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Words: Francis Pott (b. Dec. 29, 1832; d. Oct. 26, 1909)
Music: Angel Voices (or Monk), by Edwin George Monk (b. Dec. 13, 1819; d. Jan. 3, 1900)
Note: Francis Pott was an English clergyman. He also wrote some hymns, and translated those of others, as well as serving as a hymn book editor.
Composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote a beautiful melody he called in German Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, meaning On Wings of Song.
Though Mendelssohn wrote it for the words of a secular love song, there’s a sense in which that phrase says something about the hymns of the church. When they serve their highest purpose, they bear the truths of Scripture on musical wings into the hearts and minds of the participants and hearers. They also lift our praises up to God on wings of sacred song.
We can sing these songs on our own, or in family gatherings, but hymn singing is also to be a major activity in the services of the local church. We’re told in the Word of God to “Sing out the honour of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps. 66:2), and to “serve the Lord with gladness; [and] come before His presence with singing” (Ps. 100:2). We’re to teach and admonish one another with our songs, as well as singing to the Lord (Col. 3:16).
Notice the call, in Psalm 66:2 to “make His praise glorious.” The Hebrew word for glorious (kabod) describes something of great splendour, something that is abundant, rich, and reverent, befitting our glorious God. There’s a gospel song (Love Lifted Me, by James Rowe, that says:
“Love so mighty and so true
Merits my soul’s best songs.”
That’s an important point. Our glorious Lord is infinitely worthy of the best of our songs, sung to the best of our ability.
By these songs we pass on truth to one another, and from one generation to the next. This is why I believe it is important to teach the great hymns to our children, early on. The psalmist pledges, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations” (Ps. 89:1). They should be known and loved by the whole family. Our songs can also be a witness to the unbelieving world. David says, “I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations” (Ps. 57:9).
Anglican bishop, J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) wrote:
“Good hymns are an immense blessing to the church of Christ. I believe the last day alone will show the world the real amount of good they have done. They suit all, both rich and poor. There is an elevating, stirring, soothing, spiritualizing, effect about a thoroughly good hymn, which nothing else can produce. It sticks in men’s memories when texts are forgotten. It trains men for heaven, where praise is one of the principal occupations. Preaching and praying shall one day cease for ever; but praise shall never die.”
We know that singing God’s praises predates the creation of the present world, because the angels sang when it came into being. The Lord asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth….when the morning stars sang together?”–“morning stars” being poetic imagery for angels in the passage (Job 38:4, 7). We are also told that the angels, as well as the saints, will continue to sing songs of worship in the eternal heavenly kingdom (Rev. 5:8-10).
One of Francis Pott’s own hymns speaks of how we are privileged to share with the angels the joy of praising God in song.
CH-1) Angel voices, ever singing,
Round Thy throne of light,
Angel harps, forever ringing,
Rest not day or night;
Thousands only live to bless Thee,
And confess Thee Lord of might.
CH-2) Thou who art beyond the farthest
Mortal eye can scan,
Can it be that Thou regardest
Songs of sinful man?
Can we feel that Thou art near us
And wilt hear us? Yea, we can.
CH-4) Here, great God, today we offer
Of Thine own to Thee;
And for Thine acceptance proffer,
Hearts and minds, and hands and voices,
In our choicest melody.
1) What in your view would characterize “glorious praise”?
2) What would make a song unworthy of the praise of God?