URC Daily Devotion: 16th February

Hymn: Ye Holy Angels Bright 
Richard Baxter
Rejoice and Sing 125

Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God’s right hand,
or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord’s command,
assist our song,
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessèd souls at rest,
who see your Saviour’s face,
whose glory, ev’n the least,
is far above our grace
God’s praises sound,
as in his sight
with sweet delight
ye do abound.

Ye saints, who toil below,
adore your heavenly King,
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives
and praise him still,
through good and ill,
who ever lives.

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above,
and with a well-tuned heart
sing thou the songs of love;
Thou art his own,
whose precious blood
shed for thy good,
his love made known.

Let all creation sing,
and join the marvellous throng
who crowns of glory bring
and raise the Lamb’s new song.
Let all our days
till life shall end,
what’er he send
be filled with praise.

Baxter first published these words in 1674 as part of a much longer poem, although it wasn’t sung as a hymn until the 19th Century.  The tune comes from a collection by 18th Century composer John Darwell for each of the 150 Psalms – hence the designation of this as Darwell’s 148th.  However, this is the only tune of his still regularly sung.

 

 

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!

Reflection

Richard Baxter was one of the puritan ministers, who held many positions in the church during the Commonwealth and Protectorate, and at the Restoration he was faced with the difficult choice of accepting episcopal ordination or ejection.  He chose the latter course, reputedly rejecting an offer to be Bishop of Hereford, and is one of the prominent and early forbears in our tradition.  Baxter was based in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, where he was an enormously prominent and influential leader in the town.  To this day, our United Reformed Church in Kidderminster is known as “Baxter Church”.

These words first appeared as a poem in the seventeenth century, but was not widely sung as a hymn until a selection of verses were published in 1838, with an additional verse not from Baxter.  It is not based upon any one passage of scripture, but there are allusions to various Psalms, particularly Psalm 148 our reading today, and to Hebrews and Revelation.  What we have is a poem of praise, reflecting the majesty of God, as seen from various perspectives.  Although there is no connection that I am aware of, the hymn has striking similarities to the theology and message of the hymn “How shall I sing that majesty” (661 in R&S), which was written around the same time.

Ye holy angels begins with the angels’ singing, works downwards through creation to our singing, and then upwards again to God.  It acknowledges how weak human praise can be, asking the angels to assist our song, and then takes delight in the contribution that a heart ‘well-tuned’ can make to the general song.  This hymn can add immeasurably to the experience of worship, and allow us to participate in a gloriously joyful picture of heaven, indeed perhaps it can be an experience on earth that’s just a little bit of what heaven might be like. 

Prayer

Holy and loving God,
humbly we bow before you in worship and praise.
May your name be exalted in the highest heavens
and in the depths of our hearts
for there is no-one like you.

With great power and genius
you created the universe and brought forth life.
In majesty, glory and splendour you reign,
and yet in humility and lowliness you entered this world, personally making your love known in Jesus,
coming amongst us to set us free from the burdens of sin,
and to invite us to dine with you
at the banqueting table of heaven.

Holy and loving God,
once again we say thank you.
Once again we adore you.
Once again we offer you our lives in worship and service.
May your name be exalted for ever and ever.
Amen.

Today’s Writer

The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is the minister of Elstead & Farnham URCs in Surrey and Clerk of the General Assembly of the URC.

Bible Version

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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