Liturgy Lessons: October 8, 2017
Call to Worship: Revelations 19:5-7, 11-16
Hymn of Exaltation: Crown Him with Many Crowns (#295)
Confession of Sin: The Deeps from Valley of Vision
Song of Confession (Insert): Depth of Mercy
Assurance of Pardon: Eph. 2:1-10
Song of Assurance (Insert): There is a Redeemer
Gloria Patri: #735
Sermon: Eric Irwin
Lordʼs Supper: What Wondrous Love is This (#261); Blessed Assurance (#693)
Closing Hymn: Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder (#172)
Ineffable – too great to be expressed or described in words. Not to be uttered.
Sublime – of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.
Crown him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime…
Our hymnbook is a repository for some of the greatest devotional poetry ever penned, paired with some of the most winsome melodies ever constructed. It holds material of great cultural value and spiritual influence. It is an astounding gift to the church, and it is a grievous mistake that so much of this material has been discarded or deemed irrelevant to our modern technopolis. But it is an even greater tragedy when these transcendent hymns become stale beneath the air of stodgy traditionalism. Peering down onto the page through polished spectacles, the snobbish singer belittles the hymn with his smug elitism. He smirks and chirps out lines like “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God”, heartlessly rendering it with rote repetition. Stop! The Lord says “take away from me the noise of your songs” (Amos 5:23). My fellow outpourers of praise, may it not be so with us. May the vigor of the Lord’s Spirit work in our hearts to protect us from such callous and conceited formalism.
Brothers and Sisters, I want you to know that we do NOT hold on to our hymnbook as a way of holding on to our past. We do NOT sing ancient tunes with complicated clauses just to show off our intellectual prowess or theological rigor. And, we most certainly do NOT sing them just because that’s the way it has always been done. God deserves so much more. In response to the extravagant abundance of grace expressed to us in the Love of Christ, in homage to the God who is “ineffably sublime,” who does exceedingly, abundantly beyond all that we can ask or imagine, we seek to bring the deepest and richest expressions of our gratitude. If the good, the true, and the beautiful are embodied in the text and tune of a hymn, irrespective of its style or age, then we should sing it, “For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!” (Zech 9:17).
Crown Him with Many Crowns
Text: Matthew Bridges (1851)
Tune: DIADEMATA, George Elvey (1868)
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.
Based on his appearance in the indexes of modern hymnals, Mathew Bridges is the ultimate 19th-century one-hit wonder. Bridges stands in good company with other great artists who will be remembered mostly for one single masterpiece. In the 18th century it was Pachelbel (“Canon in D”); in the 19th century it was Pietro Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana) and Charles Widor (Toccata from Symphony for organ No. 5); the 20th century (sigh!) produced the timeless genius of Vanilla Ice (“Ice, Ice Baby”), and the dawn of the 21st century has given us classics like “Who let the dogs out?” that are irrevocably etched on our mental hard drive. A lament on the steady decline of musical tastes in western culture would be appropriate here, but we will press on. Instead of fussing over current trends, or pining for the past, we will turn our attention now to this resplendent hymn, which celebrates the matchless and unchanging glory of Christ, the “potentate of time” who truly is “ineffably sublime” (is there a better combination of words in all of hymnody?)!
Matthew Bridges published two small volumes of hymns, Hymns of the Heart (1847) and The Passion of Jesus (1852). “Crown Him with Many Crowns” was published in the second edition of Hymns of the Heart in 1851. Above the original stanzas was the Latin title “In capite ejus, diamemata multa…” in reference to the passage in the book of Revelations:
“The rider of the white horse, his eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.”
The title of this hymn alone is a profound declaration that Christ is many things, and everything. He is Lord of all! Each individual verse of this hymn is its own coronation ceremony for aspects of Christ’s character. We are called to crown him Lord of life, Lord of love, Lord of years, Lord of peace, the Lamb upon the throne. Bridges’ original ode had eight stanzas, which have been trimmed to four for our hymnal. Were we to dedicate a verse to every facet of Christ’s prismatic prestige, the couplets would number in the thousands, and our hymnal would be too heavy to hold. Nonetheless, the verses we sing pack quite a punch, rousing us to praise the all-encompassing and all-conquering Champion.
The tune for this hymn is a stirring and masterfully march-like melody that propels forward in each measure. It is an infectious and joyful tune that spills over with delight. I especially love the momentum in the 3rd phrase (“awake my soul and sing of him who died for thee”). It demands enthusiasm. The tune is named DIADEMATA, and was composed for this text by English organist and composer George J. Elvey. A prolific writer of church music, Elvey is also known by his tune ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR (“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”). Bridges’ text and Elvey’s tune first appeared together in the appendix to the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1868), and its future was secured. One-hundred and fifty years later, congregations across the world are still declaring the truth in song:
All Hail, Redeemer hail! For thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail throughout eternity.
Sheet Music: https://hymnary.org/page/fetch/TH1990/312/high
Original lyrics with all verses (including two by Godfrey Thring): http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/r/crownhim.htm
Suggested Recording (from the “Big Sing” hymn festival at Royal Albert Hall, London, 2012): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7OCs0d_4vM
Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder
Text: John Newton (1774)
Tune: ALL SAINTS OLD, Darmstadt Gesangbuch (1698)
This is a lesser-known hymn by the famous author of “Amazing Grace.” If you have the time to visit the following link and listen to the lecture or read the transcript, I highly recommend it. It is from the “Great Hymns of the Faith” series down at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. It contains some fascinating commentary on the history of this hymn and its musical and theological content.
If you don’t have the time, then I refer you to the sheet music and recording provided below, which should be sufficient to familiarize yourself with this hymn before Sunday’s service.