapted to a celebrated Air, sung by the Priest, Signior Leoni, &c, at the Jews’ Synagogue, in London. (They went in for long titles in those days!) The hymn was, at that time, divided into three sections, with four stanzas in each.

Of the original twelve stanzas, many hymnals I checked use CH-1, 2, 4, and 12. But Hymns for the Living Church (Hope Publishing Company, 1974) uses CH-1, 4, 10 and 12. When you read the exalted words of the tenth stanza, you can see why editor Donald Hustad wanted to include it.

CH-10) The God who reigns on high the great archangels sing,
And “Holy, holy, holy!” cry, “Almighty King!”
Who was and is the same, and evermore shall be:
Jehovah, Father, great I AM, we worship Thee!”

When the church was born, on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), God did a new thing. By a work of His Holy Spirit He formed the spiritual body of Christ. It was not new that God would save Gentiles, as well as Jews. But before Pentecost believing Gentiles became Jewish proselytes when they believed.

After Pentecost, and through the finished work of Christ, Gentiles become “fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). Now, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:28). Of course the latter text does not mean that these distinctions do not matter at all. But the sense is that all stand before God on the same level.

All of this being said, Thomas Olivers recognized the fact that it was the Jehovah God of the Old Testament who formed the church of the New Testament. And this wonderful hymn is rooted in the truth that “the God of Abraham” is the God of each Christian today. That opening phrase, “the God of Abraham,” is itself used thirteen times in the Scriptures, Old and New Testaments (cf. Gen. 26:24; Acts 3:13). The Bible is all the inspired revelation of God, and reveals not two gods, but one.

CH-1) The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days, and God of love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name, forever blest.

Even so, from the beginning, the apostles preached of the resurrection and saving power of Christ, and the need to put one’s faith in Him for salvation. “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 one God of the Bible is a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In that confidence, Olivers calls God “the great Three-One” (CH-9), and introduces the Person of Christ into his hymn at various points. He speaks of “Jesus in my view” (CH-5), and uses His prophetic title, “Prince of Peace” (CH7, cf. Isa. 9:6-7). He also describes the “spotless bride” of Christ, His church in heaven, arrayed in “garments white and pure” (Rev. 19:7-9; cf. II Cor. 11:2).

CH-12) The whole triumphant host give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” they ever cry.
Hail, Abraham’s God, and mine! (I join the heav’nly lays,)
All might and majesty are Thine, and endless praise.

1) Would you agree that this is one of our greatest hymns of worship? (Why? Or Why not?)

2) Why is it important to understand that we today worship “the God of Abraham”?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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