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Words: C. Medley (see note below)
Music: Germany, from Sacred Melodies, by William Gardiner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853.
Note: Some hymn books credit this hymn to Samuel Medley, but I’m not sure about that designation. Others have it written by “C. Medley,” whose details are totally unknown. You will note in many books that the hymn is written in the first person singular–I, me, and my. The version I will use below uses the first person plural–we, us and our–making occasional changes in the rhyme to fit that.
The tune, Germany, which is also used with Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness, poses something of a mystery for hymn historians. Gardiner himself said he thought it came from somewhere in the works of Beethoven, but he couldn’t recall where. You will see hymn books that credit Beethoven as the composer, but extensive research has never found anything like it in the great composer’s work. Another historian has noted a similarity to a piece by Mozart.
Sanctuary is a word used in several different ways. It can identify a place of refuge or safety, such as an area set aside as a wildlife sanctuary. It can also be a sacred or holy place set aside for a religious purpose. The auditorium in a church where the congregation gathers to worship is called the sanctuary.
The word is found more than one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. The people of Israel are called God’s sanctuary, as He promised to dwell in their midst (Ps. 114:2), and the land God gave to them also is called a sanctuary–being both a place set aside for them by God, and a place of God’s protection of His people (Exod. 15:17).
The tabernacle, Israel’s portable worship centre in the wilderness, is designated that way (Exod. 25:8), as is the later permanent temple in Jerusalem (I Chron. 22:19). The altar of sacrifice was nearby, where sacrificial offerings were made. At the four corners of the altar were horn-like projections. When an individual was accused of treason or murder, he could flee to the altar and grasp one of the horns. It became a place of sanctuary (safety) until his case was decided (Exod. 21:13-14; I Kgs. 1:50; 2:28).
In both structures, tabernacle and temple, there was a room set aside as the holy of holies, or the Most Holy place. That was where the Lord revealed the brightness of His glorious presence between two golden angels, above what was called the mercy seat (Ps. 80:1). That was a sanctuary separated from the rest of the tabernacle or temple by a heavy curtain or veil (Lev. 4:6).
The place where God dwells in heaven is also called His sanctuary (Ps. 102:19), and it is the sacred and eternal refuge of the saints. Then, in the most ultimate and final sense, God Himself is the sanctuary of the redeemed. John says concerning his vision of heaven, “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (Rev. 21:22; cf. Isa. 8:14).
This latter application of the word sanctuary to God Himself should be a comfort and encouragement to every believer.
¤ “The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble” (Ps. 9:9).
¤ “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
¤ “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust’” (Ps. 91:2).
There is a lovely hymn on that theme which is notable for two mysteries, one concerning the words, the other concerning the music, as mentioned above. In any event, this does not affect the message of the hymn. It says:
1) Jesus, before Thy feet we fall–
Our Lord, our life, our hope, our all!
For we have nowhere else to flee–
No sanctuary, Lord, but Thee.
2) In Thee we ev’ry glory view,
Of safety, strength, and beauty too:
‘Tis all our rest and peace to see
Our sanctuary, Lord, in Thee.
3) Whatever woes and fears betide,
In Thy blest presence we may hide;
And, while we rest our souls in Thee,
Thou wilt our Sanctuary be!
5) Apace the solemn hour draws nigh,
When we must bow our heads and die;
But O, what joy this witness gives–
Jesus, our Sanctuary, lives!
6) He from the grave our dust will raise,
We in the heav’ns will sing His praise;
And when in glory we appear,
He’ll be our Sanctuary there.
1) Is there a particular trial from which you need sanctuary today?
2) How might you serve the Lord by being a sanctuary for some other person in need?