This week we have the first of an occasional series looking at hymns from our tradition.
Hymn: I Sing Almighty Power of God Rejoice and Sing 43
I sing the almighty power of God
that made the mountains rise,
that spread the flowing seas abroad
and built the lofty skies.
I sing the wisdom that ordained
the sun to rule the day;
the moon shines full at his command,
and all the stars obey.
I sing the goodness of the Lord
that filled the earth with food;
he formed the creatures with his Word
and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how thy wonders are displayed,
where’er I turn my eye,
if I survey the ground I tread
or gaze upon the skies.
There’s not a plant or flower below
but makes your glories known,
and clouds arise and tempests blow
by order from your throne;
God’s hand is my perpetual guard,
he guides me with his eye;
why should I then forget the Lord,
whose love is ever nigh?
Issac Watts had this published in 1715 in a collection for children – not a hymn today that would normally thought of as being child friendly. It is a simple hymn in praise of God and, historically, has been found in Baptist, Congregational and Methodist hymnbooks but not in Presbyterian or Anglican ones.
A number of tunes are associated with this hymn. Rejoice and Sing suggests Montrose – which comes from a book of music published in Paisley in 1790. London New, another Scottish tune, first appeared in 1635 whilst Saint Saviour is a Victorian tune dating from 1876 and the Isle of Wight.
You can hear each tune by clicking on it’s name above.
Job 9: 1-12
Then Job answered:
‘Indeed I know that this is so;
but how can a mortal be just before God?
If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand.
He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength
—who has resisted him, and succeeded?—
he who removes mountains, and they do not know it,
when he overturns them in his anger;
who shakes the earth out of its place,
and its pillars tremble;
who commands the sun, and it does not rise;
who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens
and trampled the waves of the Sea;[a]
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond understanding,
and marvellous things without number.
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
He snatches away; who can stop him?
Who will say to him, “What are you doing?”
Let me suggest, if you don’t know the book of Job very well that you read chapters 1 (the background), 4 (the first suggestion that Job might have done wrong), 31 (after all the accusations Job is still protesting his innocence), 38 and 39 (God eventually speaks to Job and challenges him to greater understanding), and 42 (the epilogue). You don’t need to read it all today!
We are not very good on hymns and prayers of adoration of God. If you’ve ever been asked to lead the opening prayers for worship you have probably found it easy enough to say a prayer of confession and to thank God for his forgiveness then go on to all the many things for which we are thankful. But that numinous prayer of adoring God for Godself, sacred, mysterious and other, escapes us, even turns into an equally valid prayer of thanks. I’m not saying it is wrong to not offer prayer of adoration I’m just saying it is very difficult to adore God, simply adore, to be in awe of the almighty. We run out of words to say, God is too awe-ful for words.
God challenged Job out of the whirlwind: where were you … what do you know about this … this … this … (chs 38 & 39) Eventually Job promises to fall silent, though he apparently can’t resist another answer and my imagination runs away with me. What might Job go on to say to his three friends about his new understanding of God? Maybe Job, in his dissent from the world view which said his losses of health, family and wealth arose from something he had done to offend God, would recognise in this dissenter’s hymn something he wanted to say. The recognition that God asking “where were you” cannot be answered but reflected, in hymns of praise. It is said that St Augustine of Hippo pointed out that the one who “sings, prays twice”. If ever he did then this hymn is a prime example of singing a prayer of adoration for the creator of the earth.
Creator of the universe,
you are everything to us.
We cannot find the words to tell you
how much we adore all that you are constantly in our world.
May we, when we cannot find the words,
find the grace to stand in your presence and adore.
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire.