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Words: Robert Robinson (b. Sept. 27, 1735; d. June 8, 1790)
Music: Autumn, by François Hippolyte Barthélémon (b. July 27, 1741; d. July 23, 1808)
Note: In his youth, Robinson was apprenticed to a barber in London, and lived a wild and reckless life. But one day he heard a sermon by George Whitefield on the stern words of John the Baptist, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7). The Spirit of God convicted the wayward young man and he put his faith in Christ.
Associated with the Wesleys for a time, he served as a pastor in several churches. He wrote a number of works on theology, and two hymns that are still in use. The most familiar is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. But He also wrote a worship hymn in 1774 that begins by referring to the angels’ worship of God as an example passed on to us.
The original was made up of nine four-line stanzas. When these are combined, two by two (as they are below) that leaves four lines that must be discarded. They come just before CH-4, and say:
Did archangels sing Thy coming?
Did the shepherds learn their lays?
Shame would cover me, ungrateful,
Should my tongue refuse to praise.
The word “tradition” has fallen on hard times. It’s looked upon in some circles as a negative to be shunned. To speak of some something as traditional is to denigrate it as outdated and outmoded. But that is not the essential meaning of the word.
Individuals and families have traditions, as do churches, and even nations. To say a thing is traditional is simply to say that it’s been handed down, or passed on from some prior time. That’s all. It says nothing about the value of the thing. It may not be worth our effort to preserve it. But, on the other hand, it may be a precious treasure.
In the Bible, the Lord Jesus condemned some of the traditions of the Jewish rabbis. Why? Because they had invented rules that they used to circumvent the holy Law of God. “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition,” Jesus said (Matt. 16:6). But, on the other hand, the Apostle Paul referred to his God-inspired teachings as traditions–that which he was passing on (II Thess. 2:15). It all depends. If it’s a worthwhile tradition, keep it.
This is surely so of the worship of God. He is infinitely worthy of our praise and adoration, and the practice has been passed down from ancient times. Abraham worshiped God (Gen. 22:5), so did his servant (Gen. 24:26). Israel in Egypt worshiped the Lord (Exod. 4:31), and King David did so, in his own time (Ps. 5:7). In the New Testament, the wise men worshiped the Lord (Matt. 2:11), as did Paul (Acts. 24:14).
But since God is eternal and has neither beginning nor ending (Ps. 90:2), we can expect that the worship of God has, and will yet, transcend our present existence. In heaven we see Him worshiped by saints and angels (Rev. 4:10-11; 15:3-4).
The holy angels are special in another way. They are spirit beings whose creation predates that of man. The book of Job records how the angels (there called “sons of God”) worshiped God at the beginning of creation (Job 38:4-7). In the book of Hebrews, the writer shows the superiority of Christ by noting God the Father’s directive that the angels worship Him (Heb. 1:6-8; cf. Ps. 148:2).
Superior to us in intelligence and power, the holy angels bow to the Lord as supreme over all. When John, in the book of Revelation mistakenly tries to worship an angel (Rev. 22:8), the spirit immediately rebukes him. “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God” (vs. 9).
The angels set us a great example in the exclusivity, consistency, and fervour of their adoration of the Almighty (Rev. 4:8). Robert Robinson was impressed by this, and wrote a hymn that refers to it.
CH-1) Mighty God, while angels bless Thee,
May a mortal sing Thy name?
Lord of men as well as angels,
Thou art every creature’s theme.
Lord of every land and nation,
Ancient of eternal days.
Sounded through the wide creation
Be Thy just and endless praise.
The second line of CH-3 is a bit of a puzzle to me. It originally said, “Dark through brightness all along.” In the Cyber Hymnal’s version this has become, “Dark through darkness all along.” But how is either of those a description of God’s “free redemption”? Sometimes editors simply omit the verse to avoid confusion. But I notice in one book from 1840 the line says, “Bright, though veiled in darkness long.” That makes more sense to me!
CH-3) But Thy rich, Thy free redemption,
Dark through darkness all along;
Thought is poor, and poor expression;
Who dare sing that wondrous song?
Brightness of the Father’s glory,
Shall Thy praise unuttered lie?
Fly, my tongue, such guilty silence;
Sing the Lord who came to die.
1) What are some occasions when we read of angels praising and glorifying God, in His Word?
2) What things do we have to praise the Lord for that are not part of the personal experience of the angels?