Posted by: rcottrill | August 21, 2013

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Words: Cecil Frances Alexander (b. April ___, 1818; d. Oct. 12, 1895
Music: All Things Bright (or, Bright and Beautiful), by William Henry Monk (b. Mar. 16, 1823; d. Mar. 1:1889)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: I’m most familiar with William Monk’s tune, but the Cyber Hymnal suggests alternatives. The refrain is sung first, then repeated after each stanza.

Mrs. Alexander (yes, she was a woman, in spite of the name Cecil) was concerned because the children in her Sunday School class had trouble understanding the Apostles’ Creed. So she wrote several hymns to explain clauses in the creed more fully. These were published, in 1848, in a book entitled Hymns for Little Children.

The present hymn amplifies the statement that God is “Maker of heaven and earth.” The last line of CH-6 alludes to the words of Genesis at the end of the sixth day of creation, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen. 1:31).

The refrain can be considered the first stanza, and is in some arrangements. Two stanzas of the original are omitted today, for two different reasons. Gone are CH-2 and CH-5. And though I’m not arguing for their inclusion, it’s worth a comment on each.

CH-2) The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
He made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Regarding this, one critic calls it “an appalling verse,” and another labels it “a Calvinistic view of the social order” which hymn book editors “could not abide.” Well, whether it’s “Calvinistic” or not, an argument could be made for its being biblical. The sovereignty of God does indeed extend to matters of social rank and status (cf. I Sam. 2:7-8; Isa. 40:23; Dan. 4:35; Lk. 1:52; Rom. 13:1).

There is even this remarkable statement about individual abilities and disabilities: “The LORD said to him [Moses], ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?’” (Exod. 4:11). In some way that we cannot comprehend, these things are designed or permitted by a sovereign God, and the choices that we make operate within the sphere of His sovereignty as well. Though the Lord invites the needy to come to Him, God is at work even in that (cf. Matt. 11:28, and Jn. 6:37).

“O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honour and another for dishonour?” (Rom. 9:20-21).

On the other hand, CH-5 has been omitted in deference to the many city children who’d sing the hymn, and never had a chance to play in a meadow, or gather rushes on the shores of a pond. However, because of the  electronic media, many of today’s children, a century and a half later, are not so socially isolated that they are unaware of how other children live.

CH-5) The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

These things being said, there is much to recommend what remains of this hymn in most hymn books. It clearly identifies Almighty God as the Creator of all things (refrain). Whether small things like flowers and birds (CH-1), or big and majestic things such as mountains, rivers, and sunsets (CH-3), God is their great Originator. He’s also responsible for the seasons, for heat and cold, and the germination and ripening of the harvest (CH-4).

Realizing and enjoying the beauty and bounty of nature is a privilege for which we can thank the Lord. It also gives us the responsibility to remind others of God’s gifts in nature.

CH-6) He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Questions:
1) What is there in nature that particularly reminds you of the wisdom and power of God?

2) Do you ever use these things as a subject of witness for the Lord? (With what response?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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