Hymn of the Month, May 2015
Researched and written by Shelby Breedlove and Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Many of the hymns we sing are gems of wisdom, guidance, and admonition, drawn from God’s Word and set to music so that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly. Let’s take some time to dig into another of these this month, “Crown Him with Many Crowns.”
The tune, Diademata (the Greek word for crowns), was composed specifically for Bridges’ text by George Elvey. He was an organist at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, England, where British royalty often attend.
The text of the hymn in the Trinity Hymnal is attributed to Matthew Bridges, and this appears to be true of at least the first, second, and perhaps fourth stanzas. Bridges actually wrote at least six stanzas of the hymn when it appeared in 1851. Twenty-three years later Godfrey Thring wrote six additional stanzas that were published in his collection Hymns and Sacred Lyrics. As time went by, churches began singing the best verses from both hymns, and the hymn as we know it includes stanzas from both men.
Bridges and Thring came from similar backgrounds and contributed to Christ’s Kingdom in many similar ways in 19th century England. Matthew Bridges was an Anglican, but converted to Roman Catholicism in 1848. Three years later he wrote the hymn’s original verses. Godfrey Thring was a devout Anglican clergyman who was concerned that this popular hymn was allowing Catholic theology to be sung by Protestant congregations, so he wrote six more verses. Though written decades apart, both men were 51 years old when they composed their works, and produced many other hymns both before and after “Crown Him.”
One of Thring’s verses not in our hymnal is too good to miss:
Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed o’er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.
History taken from Osbeck, Amazing Grace; Peterson and Peterson, The Complete Book of Hymns, and Tanbible.com: bit.ly/1HY3ola.
As many readers may know, this hymn, from beginning to end, is focused on Jesus Christ. Every verse even points to both his cross and his glory. Let’s go ahead and work through each verse, and afterwards think about how we should sing this hymn.
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne;
hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own:
awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
This hymn begins with and grows out of the central theme of the New Testament book of Revelation. One author has famously summed up the message of that book in three words: the Lamb wins. Repeatedly throughout Revelation we hear images of Jesus exalted: Jesus on his throne, Jesus prevailing over his enemies, Jesus crowned with glory and honor, Jesus receiving the praise and honor of a myriad of angels and redeemed sinners, and so on. In the opening lines of this hymn, Matthew Bridges did little more than draw upon a handful of those images, especially the vision of Jesus in Revelation 19:12: “On his head are many diadems.”
After that the hymn shifts slightly. Midway through the verse we go from singing about the exaltation of Jesus to adding our voices to the heavenly anthem directed to him. Like the psalmist, we call upon our soul to praise Jesus as our matchless King who died for us personally and now commands our praise and adoration forevermore. And like Matthew Bridges, in singing this we too do little more than draw upon the testimony of Revelation, such as Rev. 19:16: “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
Crown Him the Lord of love; behold his hands and side,
rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified:
no angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
but downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.
Jesus Christ is our matchless King. We stated that plainly in the final line of the first verse, and now we go on to elaborate on that.
In particular, in this second verse we explain that he is the Lord of love. As Rev. 1:5 states, Jesus “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood….” He loved us so much that he willingly suffered and died in our place. In the words of 1 Pet. 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” And we know from Jesus’ encounter with Thomas in John 20 that his resurrected body still bears those wounds, rich (costly) wounds, though now in beauty glorified. Thus we behold his hands and side and marvel as the prophet did, “[H]ow great is his goodness, and how great his beauty” (Zech. 9:17)!
Indeed, we who believe in Jesus Christ are recipients of a great salvation! We acknowledge that in the second half of this verse. With the apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1:12), we acknowledge that the glorious love of our Lord is a mystery so bright that angels bend their eyes downward at the sight of it. There is no king like the Lord of love.
Crown him the Lord of peace; whose power a scepter sways
from pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise:
his reign shall know no end; and round his pierced feet
fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.
Jesus Christ is our matchless King also because he is the Lord of peace, as we spell out in this third verse. The prophet Isaiah said he would be in Isaiah 9:6, and that he is. As Psalm 110:2 testifies, he wields a mighty scepter, the scepter of the God who can and does cause wars to cease and knees to bow before him in prayer and praise (Psa 46:9; Phil 2:10-11). According to Isaiah 9:6, his reign shall know no end.
Having just sung that, we may be at a loss to make sense of the final line and a half of this verse: round his pierced feet fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet. What does that mean? What do fair flowers of paradise have to do with Jesus being Lord of peace? This seems to be a reference to the peace and joy of the saints in praising their Lord in heaven without hindrance and fear. In 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, Paul likened himself and his companions to flowers. They were “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:16). On earth Paul and believers yet today may have their fragrance hindered or even snuffed out, but round the pierced feet of the Lord of peace those fair flowers extend their sweet fragrance unhindered, and will do so forevermore (see Rev. 5 & 7).
Crown him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time;
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime:
all hail, Redeemer, hail! for thou has died for me:
thy praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.
Jesus Christ is such a matchless King because he is the Potentate of time, meaning the ruler of time. Yes, unlike any earthly king, Jesus Christ rules supreme over even time itself. Indeed, it was he who created every one of the rolling spheres in our universe (John 1:3). He is ineffably sublime or indescribably great compared to any mere creature (Phil 2:9-11).
In that light, we sing his praise with joyous gusto, as those who marvel that he would die for us personally, and we look forward to being among the multitude who do that throughout eternity (Rev 22:3). The question is not whether he is worthy of our praise (Rev 5:13); the question is whether or not we here and now will receive him, rest in him, and honor him as our Lord and Savior.
How We Should Sing This Hymn
What should we do with this hymn? How should we sing it? This hymn demands:
· Self-examination - It is the song of a heart that yearns for Jesus Christ to be exalted just as Scripture speaks of. Do you?
· Active involvement - This is not a song for the idle-hearted; sing it with gusto. Sing it with hope-filled anticipation. Will you?
· Obedience - Live in such a way that your actions match your words. Strive daily to obey your matchless King. Are you?
· Love - This is the song of a sinner who marvels at the person and work of Jesus Christ—especially on the cross—and loves him for it. How can you not?