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Words: Joseph Addison (b. May 1, 1672; d. June 17, 1719)
Music: Belmont, adapted by William Gardiner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853)
Note: Addison was one of England’s greatest writers. He and a former schoolboy chum, Richard Steele, founded a daily newspaper called The Spectator. They determined to give it a higher moral tone that the other papers of the day. Addison appended the text of this hymn to an article he wrote on gratitude. It was published in The Spectator on August 9th, 1712. The original has thirteen wonderful stanzas, which you can read on the Cyber Hymnal. Hymn books today usually use only four or five of these, but all are worth reading and meditating on. In my view this is one of the finest hymns in the English language.
The Cyber Hymnal lists five possible tunes that can be used with this hymn. I’m more familiar with yet another, Belmont. The source of this lovely tune is uncertain. Most trace its origin to Gardiner’s collection of classic melodies that he adapted for use as hymn tunes. His book has this impressive title: Sacred Melodies from Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, Adapted to the Best English Poets and Appropriated to the Use of the British Church (London: 1812-15)
In his essay on gratitude, Addison says, ““If gratitude is due from man to man, how much more from man to his Maker.” Then, he proceeds to describe the blessing of God on a life, all the way from the womb (CH-3), on into eternity (CH-11). In every circumstance and situation of life, he sees the hand of God and work.
CH-1) When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I’m lost
In wonder, love and praise.
CH-10) Ten thousand thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Nor is the least a cheerful heart
That tastes those gifts with joy.
His description of the Lord’s loving care of him when a helpless infant is beautiful, though CH-3 and 4 are seldom used in hymnals (cf. Ps. 22:9-11; Jer. 1:4-5).
CH-3) Thy providence my life sustained,
And all my wants redressed,
While in the silent womb I lay,
And hung upon the breast.
CH-4) To all my weak complaints and cries
Thy mercy lent an ear,
Ere yet my feeble thoughts had learned
To form themselves in prayer.
CH-5) Unnumbered comforts to my soul
Thy tender care bestowed,
Before my infant heart conceived
From whom those comforts flowed.
Then, we have him navigating “the slippery paths of youth” (graphic phrase!) (cf. Ecc. 12:1; II Tim. 3:14-15).
CH-6) When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
Thine arm unseen conveyed me safe,
And led me up to man.
CH-7) Through hidden dangers, toils, and deaths,
It gently cleared my way;
And through the pleasing snares of vice,
More to be feared than they.
Times of trial and trouble, both physical and spiritual, are times when he experiences the special ministrations of grace (cf. Ps. 27:5; Heb. 4:14-16).
CH-8) When worn with sickness, oft hast Thou
With health renewed my face;
And, when in sins and sorrows sunk,
Revived my soul with grace.
Addison’s three stanzas on eternity are too good to miss, though hymn books often use only CH-11). Everything’s summed up with, “Oh, eternity’s too short / To utter all Thy praise!” With David, the author would say, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 16:11; 23:6).
CH-11) Through every period of my life
Thy goodness I’ll pursue
And after death, in distant worlds,
The glorious theme renew.
CH-12) When nature fails, and day and night
Divide Thy works no more,
My ever grateful heart, O Lord,
Thy mercy shall adore.
CH-13) Through all eternity to Thee
A joyful song I’ll raise;
For, oh, eternity’s too short
To utter all Thy praise!
1) What in this long hymn is the greatest blessing to you today?
2) What blessings of the Lord can you thank the Lord for today (Ps. 103:2)?