Posted by: rcottrill | June 7, 2013

Ivory Palaces

Words: Henry Barraclough (b. Dec. 14, 1891; d. Aug. ____, 1983)
Music: Henry Barraclough

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: You can learn more about Mr. Barraclough in the Wordwise Hymns link, as well as reading of the strange association of the Bible text involved here with a common household product. Henry Barraclough wrote a few more hymns and tunes, but as far as I know this is the only one that has continued to be used. The Cyber Hymnal gives part of the story behind this hymn. A fuller account was provided by Billy Graham in 1967, for the book Crusade Hymn Stories (pp. 25-26).

Briefly, what led to the writing of the hymn is this. Presbyterian evangelist and Bible teacher Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman was preaching in 1915 at the Montreat Conference Center, in North Carolina. The team also consisted of song leader Charles Alexander, soloist Albert Brown, and their young accompanist Henry Barraclough.

One evening that summer Dr. Chapman spoke on Psalm 45, a royal wedding song, which also has a secondary application to the Messiah. (More about the text in a moment.) After the service, twenty-four-year-old Barraclough was a passenger in the car that drove them away from the meeting place. The phrases of a new song’s refrain began to take shape in his mind.

Having nothing else to write on, he took a business card and scribbled the refrain on the back. Later, at their hotel, he added the first three stanzas and the music. The song was sung at the meeting the next morning by Alexander and Brown. Then, at Dr. Chapman’s request, Henry Barraclough added a fourth stanza speaking of the second coming of Christ.

Billy Graham adds a personal footnote to this story. When he was beginning his ministry as an evangelist in 1945, it was Albert Brown who introduced Billy to a young musician named Cliff Barrows, who continued to work with him in his evangelistic crusades for decades afterward.

As to the Bible text involved, its poetic imagery can only be fulfilled in part by a mortal king of ancient times. Its fullest sense was to be captured by the Messiah-King, the Lord Jesus Christ. In confirmation of this, we see vs. 6-7 of the psalm quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9, as God the Father speaks to God the Son:

“To the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.’”

The grace and beauty of the King are celebrated (Ps. 45:1-2), and His glorious victories (vs. 3-5). The latter verses of the psalm (vs. 10-17) give attention to the beautiful bride. In its New Testament application this would apply to the church, the body of Christ. Dr. Chapman’s central text that evening was vs. 8 of the psalm.

“All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad.”

The text is a poetic description of the king in his resplendence, coming from his palace for his wedding. As he proceeds on his way, the fragrance of his garments is shed abroad. Mr. Barraclough’s hymn takes a stanza to describe each of the spices mentioned in Psalm 45:8. There is the fragrance of myrrh (CH-1), and of aloes (CH-2), and of cassia (CH-3).

Myrrh and cassia were two of the principle ingredients of the anointing oil referred to in vs. 7 (cf. Exod. 30:22-25). It was used in inaugurating the priests and kings of Israel. And myrrh and aloes are mentioned in the marriage preparations of King Solomon (S.S. 4:14).

The spices which perfumed the king’s robes also have a connection to the Lord Jesus. Myrrh was one of the gifts of the wise men brought to the Baby Jesus (Matt. 2:11). And myrrh and aloes were used to embalm the body of Christ at His burial (Jn. 19:39).

CH-1) My Lord has garments so wondrous fine,
And myrrh their texture fills;
Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine
With joy my being thrills.

Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Saviour go.

CH-4) In garments glorious He will come,
To open wide the door;
And I shall enter my heav’nly home,
To dwell forevermore.

1) In what ways is King Jesus superior to the earthly monarch celebrated in the psalm?

2) What can we say about the experience of the bride at such a wedding (cf. Rev. 19:7, 9)?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Thank you for introducing us to another “new” hymn! Your thoughts and the hymn bring to mind the words of Isaiah: “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” (59:17) and also “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (61:10).
    Our Lord at His coming fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy in Rev 19:11-16. Glorious return of our heavenly Bridegroom! And we, His spotless Bride, shall join Him around the wedding supper of the Lamb: “Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God” (Rev 19:17).

  2. I grew up singing this hymn, but it’s been a long time since I have sung it. Years ago I noticed that this is one of many hymns generally no longer found in today’s hymnals; sadly, it has been discarded in favor of newer music.
    One reason that I, an alto, have always loved it is an unusual feature of its music: The alto line has the melody in the first part of the refrain!

    • Good to hear from you. And yes, you’re right: not many hymnals include this beautiful hymn. Omitted to make room for something far superior, no doubt (Ahem! :-))

  3. […] Cottrill, in his Wordwise Hymns website provides the following background […]


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