Posted by: rcottrill | October 30, 2013

Children of the Heavenly King

Words: John Cennick (b. Dec. 12, 1718; d. July 4, 1755)
Music: Pleyel’s Hymn, by Ignaz Josef Pleyel (b. June 18, 1757; d. Nov. 14, 1831)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn, published in 1742, is one of several from Cennick’s pen that are still in use. The original had twelve stanzas, though most hymn books today make use of only four or five: CH-1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and sometimes CH-4 or 5. (As I write this, the Cyber Hymnal only includes seven of the twelve stanzas. When the others are added, the numbering of the commonly used stanzas would be: 1, 2, 4, 7, and 8, and sometimes 5 and 6.)

The tune is taken from the slow movement of Pleyel’s Fourth Quartet, Opus 7. Ignaz Pleyel was a gifted pupil and a friend of Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn. He was admired by Mozart as well.

It was Cennick’s common practice to sing hymns antiphonally. That is, to have part of the congregation sing half of a stanza, and the other part sing the second half. This hymn seems especially suited to that. Why not try it?

John Cennick struggled for some time with an overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness, and a terror of God’s judgment. But finally, in 1737 at the age of nineteen, he turned to Christ, and came to a full appreciation of God’s forgiving love. After his conversion, he was further taught and counseled by John Wesley.

Cennick’s output of about five hundred hymns came during a four-year period when he was associated first with Welsh evangelist Howell Harris, and later with George Whitefield. During these days, the Methodists were subjected to terrible persecution. In his book, The Gospel in Hymns, author Albert Edward Bailey provides a graphic picture, taken from the writings of Cennick and Harris, during their time working together.

“Before they began to preach, a mob gathered, evidently bent on doing them bodily harm. They brought horns, guns, and a fire engine, besides the usual clubs, stones, eggs, dung, rotten fruit, and dead animals” (p. 112).

A man identified as Mr. Goddard, a prominent citizen of the town, not only provided much of the ammunition. He later sat on horseback nearby, laughing heartily to see the evangelists abused. Along with the other revolting missiles thrown at them, guns were fired over their heads as a means of intimidation, and the fire engine pumped filthy water from the ditches onto them. But the men simply kept preaching. When Harris was the particular object of their cruel malice, Cennick preached, and when attention turned to Cennick, Harris preached!

Given this kind of treatment, there is a wonderful optimism expressed in this hymn, with hardly a whisper of the dangers faced by these servants of Christ in town after town.

CH-1) Children of the heavenly King,
As ye journey, sweetly sing;
Sing your Saviour’s worthy praise,
Glorious in His works and ways

CH-5) Lift your eyes, ye sons of light,
Zion’s city is in sight:
There our endless home shall be,
There our Lord we soon shall see.

It is not long after the church is born in Acts chapter 2 that we see the persecution of Christians beginning (Acts 4:1-3). First, it comes from the Jewish leadership, and later from the Roman government under Nero. The believers were commanded “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18). But Peter’s response was, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Their holy boldness is seen in these stirring words:

“When they [the Jewish leaders] had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42).

CH-6) Fear not, brethren; joyful stand
On the borders of your land;
Jesus Christ, your Father’s Son,
Bids you undismayed go on.

CH-7) Lord, obediently we go,
Gladly leaving all below;
Only Thou our Leader be;
And we will still follow Thee.

Of the stanzas not included in our hymnals, and not (currently) found on the Cyber Hymnal, I love the wistful hope revealed in the one that concludes the song.

Seal our love, our labours end,
Let us to Thy bliss ascend;
Let us to Thy kingdom come;
Lord, we long to be at home.

1) What kind of persecution and oppression do Christians suffer where you live?

2) Does your church pray regularly for persecuted believers around the world?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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