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Also see 30+ Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing in your church. As others have contributed ideas, this wonderful resource has grown to over 80 items now. And, for more than three dozen reasons why congregations should still use hymn books rather than merely projecting words on the wall, see The Value of Hymn Books.
Words: William Josiah Irons (b. Sept. 12, 1812; d. June 18, 1883)
Music: Hymn of Joy, by Ludwig van Beethoven (b. Dec. ___, 1770; d. Mar. 26, 1827)
Note: The original title was Sing with All the Sons of Glory. Editors have made it more clearly inclusive–even though I personally can abide the generic “sons” representing all human beings. English clergyman William Irons wrote quite a few hymns. This superb one, as the Cyber Hymnal notes, was sung at Ronald Reagan’s funeral.
As to the tune, Beethoven’s Hymn of Joy is fine, but I rather favour Roland Prichard’s wonderful Hyfrydol (to which we also sing Our Great Saviour, and several other hymns). There is no record of Beethoven’s date of birth, but he was baptized on December 17th, and the family later celebrated his birthday on the 16th.
We use words to describe what we think or feel, or what has happened to us. But what if something is beyond words? Perhaps there are no words in existence that can do the job. Or words seem far too weak to convey how we’re feeling? This can happen with both positive and negative things.
When our son was born, I vividly recall looking through the window of the hospital nursery at the incubator in which that tiny baby lay. There he was, at my first sight of him. “He’s an extension of me,” I thought, “a part of me that’s now independent of me.” I had feelings at the time that I cannot put on paper. Even if I tried, there are no words that can capture the moment.
Elie Wiesel (1828-2016), as a teen-aged Jewish boy, was taken with his family to a Nazi concentration camp. The horrors they experienced there are also beyond words. Wiesel tried. He wrote a book, in its English edition called simply Night. In it the author vents one long, anguished cry of hopeless despair so heart-wrenching it’s difficult to read. There’s no question the deep, soul-shredding inner pain of those years–pain he suffered to his dying day–is beyond any vocabulary on earth.
When our shock at some terrible experience overpowers us, or we make a discovery that’s overwhelming, or our gratitude for some gift is such that we can’t find words to express appreciation, or we have a transcendent spiritual experience, these things all can be beyond words.
The New Testament uses several terms to convey the idea that God and His ways are beyond our finite intellects to comprehend, and beyond our words to describe.
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments [or decrees] and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15)–perhaps speaking both of our salvation and our Saviour. “Though now you do not see Him [Christ], yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (I Pet. 1:8). What we have in and through faith in the Lord is described as “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). And we are to seek to know more of the love of Christ which “passes [or surpasses] knowledge” (Eph. 3:19).
Paul speaks of a man (perhaps himself) who either had a vision of Paradise, or was given the privilege of visiting briefly. There he heard “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (II Cor. 12:4). J. B. Philips calls them “words that cannot, and indeed must not” be spoken.
The whole subject of heaven, the eternal home of the saints, falls in that category of being beyond words. We are told something about it, especially in the last two chapters of Revelation. But there’s undoubtedly much more that is beyond an earthly vocabulary to describe.
Pastor and hymn writer William Irons gave us a hymn about heaven in 1873. In one hundred and seventy-three words, he describes the scene, heaping phrase upon phrase, in joyous ecstasy. “O what glory, far exceeding all that eye has yet perceived!” he says. “Holiest hearts, for ages pleading, never that full joy conceived.”
In spite of this marvelous hymn, describing heaven remains beyond his skill. Even so, here is part of this wonderful hymn. (I encourage you to go to the Cyber Hymnal link and read it all.)
CH-1) Sing with all the saints in glory,
Sing the resurrection song!
Death and sorrow, earth’s dark story,
To the former days belong.
All around the clouds are breaking,
Soon the storms of time shall cease;
In God’s likeness we, awaking,
Know the everlasting peace.
CH-4) Life eternal! O what wonders
Crowd on faith; what joy unknown,
When, amidst earth’s closing thunders,
Saints shall stand before the throne!
O to enter that bright portal,
See that glowing firmament;
Know, with Thee, O God immortal,
Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.
1) What, from William Irons’s description of heaven impresses or blesses you most?
2) What is your favourite hymn about heaven?