Hail to the Lord’s Anointed | Rock of Ages | Look, Ye Saints

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed | Rock of Ages | Look, Ye Saints

Liturgy Lessons: February 11, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 50:1-6; Psalm 29:1-4
Prayer of Invocation
Kids Choir Anthem: Alleluia, Allelu
Hymn of Adoration: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (#311)
Confession: John 13:3-8; Psalm 51:1-2
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 6:3-11
Hymn of Assurance: There is a Fountain
Catechism/Congregational Prayer
Reading of the Word: Luke 3:15-21
Gloria Patri
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Rock of Ages (#499); Nothing but the Blood (#307); At the Lamb’s High Feast (#420)
Hymn of Exaltation: Look, Ye Saints (#299)

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

Text: James Montgomery, 1828
Tune: AURELIA, Samuel Wesley, 1854

About a month ago, at our New Years’ Eve worship service, we opened the singing with “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” perhaps the most well-known hymn text of James Montgomery, who is one of only a shortlist of poets with ten or more contributions to the Trinity Hymnal. Montgomery was from Sheffield, England, and an editor of the local newspaper. He was a lifelong poet and an avid champion of the abolitionist cause. He was imprisoned for a time for his strong and subversive writing against the slave trade. He was influenced greatly by Watts and Wesley, the latter whose influence can be seen in the consistent use of biblical reference and metaphor in Montgomery’s hymns. A love of the Bible shines through all of his poetic imagery. Isaac Watts was an inspiration to him, if only as a catalyst to versify the Psalms.

Montgomery provided many poetic versions of the Psalms, but “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” may well be his finest. It is based on Psalm 72, which belongs to Solomon in part, but ultimately to Christ. It begins as the prayer of a father for his child; a dying blessing. But more fully and finally it is a prophecy of the reign of Christ, whose kingdom will last “as long as the sun.” Montgomery captures this connection with his opening line in which he calls Christ “great David’s greater Son.” In fact, Montgomery does a brilliant job throughout the hymn by capturing the imagery in the original Psalm. Consider the third verse, and the Psalm text that inspired it:

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
Like showers that water the earth!
In his days, may the righteous flourish
And peace abound till the moon be no more.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
On the tops of mountains may it wave;
May its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people
Blossom in the cities like the grass of the field!

(Ps. 72:6-7, 16)

He shall come down like showers
Upon the fruitful earth;
And love, joy, hope, like flowers,
Spring in his path to birth;
Before him on the mountains
Shall peace, the herald, go;
And righteousness, in fountains,
From hill to valley flow.

(Montgomery, third stanza)

This verse is a great one to sing in the midst of a rainy Seattle winter since it equates showers with God’s life-giving blessings. Based on that comparison, we are really blessed this winter! This hymn reminds us that in between His birth and His Second Coming, Christ—whom Montgomery calls “all-blessing and all-blessed”—continues to flood the world with his mercies. His spirit is poured out into our hearts, even as we sing together, and it brings an abundance of peace. The final verse is a glorious vision of the supremacy of Christ who is “over every foe victorious” and at rest on his throne. It then ends in a celebration of his covenant faithfulness by reminding us that “the time of tide shall never his covenant remove.” Earthly kingdoms come and go, but the name of Christ “will stand forever—that name to us is Love!”

The tune that supports this text in our hymnal is AURELIA, the singing of which may conjure up “The Church’s One Foundation.” These overtones are in perfect harmony with the spirit of hymn. For if Christ is our foundation, and we recall in heart that “from heaven he came and sought us to be his holy bride” and that “with his own blood he bought us, and for our life he died,” then we respond in gratitude by adorning ourselves with beautiful garments of praise to honor Jesus Christ, with whom God is greatly pleased, and by whom we are saved.

Sheet music
Brass band recording
Piano accompaniment (a bit poundy, sorry! Not sure why the pianist sounds angry, perhaps too much coffee?):

Rock of Ages
Text: Augustus Toplady, 1763
Tune: TOPLADY, Thomas Hastings, 1830

There is a story about the birth of this hymn. Given the legendary status of “Rock of Ages,” the story seems the subject of myth and hearsay. It has never been verified, nor denied. Despite whether it is a true story or not, it is a good one, and so I’ll lay it out here.

According to the traditional tale that is told, the Reverend Augustus Toplady, a preacher from the English village of Blagdon, was travelling through the Mendip Hills when he was caught in a fierce storm. He found himself in a gorge and took shelter in the wide gap between cracked and overhanging rocks. It was here, as he rode out the storm, that he was inspired with the verses for “Rock of Ages.” The fissure that is believed to have sheltered him is actually given the same name as the hymn, and apparently there is a nearby tea shop named “Rock of Ages” as well (really, a poor name for a tea shop. It would be a better name for a fitness club).

What we do know for sure is that Toplady drew his inspirational metaphor from the Bible. The title of the hymn itself is a scripture-inspired play on words. I believe it comes from the book of Zepuniah, No, wait, maybe it’s from Phillipuns. Actually, it is based on the passage in Exodus 17:6, when God tells Moses to “Strike the rock, and the water will come out of it, and the people will drink.” This is, of course, foreshadowing of John 19:34: “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, and at once their came out blood and water.” These two references are combined into Toplady’s first verse of the hymn:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee
Let the water and the blood, from Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure, save me from its guilt and power.

The Israelites were lost in the desert, and God cleft the rock to quench their thirst. The World was lost in sin, and God broke open the body of Christ to bring the water of life. A beautiful comparison and metaphor that echoes the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock eternal.” (Is. 26:4)

Sheet music
Traditional choir recording
Contemporary solo version (Amy Grant and Vince Gill)

Look, Ye Saints, the Sight is Glorious
Text: Thomas Kelly, 1809
Tune: CORONAE, William Monk, 1871

Eric Irwin once told me that he would be “OK” if we sang this hymn at the close of every worship service. “Well, that would make one of us,” I replied. I was, of course, objecting not on the merit of the hymn itself. It’s a transcendent thesis-and-telos hymn that captures the essential “why” of our worship. I just was imagining having to come up with 56 different arrangements of it to keep it musically fresh throughout the year. By week 48 we might be resigned to pull out the banjo, and then bagpipes the following week, to accompany this one, and I fear that just wouldn’t do it justice.

Thomas Kelly wrote over 700 hymns, and this is arguably his magnum opus. The hymn text pulls heavily from Hebrews 2:9 (“We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man”) and the doxological passage of Christ’s death and subsequent exaltation in Philippians 2 (“every knee shall bow”). Kelly was the son of an Irish high court judge. After graduating from the University of Dublin, he then came to London to study law. As an unbelieving college student, he took courses in Hebrew, which included required reading of a Bible concordance. It was this reading of the scriptures that led to his conversion. His conversion came with a keen sense of call to ministry. So, he left law school and went to seminary. He was ordained in the Established Church (Church of England) in 1792, and later became an outspoken evangelical. Almost all of his hymns are evangelical in content.

There are a few lines in this one that really strike me. The first is the end of the opening sentence: “See the man of Sorrow now, from the fight returned victorious, every knee to him shall bow.” This is a statement that simply appeals to my 11-year-old boys. Jesus the hero, or rather superhero, rides (or flies) back from the battlefield as the celebrated champion (cue John Williams fanfare!). The second phrase that makes me smile when I sing this is “Jesus takes the highest station, O what joy the sight affords.” There is an infectious enthusiasm expressed here, not unlike a whole stadium cheering for their fellow countrymen when they step up on the Olympic podium to receive the gold medal. I didn’t know Thomas Kelly personally, but the way that he writes this hymn makes me feel like I’m talking to the man himself. His passionate proclamation of the glory of Christ, and his evangelical zeal is written in such a way that I feel like he grabs me by the arm and says “Come on! You gotta’ see this! Look, Ross, the sight is glorious!” Kelly, in authoring these inspired verses, is true to his word. This hymn already has and will continue to “spread abroad the Victor’s fame.”

Sheet music

Just a disclaimer before you listen to this recording link. It may prevent Eric from requesting this hymn every Sunday. It is from what appears to be a gathering called “The Bad Attitude Baptist Blowout.” Title aside, I’m not sending this to criticize. Quite the opposite. I want you to overlook the out-of-focus video, the bad every-other-measure cymbal crashes, and quirky vibe. Just listen for those victory shouts! Huzzah for our Hero! Godly Gusto! I love it!
Bad Baptist Blowout

A few more-subdued, and in comparison, quite boring, samples:
Hymnal version recording (to sing along)
Piano rhapsody on the hymn tune (this guy sounds less angry, but still overly caffeinated)