Posted by: rcottrill | November 21, 2012

Great God of Wonders

Words: Samuel Davies (b. Nov. 3, 1723; d. Feb. 4, 1761)
Music: Wonders (or Sovereignty), by John Newton (b. _____, 1802; d. _____, 1886)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The composer of this rousing hymn tune is not the John Newton (1725-1807) who wrote Amazing Grace, but a later individual, as the dates of his birth and death indicate. According to the Cyber Hymnal, the composer is the grandfather of English author D. H. Lawrence. As to his occupation, he was what was known as a “twisthand,” operating a machine that made lace. Newton was also an accomplished composer and choral conductor.

This is a strong 1769 hymn (published posthumously) about the sovereign grace of God. I’ve only seen stanzas CH-1, 4, and 5 used in hymn books. But the other two stanzas each make a powerful statement too. The Petersen’s, in their rather pretentiously (and erroneously) titled book, The Complete Book of Hymns (Tyndale House, 2006) tell an interesting story about the use of this great hymn.

For half a century, beginning in 1803, the British used an island in the South Seas called Van Diemen’s Land as a penal colony. (It later became the island of Tasmania.) Over the years, some 40,000 hardened criminals spent time there in penal servitude. Some of them were converted to Christ, and began meeting together for prayer and hymn singing.

According to the Petersens, their favourite hymn was Great God of Wonders, with the stirring questions of the refrain: “Who is a pard’ning God like Thee? Or who has grace so rich and free?” Those who work in prison ministry today report a similar attachment of prisoners to the truths of Newton’s Amazing Grace. The words, “That saved a wretch like me” have special meaning to them.

But consider for a moment some of the phrases of Samuel Davies’ hymn.

CH-1. Almighty God is a “great God of wonders,” not just in a limited or narrow sense. “All [His] ways are matchless, Godlike and divine.” In the refrain, His “pardoning grace…so rich and free” is noted.

CH-1) Great God of wonders! All Thy ways
Are matchless, Godlike and divine;
But the fair glories of Thy grace
More godlike and unrivaled shine,
More godlike and unrivaled shine.

Who is a pard’ning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so rich and free?
Or who has grace so rich and free?

CH-2. This is a stanza not usually used, but ponder the stunning phrases. Our sins are, in the sight of an absolutely holy God, “crimes of such horror to forgive,” and we stand before Him as “such guilty, daring worms.” Only a sovereign God of such infinite grace could exercise the “grand prerogative” to spare us.

CH-3. This stanza is not used now, but again it makes a strong statement. Such “pity, mercy, love and grace” could never come from “angels and men.” These are “glories [that] crown Jehovah’s name,” and His alone.

CH-4. Again our sin is characterized in all its awful darkness as “crimes of deepest dye.” There is powerful emotion expressed as, “in wonder lost, with trembling joy, we take the pardon of our God,” a pardon “bought with Jesus’ blood.”

CH-5. “This strange, this matchless grace” shown to us is a “Godlike miracle of love.” In response, we determine to “fill the whole earth with grateful praise,” an echo of “all the angelic choirs above.”

CH-5) O may this strange, this matchless grace,
This godlike miracle of love,
Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,
And all th’angelic choirs above,
And all th’angelic choirs above.

1) What imagery in this hymn impressed you most of all?

2) What is meant by describing sinners as “daring worms”?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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