Posted by: rcottrill | April 22, 2015

The Voice That Breathed O’er Eden

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Words: John Keble (b. Apr. 25, 1792; d. Mar. 29, 1866)
Music: Matrimony, by John Stainer (b. June 6, 1840; d. Mar. 31, 1901)


Wordwise Hymns (John Keble)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This wedding hymn was written in 1857, by request, for the Salisbury Hymn Book. The Wordwise Hymns link provides some biographical information on Keble, and a note on his more familiar hymn, Sun of My Soul.

The Cyber Hymnal gives the interesting historical note that this hymn was used at the wedding of Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. The Cyber Hymnal offers several possible tunes for the song.

The opening line in CH-2, in Keble’s original was “Be present awful Father…” Perfectly fine if one understands the word to mean One who fills us with awe. But modern readers have so altered or misused the term that hymn editors substitute “heav’nly.”

CH-1) The voice that breathed o’er Eden, that earliest wedding day,
The primal wedding blessing, it hath not passed away.
Still in the pure espousal of Christian man and maid
The Holy Three are with us, the threefold grace is said.

CH-2) Be present, heav’nly Father, to give away this bride
As Thou gav’st Eve to Adam, a helpmate at his side.
Be present, Son of Mary, to join their loving hands
As Thou didst bind two natures in Thine eternal bands.

Perhaps there’s a wedding in your past. If so, it may have taken place quite recently. Or, like mine, it may be an event that occurred many years ago. In any case, memories linger, of a sacred time when vows were made, and of a time of romance and of hope, blended with fits of nervousness, and also moments of hilarity and fun.

It’s sobering to consider that this uniting of husband and wife has been taking place for thousands of years. Though precise traditions may differ, millions of wedding ceremonies have taken place down through history, all over the world.

Who officiated at the very first wedding? God did. The Lord realized that man (Adam) needed a companion. One like him in some ways, yet also compatible and complementary to him (Gen. 2:18, 20). So, from a part of Adam’s own body, God formed a woman (Eve), “a helper comparable [suited] to him” (vs. 20). Then we read, “He brought her to the man” (vs. 22).

In a real sense, that was the first marriage. And the Word of God declares that, in such future unions, “A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (vs. 24). In this union there is both a leaving and a “cleaving” (the latter word is used by the King James Version of 1611). There’s a departure from the former family unit to begin a whole new family unit.

The Hebrew word for “cleave” (be joined or united) is dabaq. It indicates a bonding that is so powerful it cannot be broken apart without serious damage to both parts–like two pieces of wood fastened together with some kind of super glue. In the book of Job, the word is used to describe the scales of a sea monster called Leviathan. His scales “are joined [dabaq] one to another, they stick together and cannot be parted” (Job 41:17).

In the Bible, the marriage union of a man and a woman is presented as a permanent relationship–in the words of the traditional ceremony, “as long as they both shall live” (cf. Mk. 19:8-9). Death certainly breaks the bond, and sadly, so does divorce. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16); it’s not His ideal. Yet, through marital unfaithfulness, spousal abuse, or desertion, it is sometimes considered to be the best of two painful options.

Divorce is hurtful because it is destructive of the family unit, tearing apart that which God has joined together. The Bible accommodates these destructive effects of sin, in allowing for a marriage break-up in certain cases (cf. Matt. 19:7-9; I Cor. 7:12, 15). Even so, the couple should make every attempt to restore a loving relationship and a happy home.

John Keble, though a brilliant scholar, and an Oxford professor, was a humble and unassuming man. Keble authored several hymns that are still in use. But in 1857 he created this beautiful Trinitarian wedding hymn that is virtually unknown today. In it he unites past, present, and future, summoning the three Persons of the Trinity to bless a marriage.

The hymn carries us from the past, in Eden, through a current marriage ceremony, and on into eternity, referring to the time when Christ, the Lamb of God and the heavenly Bridegroom, will be united with His Bride, the church, in heaven, an event called “the Marriage of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:7-9; cf. II Cor. 11:2).

CH-3) Be present, Holy Spirit, to bless them as they kneel,
As Thou for Christ, the Bridegroom, the heav’nly Spouse dost seal.
O spread Thy pure wing o’er them, let no ill power find place
When onward to Thine altar their hallowed path they trace.

CH-4) To cast their crowns before Thee in perfect sacrifice,
Till to the home of gladness with Christ’s own Bride they rise.
To Father, Son, and Spirit, eternal One and Three,
And was and is forever, all praise and glory be.

1) What are several factors that should be considered as foundational to a successful marriage?

2) Are there other hymns that you feel are appropriate to a wedding service?

Wordwise Hymns (John Keble)
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Factors for a successful marriage? I was asked recently what is your husband’s “love language”? A question based on a book that has a sort of psychological approach to relationships which has sadly crept into the Christian church. But a couple of millennia before this book was published, Paul wrote: “Husbands love your wives…wives respect your husbands.” and so I submit that here we have two of the main keys: love and respect. Sacrificial love, tender love, protective love that recognizes the vulnerability of the wife, love that does what is best for the beloved. And a respect that shows honor, appreciation, admiration, thankfulness and kindness, and also submits to the husband’s vital headship in the home. How fitting these two are for the needs of the husband for respect and the wife for love!

    Other than that, I would add commitment, especially based upon the understanding of the permanence of marriage according to the Word of God. That it is a picture of Christ’s love for His body, His Bride, his church. I would say appreciation for the differences, the God-given differences between men and women. Rather than competing with one another, or being impatient toward one another (or worse), we should marvel at and be thankful for these differences which are meant to complement and bless a marriage. Let us reverently thank our all-wise Creator God for this gift called marriage. It is His creation, He created them male and female and regardless of how the world may scorn it, abuse it, and try to ruin it, we who know our Creator God should thank Him everyday for this precious gift. Praise the Lord!

    • Thanks for your comments. Those who will stand up for a biblical view of marriage are greatly needed in our day. For too many it is either ignored as unnecessary, or perverted in ungodly ways. Some years ago, I wrote a two-part article on marriage which begins here, trying to lay out some practical wisdom from a biblical point of view. Thanks again for your comments.


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