Immortal, invisible, God only wise

Hymn: # 423,   Immortal, invisible, God only wise

Text:   Walter C. Smith

Tune:   St. Denio, a Welsh tune

Walter C. Smith based this text on 1 Timothy 1: 17: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever." The six-stanza text was published in Smith's Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life (1867) and, after having been revised by Smith, in W. Garrett Horder's Congregational Hymns (1884). Further revisions were made by the Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee.

"Immortal, Invisible" is a strong text of praise to God, who created and sustains the lives of all his creatures. The text focuses on the Creator of the universe, the invisible God whose visible works in nature testify to his glory and majesty. "Light" is the prevailing image in stanzas 1, 2, and 4 (see also Ps. 104:2); our inability to see God is not because of insufficient light but because the "splendor of light hides [God] from view."

ST. DENIO is based on "Can mlynedd i nawr" ("A Hundred Years from Now"), a traditional Welsh ballad popular in the early nineteenth century. It was first published as a hymn tune in John Roberts's Caniadau y Cyssegr (Hymns of the Sanctuary, 1839). The tune title refers to St. Denis, the patron saint of France. This sturdy tune bears vigorous performance supported by solid organ tone. The final stanza is a jubilant profession of how God blesses–save the extra reeds and mixtures for it!

The matching of this tune and text is strong evidence of the masterful work that Ralph Vaughn Williams did as music editor of the English Hymnal.   He used this tune as the theme of the second movement, the scherzo, in his Household Quartet: Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes (1944) for string quartet or any combination of instruments that could be assembled in a [wartime] household.

This hymn was sung in Westminster Abbey, London, England, at the 2002 funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.


Come down, O Love Divine

# 516  Come down, O Love Divine

Text:   Bianco di Siena; translated by Richard F. Littledale

Tune:  Down Ampney

Composer:  Ralph Vaughn Williams

Bianco da Siena entered the Order of Jesuates in 1367 consisting of unordained men who followed the rule of St. Augustine.  Richard Littledale was a 19th century scholar and curate who devoted the latter years of his life to literature, including the translating of hymns.

This hymn is the ideal pairing of text and tune, the inspiring verse sung to a simple, lovely melody.  The first verse addresses the Holy Spirit as “O Love divine” and “O Comforter,” asking for His presence in our lives. The middle verses (2nd in our Hymnal) ask the Holy Spirit to purge us of all pride and evil passion, and to purify our love and light our path. The final verse anticipates the greater love for God that will ensue from such purification, and recognizes that, as Paul wrote, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The original third verse is not included in our 1982 Hymnal – why?  It’s so lovely and moving I had to share:

Let holy charity
mine outward vesture be,
and lowliness become mine inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart,
which takes the humbler part,
and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) the son of a vicar, was a celebrated English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song: this activity both influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, beginning in 1904, in which he included many folk song arrangements set as hymn tunes, and also influenced several of his own original compositions.  How ironic that his second wife described him as "an atheist ... [who] later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism."      The tune name comes from his boyhood home, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire.

Here's a lovely rendition by the King's College Choir, Cambridge.  YOUTUBE

All hail the power of Jesus' name

#451 All hail the power of Jesus' name

Words:  Edward Perronet

Music: Miles Lane by William Shrubsole

Edward Perronet was the son of the Rev. Vincent Perronet, Vicar of Shoreham, Kent. For some time he was an intimate associate of the Wesleys, at Canterbury and Norwich. He afterwards became pastor of a dissenting congregation. He died in 1792. In 1784, he published a small volume, entitled "Occasional Verses, Moral and Social;" a book now extremely rare. At his death he is said to have left a large sum of money to Shrubsole, who was organist at Spafield's Chapel, London, and who had composed the tune "Miles Lane" for "All hail the power of Jesus' Name!

This hymn is a declaration of praise, but it’s also much more than that. The words both declare the majesty of Christ and task us with making that majesty known to all. Like many hymns describing the glory of God and the hope that one day all people will see that glory, this hymn alludes to Philippians 2:9-11: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” We long for this day, and declare our hope in its arrival in the text of this hymn.

Trivia:  Bing Crosby included the hymn in his 1951 album Beloved Hymns.

Here's a pretty wonderful rendition from the Crystal Cathedral in California.  YOUTUBE

Alleluia, alleluia, Hearts and voices heavenward raise

# 191   Alleluia, alleluia, Hearts and voices heavenward raise

Words: Christopher Wordsworth

Music:  Lux eoi, by Arthur Seymour Sullivan

Christopher Wordsworth--nephew of the great lake-poet, William Wordsworth--was born in 1807. He was educated at Winchester, and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A., with high honours, in 1830; M.A. in 1833; D.D. in 1839. He was elected Fellow of his College in 1830, and public orator of the University in 1836; received Priest's Orders in 1835; head master of Harrow School in 1836; Canon of Westminster Abbey in 1844; Hulsean Lecturer at Cambridge in 1847-48; Vicar of Stanford-in-the-Vale, Berks, in 1850; Archdeacon of Westminster, in 1865; Bishop of Lincoln, in 1868. His writings are numerous, and some of them very valuable. During the time that Bishop Wordsworth was Canon of Westminster, and Vicar of Stanford-in-the-Vale cum Goosey, he published his collection of hymns as:—The Holy Year; or Hymns for Sundays and Holy-days, And other Occasions. London, Rivingtons, 1862.

The birthday of composer Arthur Sullivan (May 13, 1842 - November 22, 1900) is probably observed today by a good many of his admirers, though most of them have far less interest in his church music and hymn tunes than in his comic operas written with W.S. Gilbert.

As we know, Sullivan did write a good number of hymn tunes, probably around 50, and arranged or harmonized several more.  Since we are still in the season of Eastertide, this seems to be the most appropriate tune for today. I think it's his second greatest tune, though it's far less known than his first, [Onward, Christian Soldiers]. Yes, it's a little trickier to sing, particularly the last line. The text, by Christopher Wordsworth, is "seeded" with spring-ish references to new life and growth to complement the resurrection theme.

From and

Here’s a rousing version for you!

Good Christians all, rejoice and sing!

Hymn # 205

Good Christians all, rejoice and sing!

Words: Cyril A. Alington

Music: Gelobi sie Goff by Melchoir Vulpius

While Headmaster of Eton College, Cyril A. Alington (b. Ipswich, England, 1872; d. St. Leonards, Hertfordshire, England, 1955) wrote this text for Melchior Vulpius's tune GELOBT SEI GOTT. The hymn was published in Songs of Praise (1931). Stanley L. Osborne has written of Alington's stanzas, “They vibrate with excitement, they utter the encouragement of victory, and they stir the heart to praise and thanksgiving" (If Such Holy Song, 469). This text should not be mistaken for its Christmas counterpart "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" (355); both texts originally began, "Good Christian men, rejoice."  Alington wrote the hymn with four stanzas but a fifth verse focusing on the Trinity was later added by Norman Mealy in 1982  and confirmed in the Episcopal Church's "The Hymnal 1982" in 1986.

Melchior Vulpius (b. Wasungen, Henneberg, Germany, c. 1570; d. Weimar, Germany, 1615) composed this tune as a setting for Michael Weisse's hymn "Gelobt sei Gott in höchsten Thron." Weisse's text was published with the tune in Vulpius's Ein Schon Geistlich Gesangbuch (1609). Because the text dates from the early sixteenth century, some scholars think the tune may have older roots. Born into a poor family named Fuchs, Vulpius had only limited educational opportunities and did not attend the university. He taught Latin in the school in Schleusingen, where he Latinized his surname, and from 1596 until his death served as a Lutheran cantor and teacher in Weimar. A distinguished composer, Vulpius wrote a St. Matthew Passion (1613), nearly two hundred motets in German and Latin, and over four hundred hymn tunes, many of which became popular in Lutheran churches, and some of which introduced the lively Italian balletto rhythms into the German hymn tunes.

Here's a rousing rendition from St. Peter's by~the~Sea Episcopal Church, Bay Shore, NY. Listen o that organ!! YOUTUBE

O for a thousand tongues to sing

Hymn # 493         O for a thousand tongues to sing

Words:                 Charles Wesley

Tune:                    Azmon

Composer:          Carl Gotthilf Glaser

This important text by Charles Wesley has suffered at the hands of past Revision Committees of the Hymnal.   It entered the Hymnal in 1871; was deleted in 1874; reentered in 1892, but was deleted in H16.  Restored in H40, the text is here matched with a tune [Azmon] associated with it in the hymnals of many other denominations.

This hymn opened John Wesley’s definitive A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People called Methodists (London, 1780) and has continued with the exception (1935) as the opening hymn of every official American hymnal in the Methodist Episcopal tradition since that time. 

In 1739, for the first anniversary of his conversion, Charles Wesley wrote an eighteen-stanza text beginning "Glory to God, and praise and love." It was published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740), a hymnal compiled by Wesley and his brother John. The version in our Hymnal  comes from stanzas 1, 7-9, and 11-12 of this longer text. Wesley acquired the title phrase of this text from Peter Böhler, a Moravian, who said to Wesley, "If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all" (Böhler was actually quoting from Johann Mentzner's German hymn "O dass ich tausend Zungen hätte").

Here is the 15th verse now omitted …

Harlots, and publicans, and thieves
In holy triumph join;
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Enjoy this festive rendition:

Sources:   Hymnary. org and The Hymnal 1982 Companion

In Christ there is no East or West

# 529  In Christ, there is no East or West

Words:  John Oxenham

Tune:  McKee, Afro-American Spiritual, adapted and harmonized by Harry T. Burleigh

William A. Dunkerley wrote these words for the Pageant of Darkness and Light at the London Missionary Society’s exhibition, The Orient in London, which ran from 1908 to 1914.  Many hymnals credit the words to John Oxenham, Dunkerley’s pseudonym.

MC KEE has an interesting history. According to a letter from Charles V. Stanford to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (who arranged the tune for piano in his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, 1905), MC KEE was originally an Irish tune taken to the United States and adapted by African American slaves. It became associated with the spiritual "I Know the Angels Done Changed My Name," which appeared in J. B. T. Marsh's The Story of the Jubilee Singers with their Songs (1876).

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness

# 339  Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness

Words:  Johann Franck

Tune: Schmücke dich

Composer: Johann Cruger


When I was growing up in the Lutheran Church, the organist played this hymn every Sunday we took communion, so I profess to be very fond of this hymn.  For me it is one of the most moving and beautiful hymns. 

It entered the Episcopal Hymnal with the 1940 edition, bringing this and a number of German church songs into our Sunday services.  The text by Johann Franck first appeared in 1646 in his hymnal, Hundert-Thonige Vater Unsers Harffe.    There were originally 9 verses; our hymnal uses verses 1, 7, and 9.   It was translated  into English by Catherine Winkworth,  an Englishwoman who having spent a year in Germany, Lyra Germanica, containing numerous German hymns translated into English. She went on to publish another series of German hymns in 1858. In 1863, she came out with The Chorale Book for England, and in 1869, Christian Singers of Germany. More than any other single person, she helped bring the German chorale tradition to the English speaking world.

The tune’s composer, Johann Cruger, had a distinguished career in Austria and Germany as a musician teacher.  Of his hymn tunes, which are generally noble and simple in style, some 20 are still in use, the best known probably being that to "Nun danket alle Gott” which is set to No. 379 in Hymns Ancient & Modern, ed. 1875. His claim to notice in this work is as editor and contributor to several of the most important German hymnological works of the 16th century.


Here are the organ and choir of the National Cathedral.  Lovely.

Christ is the world's true light #542

# 542     Christ is the world’s true light

Text:      George Wallace Briggs

Tune:     St. Joan

Composer:  Percy E.B. Coller

George W. Briggs wrote this text as a "missionary hymn" to emphasize one of the concepts of modern missions: “In Christ all races meet.” The text was published in the Advent section of Oxford's Songs of Praise (1931) and in Briggs's Songs of Faith (1945), in which it was entitled "The Light of the World."

The text begins by affirming Christ's own saying, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8: 12). Christ is the light and daystar who brings his people salvation from the darkness of sin. Borrowing one of Paul's memorable teachings in Galatians 3:28 and Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17, the text confesses the essential unity of all humanity and especially the oneness of the family of God. Only when the nations and all peoples submit to Christ's reign will our "groaning" world experience true peace and redemption.

Percy E.B. Coller composed ST. JOAN and submitted it anonymously for publication in The Hymnal 1940, where it was set to Brigg’s text.  Coller must have enjoyed the companionship of a saintly wife because he named this tune in her honor.  The tune requires confident accompaniment and a brisk tempo that thrives on one pulse per bar.