Music: The Sanctus

In his book, God the Holy Father (c.1897), the great Scottish Congregationalist P.T. Forsyth wrote,

holiness is the root of love, fatherhood, sacrifice, and redemption… The Church of today has gained greatly in its sense of the love of God. There are still greater things waiting when she has moved on as far again, to that holiness whose outward movement is love, which love is but the passion to impart. You can go behind love to holiness, but behind holiness you cannot go.

Surely, what was true of the church of P.T. Forsyth’s day is even more evident in our day of ‘love songs to Jesus’. Don’t get me wrong, I have some sympathy with the provocative and intimate language of love in worship (some of Charles Wesley’s hymns were accused of being too sensual for congregational worship), but there is always a balance to be struck between the intimate and immanent and the mighty and transcendent.

The hymn we will consider now is definitely one that helps to redress the balance and remind those who come to worship that they stand before a holy God. It was written by the Rev. Reginald Heber, an Anglican clergyman and missionary Bishop to Calcutta, in 1826. Sadly, he died quite suddenly, later that year, at the age of 42.

Rev. Reginald Heber entered ministry in Oxford on 24th May 1807. At that time he wrote to his friend John Thornton, ‘Pray for me, my dear friend, that I may have my eyes open to the truth … and if it please God that I persevere in his ministry I may undertake the charge with a quiet mind and a good conscience’. His biographer Arthur Montefiore notes that ‘Heber was a star whose lustre was as steady as it was clear’.

After marrying Amelia Shipley on 9th April 1809, Rev. Heber moved to Hodnet where he devoted himself to the pastoral work of the church and became a strong supporter of overseas missions. In 1814, he refused an appointment as Canon at Durham Cathedral preferring to commit himself to the quiet parish ministry, to his poetry and letters. However, in 1823 Rev. Reginald Heber was persuaded to take up the appointment of Bishop of Calcutta.

Reginald Heber’s two best known hymns are ‘Brightest and best of the sons of the morning’ and this one, ‘Holy, holy, holy!’ The poet laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson called it ‘the world’s greatest hymn’.  It takes its inspiration from Isaiah 6:1-5, where the prophet sees Christ seated on the throne and the hem of his robe filling the temple, then Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Today, we sing it in wonder at our thrice holy God who is both merciful and mighty, who in His power and love purifies us so that we can enter His glory. It is a wonderful hymn that addresses God with the grandeur He deserves:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!


About James Church

I'm a Minister of the Gospel serving Radford Road Church and Lillington Free Church in Royal Leamington Spa. I grew up as a son of the manse, but I came to personal faith in my early teens. I am committed to the authority of Scripture and the truths found there that by grace through faith in Christ we are reconciled to God to His praise and glory.

Posted on November 9, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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