Hymn of the Month, August 2016
Researched and written by 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, “Holy God, We Praise Your Name.”
With the exception of the many psalms in the Trinity Hymnal, this month’s hymn is one of the oldest songs we sing. It is based on an early Christian hymn/ prayer in Latin commonly known as Te Deum Laudamus (Latin for “We praise you, O God”), or even more simply as Te Deum. The hymn reads as follows, as translated in the Book of Common Prayer:
We praise thee, O God
we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee
the Father everlasting.
To thee all angels cry aloud
the heavens, and all the powers therein.
To thee cherubim and seraphim
continually do cry,
‘Holy, Holy, Holy
Lord God of hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty
of thy glory.’
The glorious company of the apostles
The goodly fellowship of the prophets
The noble army of martyrs
The holy church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee;
of an infinite majesty;
Thine honourable, true
and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost
Thou art the King of Glory
Thou art the everlasting Son
of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man
thou didst not abhor the virgin's womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death
thou didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God
in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come
to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy saints
in glory everlasting.
More than a thousand years later, a versification of this hymn in German appeared anonymously in Katholisches Gesangbuch, a hymnal published in Vienna in 1774. In four years the hymn was published again, though slightly altered, under the name of a Silesian priest named Ignace Franz. Most modern scholars thus believe Franz created the original versification.
Nearly a century later an American priest named Clarence Walworth translated this German hymn into English. Our Trinity Hymnal contains a modernized version of the first four verses of Walworth’s translation. The remaining three verses—marvelous in their own right—go like this:
You are King of glory, Christ:
Son of God, yet born of Mary;
For us sinners sacrificed,
In the earth your body buried.
First to break the bars of death,
You have opened Heaven to faith.
From your high celestial home,
Judge of all, again returning,
We believe that you will come
In the promised new day’s morning;
When your voice will shake the earth,
And the risen dead come forth.
Spare your people, Lord, we pray,
By a thousand snares surrounded:
Keep us without sin today,
Never let us be confounded.
Lo, I put my trust in you;
Never, Lord, abandon me.
As for the music of this month’s hymn, we use the same tune published in 1774. The composer is unknown.
Sources: Hymnary.org, Milewis.wordpress.com, and Wikipedia.org.
This month’s hymn—specifically the four verses contained in the Trinity Hymnal—is a marvelous declaration of praise to the Triune God. In it we join Christians throughout the ages in praising the God of glory whom we trust in and worship.
Holy God, we praise your name;
Lord of all, we bow before you;
all on earth your scepter claim,
all in heav'n above adore you.
Infinite your vast domain,
everlasting is your reign.
We begin our hymn with a simple declaration of praise to our God who is “Lord of all the earth” according to Psalm 97:5. He alone, as King Hezekiah once professed, is “enthroned above the cherubim,” and the God “of all the kingdoms of the earth” (2 Kings 19:15), and thus we continue our praise by singing all on earth your scepter claim, all in heav’n above adore you. Indeed, infinite is his vast domain, and everlasting is his reign, as Scripture declares time and again, such as in Psalms 29:10 and 145:13. Simply put, in this opening verse we humbling acknowledge that he is God and we are not (which isn’t easy to do given the pride of our hearts).
Hark, the glad celestial hymn
angel choirs above are raising;
cherubim and seraphim
in unceasing chorus praising,
fill the heav'ns with sweet accord:
"Holy, holy, holy Lord."
This second verse draws our attention to the reality that we are not the only ones to praise God. This verse leads us in rehearsing the testimony of passages such as Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5, in which God has given us a glimpse of the glories of heaven. In Revelation 5:11 we hear of “many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands,” praising God, or to put it differently, filling the heav’ns with their sweet accord (“accord” meaning agreement or harmony). In Isaiah 6:3 we hear them doing much the same, each one of them calling to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Here in this second verse we rehearse that testimony, so as to remind ourselves of the reality that we are not the only ones to praise God. Indeed, we who praise him today may be “on the wrong side of history” according to many people in our world, but there is a myriad of cherubim and seraphim demonstrating otherwise.
Lo! the apostolic train
join your sacred name to hallow;
prophets swell the glad refrain,
and the white-robed martyrs follow;
and from morn to set of sun,
through the church the song goes on.
This third verse fills out the vision of the second, drawing our attention to the many believers who have died and now praise God in his presence. Already now to some extent, they constitute “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” according to Revelation 7:9. From the morn (morning) to set of sun, they praise God, and by God’s grace we join them in praising God today, and by God’s grace we will continue doing so forever.
Holy Father, Holy Son,
Holy Spirit, Three we name you;
while in essence only One,
undivided God we claim you,
and adoring bend the knee,
while we sing this mystery.
We close our hymn with explicit praise of our God as triune: one God in three persons. He has revealed himself in no uncertain terms as one. We hear that not only in the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4), but also in the New: “You believe that God is one; you do well” (James 2:19). That said, we also hear of three persons spoken of as God. The Father is God: “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things...” (1 Cor 8:6). The Son is God: “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever” (Rom 9:5). And the Spirit is God: “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit...? …You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:3-4). This is a mystery—we cannot comprehend it—but here and now we claim this God as our God and adoringly bend the knee. The question is not and never will be whether he is worthy of worship; the question is and will continue to be whether we will bend the knee in heart, word, and deed.