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Words: Henry Fothergill Chorley (b. Dec. 15, 1808; d. Feb. 15 or 16, 1872); and John Ellerton (b. Dec. 16, 1826; d. June 15, 1893)
Music: Russian Hymn, by Alexis Fyodorovich Lvov (b. June 5, 1798; d. Dec. 28, 1870)
Note: This hymn combines the work of two authors, as the account below will explain.
The tune had an unusual beginning as well. Emperor Nicholas of Russia complained that Russia did not have a hymn tune of truly national origin to match those of other nations. He commissioned Lvov, the director of music for the imperial court chapel in St. Petersburg, to compose one, which he did in 1833. The emperor was greatly pleased with the result, and presented Lvov with a diamond encrusted gold snuff box as a reward!
The Franco-Prussian War took place in 1870-71. As you can see from the dates, it did not last long. Germany blockaded the French coast and brought a swift end to the conflict. But what interests us here is a hymn that has a connection with the war.
The original was written three decades earlier by Henry Chorley, and published under the heading, “In Time of War.” Then, on the eve of the clash, hymn writer John Ellerton wrote a similar hymn. The British were fearful that they would be drawn into the conflict between Germany and France, and Ellerton wrote his song to reassure them of God’s sovereign power. Stanzas from the two hymns were then put together, giving us the hymn God the Omnipotent as it’s now found in some of our hymnals.
Is God truly omnipotent? Or are there limits to what He can do? Yes there are limits, and we’ll get to them in a moment. But first, let’s consider the word the Bible uses to describe the Lord. He is called “omnipotent” (all-powerful).
In heaven, the Apostle John hears a great multitude crying, “The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Rev. 19:6). Most often, the word is translated “Almighty,” to describe Him as the most powerful Being of all (cf. Rev. 1:8). Surprisingly, perhaps, more than half of the instances when this word is used are found in the book of Job. Even in his suffering and distress, that great saint recognized the supreme power of God.
But, if the One the Bible calls “the Most High God” (Dan. 5:21) is all-powerful, how can it be that His power is also limited? How can there be things God is not able to do? Consider two particular areas. One is His character. God is utterly holy, and no taint of sin can ever corrupt Him. He cannot do what is wicked, and “God cannot be tempted by evil” (Jas. 1:13). He cannot do anything contrary to His nature.
Another limitation is one the Lord puts on Himself. In His Word, He has made many promises. Hundreds of them. And because of His holy character, He cannot break His promise, otherwise He’d be unreliable. In that case, what He promised would have been untrue, and the Bible declares, “God…cannot lie” (Tit. 1:2). By His own sovereign will, and in fulfilment of His promises, He has limited Himself to do certain things, and not to do other things.
God cannot fail–which is another thing He cannot do. That being said, when expressed within the bounds of His holy character and His covenanting word, there is nothing God cannot do, and no power in earth or heaven greater than His. He is truly omnipotent.
The two things mentioned earlier come into play in how the Lord deals with sin. The Bible declares that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and a righteous God has pledged eternal judgment on those who have sinned, because “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). However, in wonderful grace He chose to send His beloved Son to take sin’s punishment for us. All who believe on Him have forgiveness, and eternal life instead of everlasting condemnation (Jn. 3:16; Eph. 1:7).
Now, what of the hymn’s sobering words? Repeating words from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer several times, it pleads, “Give us peace in our time, O Lord.” But notice the end of CH-4, how the wording is changed to “Thou wilt give peace in Thy time, O Lord.” There is faith in God, and a recognition of His sovereignty, in those words.
CH-1) God, the omnipotent! King who ordainest
Great winds Thy clarions, lightnings Thy sword;
Show forth Thy pity on high where Thou reignest,
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.
CH-2) God the all merciful! Earth hath forsaken
Thy ways of blessedness, slighted Thy Word;
Bid not Thy wrath in its terrors awaken;
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.
CH-4) God the all wise! By the fire of Thy chastening,
Earth shall to freedom and truth be restored;
Through the thick darkness Thy kingdom is hastening;
Thou wilt give peace in Thy time, O Lord.
1) What are some examples of how the world has forsaken God’s ways and slighted His Word?
2) What particular encouragement do you find today in the fact that God is omnipotent?