HOW TO USE THIS BLOG
1) The Almanac. Click on the month you want in the side-bar, then the specific date. The blog will tell you what happened in hymn history on that day.
2) Reflections. There is always a current article on a hymn. But you can find many others by clicking on the Index tab. (More being added all the time.)
3) Topical Articles are opinion pieces on many aspects sacred music.
4) To Donate. If you can help with the cost of developing and maintaining this site, click on the “Support” tab above and the page will show you how.
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: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Rockingham, by Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian Bach (Mar. 8, 1714; d. Dec. 14, 1788)
Note: Isaac Watts has been called the Father of English Hymnody for his many contributions to our sacred songs. In 1706 he published this hymn, stunning in its insight, and profound in its expression of the infinite transcendence of God. You will see the reason for Watts’s unusual title “God Exalted Above All Praise,” as you read the words.
Isaac Watts’s original is found in the Cyber Hymnal link. Charles Wesley published the hymn in 1743, making a few minor adjustments to the words, mainly to account for the omission of the following quaint stanza, the second stanza in the original. (One wonders how Watts knew Gabriel was “tall”–and how that matters to a spirit being!)
The lowest step above Thy seat
Rises too high for Gabriel’s feet;
In vain the tall archangel tries
To reach Thine height with wondering eyes.
Some things are too high for us to reach without help of some kind. Even a shelf in our homes can be beyond us, and require climbing on a stool if we are to gain access to what is found there. Buildings with more than one floor call for stairs, and if they are very tall, even that becomes impractical, and we must resort to an elevator.
In nature, trees can be climbed, if we have the right equipment, and so can mountains. Though it wasn’t until Sir Edmund Hillary did it in 1953 that the tallest of them, Mount Everest, was conquered. Flight in hot air balloons, and heavier than air machines, has been around for awhile. But, in 1961, Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gargarin became the first to reach beyond the bounds of earth’s atmosphere and orbit the earth. Then, in 1969, traveling on Apollo 11, American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.
Unmanned spacecraft have journeyed much farther than the moon. Voyager I, launched in 1977, has now gone beyond our own solar system and still continues on, billions of kilometers out into interstellar space. But that is just a proverbial drop in the bucket when it comes to the enormity of the universe. A tiny galaxy has been discovered recently that is more than thirteen billion light years from our planet. (That’s the distance light can travel in a year. Take 299,792,458 metres per second, and multiply it by thirteen billion.)
But how high is God? Much higher still. He “inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15). Clearly, His heavenly throne is beyond observable space, eternally existing outside of the material universe He created. It’s found in what the Bible calls “the third heaven” (II Cor. 11:2). And its location, in itself, says nothing of the greatness of God’s Person. He is not only far above us in distance, but in His all surpassing divine attributes and moral character.
“Can you search out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than heaven–what can you do? Deeper than Sheol [the abode of the dead]–what can you know?” (Job 11:7-8). As he passionately seeks after God, Job declares, “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him!” (Job 26:14).
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3). He is too high for us, and infinitely beyond us. But, in grace, He has revealed something of Himself in Christ (Jn. 1:1, 14; Heb. 1:1-3).
1) Eternal Pow’r, whose high abode
Becomes the grandeur of our God,
Infinite lengths beyond the bounds
Where stars resolve their little rounds.
2) Thee, while the first archangel sings,
He hides his face behind his wings,
And ranks of shining thrones around
Fall worshiping, and spread the ground.
3) Lord, what shall earth and ashes do?
We would adore our Maker, too;
From sin and dust to Thee we cry,
The Great, the Holy, and the High!
4) Earth from afar has heard Thy fame,
And worms have learned to lisp Thy name;
But, O! the glories of Thy mind
Leave all our soaring thoughts behind.
A couple more notes before we leave this great hymn. What a wonderful way to give us a sense of the greatness of God who “fills heaven and earth” (Jer. 23:24), to compare “Where stars resolve their little rounds”! And yes, we can seem to be weak and ignorant as “worms” before an omnipotent and omniscient God (cf. Ps. 22:6; Isa. 41:14).
If we truly gain some understanding of the infinitude of God in all things, and of His surpassing greatness in every way, there will be times when even the most excellent hymn seems inadequate, and almost presumptuous. Sometimes the greatness of God must silence our trivial songs in a holy hush.
5) God is in heaven, and men below;
Be short our tunes, our words be few;
A sacred reverence checks our songs,
And praise sits silent on our tongues.
1) What quality of God is most amazing and incredible to you?
2) What hymn do you know that awakens holy awe in you, in its depiction of God?