All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above | The King of Love My Shepherd Is

All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above | The King of Love My Shepherd Is

Liturgy Lessons: June 10, 2018
Call to Worship: Psalm 34:1-9; Habbakuk 3:17-19
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Adoration: All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above (#4)
Confession: based on Matthew 5:3-11 and KYRIE
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 43:1; Galations 2:20
Hymns of Assurance: God of Grace (Getty); How Firm a Foundation (#94)
Catechism/Congregation Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 6:17-23
Doxology (#731)
Sermon: Shiv Muthukumar
Tithes and Offerings
Supper: Behold the Lamb of God (Getty); The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Closing Hymn: When I Survey (#252)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
– Col. 3:16 (ESV)

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
– Eph. 5:19-20

Have you ever been in a church where the balcony wrapped around the sanctuary so that the two sides are facing each other? Ever thought this was just for architectural efficiency, to fit the most people in the building? No, sir. This practice was quite common in the revival-era congregational churches; in fact, the Sacred Harp shape-note hymn-sings would often have the singers sit in four sections, all facing inward. Churches used to take seriously the mandate to “sing to one another” that is found in scripture, and they reflected this in their places and practices of worship. This is not just unique to a certain era. The Monks used to sing in circles, and I have been in choir lofts of cathedrals where the singers are on opposite sides of the center isle, facing each other. The biblical injunction to “teach and admonish,” and to “address one another” in song is not a commandment you can fulfill in isolation. How many of our hymns are addressed NOT to God, but to each other? “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “O Worship the King,” and “Crown Him with many Crowns” are titles intended for the person next to you in the pew. Sometimes, brothers and sisters, our singing is testifying to the fellow struggler and sinner by our side. Singing in this way is a powerful method of encouragement, through which the holy spirit works in our hearts. So, sing out! I guarantee that the person next to you will need to hear what you have to say.

All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above
Tune: Mit Freuden Zart (Bohemian Songbook, 1666)
Text: Johann Schütz (1675), tr. Frances Cox(1864)

This hymn extols the majesty and magnanimity of God. He gives all good things to His people. This hymn also exhorts us to give him the praise and gratitude he so richly deserves. It was written about 350 years ago in post-reformation Germany by a young attorney named Johann Jakob Schütz (not to be confused with the famous baroque composer and organist Heinrich Schütz). This hymn is his most enduring legacy. Two centuries later an Oxford scholar named Frances Elizabeth Cox translated this hymn—along with many others‐into English and published it in 1841 as part of a collection creatively entitled Sacred Hymns from the German. The original nine-verse hymn is a litany of the “good works of the Lord” (Ps. 145:4). Many of the verses are directed to each other as we remind each other to “forget not all His benefits” (Ps. 103:2). The hymn is set to a superior German tune called Mit Freuden Zart, which literally means “with great delight”! It is a singable and memorable melody written in “bar” form, which is one of the most common melodic structures in all of music, especially song-writing. Famous examples of hymns in “bar” form are “A Mighty Fortress” and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”.

Unfortunately, the confusion of the term “bar” has led some people to think that hymn writers like Martin Luther lifted the songs from a local pub. That’s on par with suggesting the bar exam takes place at the local tavern. I call this getting hysterical instead of historical. Here we have another one of the great hymn tunes of the reformation in “bar” form. If you look at the music, or just sing it through, you will notice that the first four measures (phrase A) are repeated, and then the song closes with a separate musical section (phrase B). It is frequently noted that the Germans just know how to make stuff that works! And here we have a stout melody that is genuinely well-engineered for the voice. Were this tune matched with another text, perhaps one that speaks of “Frankfurters und Fussball,” I could imagine beer steins raised, swinging in rhythm during the singing. This tune somehow manages to have the lightness and lilt of triple meter without losing the weight and pomp of a regal anthem. As it marches along, we declare attributes of God’s loving care for His people. The Ephesians 5:19 exhortation is exemplified in this hymn. “Speak to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” The third verse includes a call to each other with shouts like “O thank Him, thank our God with me.” The fifth verse is a strong imperative statement that would somehow seem out of place if spoken to each other, but in context of singing it is not only palatable, but powerful:

“Then come before his presence now and banish fear and sadness;
To your Redeemer pay your vow and sing with joy and gladness!”

Many of these verses function as an overt invitation to the dance, and remind us that there are no wallflowers in worship.

Sheet music
Suggested recording

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Text: Henry Williams Baker, 1868
Tune: St. COLUMBA, Irish Melody

Some may say that the King of Psalm 23 settings this Hymn is. At first glance, the grammatically inverted opening line sounds as if Yoda was the author (“Beware the dark side, consume you it will”), but it makes sense when you consider the form of the poetry, written in bite-size rhyming couplets.

The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Whose goodness faileth never
I nothing lack, if I am His
And He is mine forever

This is the first stanza of six that simply and faithfully portrays the pastoral contentment of Psalm 23. The other verses also draw on broader biblical imagery, such as “living water” (vs. 2, Rev. 22:1) and the parable of the lost sheep (vs. 3, Luke 15:1-6). Legend has it that the author’s final words before he died were a direct quote of this third verse the hymn:

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.

The hymn’s author, Henry W. Baker, was an English priest who was a gifted writer and orator. Born in London, Baker studied at Trinity College in Cambridge, and was ordained in the Church of England in 1844. He believed in the celibacy of the clergy, so he never married. He served as vicar in Herefordshire for most of his life, remaining faithful to one parish for his entire ministry. Henry Baker’s greatest legacy is the hymnal he edited, Hymns Ancient and Modern, one of the most popular hymnals in history.

In the middle of the 19th century, congregations in Anglican churches were fiercely devoted to metrical psalms, so were not singing hymns. Spurred on by the influential hymns of the Methodists and evangelicals in England, Baker and his Anglican colleagues desired to compile a song collection that would edify and enrich the praise of their people. For their songbook they decided to print both the text and tune for each hymn on the same page. Each musical setting was unique to every hymn text. This sounds obvious to us, but at that time most published hymnals contained only text, or a handful of tunes in common meters were married with countless texts in an awkward sort of musical polygamy. Baker’s hymnal sought to create a beautiful marriage of text and tune for each hymn, wherein the music supports the words, and vice-versa. When this sort of mutual submission happens, not only is artistic integrity achieved, but a hymn takes on mysterious and affective power for the worshipper who is able to sing music that emotionally captures and expresses what is communicated in the words. “The King of Love My Shepherd Is” is a perfect example.

This hymn is perhaps the most refined and graceful of the countless versions of the 23rd Psalm, thanks in large part to its beautiful melody. The tune St. Columba is named for the Irish saint who “carried the torch of Irish Christianity to Scotland” (and who has the dubious distinction of being the first to report a sighting of the Loch Ness monster, in 546). Like the melody for “Be Thou My Vision,” this tune is an ancient Irish melody. It is one of those folk tunes that grew up out of the soil of a certain land and time, and whose roots are unknown. The pairing and harmonization come from The English Hymnal (1906), and these are the work of the famous English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

In advance of Sunday, a few notes may be helpful regarding context and content. We are using this hymn during our time of communion, which is where Baker himself would have placed it in his services. He transforms the table of Psalm 23 into the Communion table, which offers “unction, grace,” and a “pure chalice overflowing.” “Unction” is a historical term that means anointing for the purpose of healing. A “chalice” has been associated for centuries with the cup that holds the wine in the Eucharist. Sometimes we will encounter words in our hymns that are more typical of another era than our own. This need not be a barrier if we understand them and remember that these themes are universal. The picture of Christ’s body and blood holding out grace, healing, and forgiveness of sins is eternally true, and not just a fine example of Victorian lyric poetry.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thine unction grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
From thy pure chalice floweth.

John 10:11 says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This provides the inspiration for the closing verse. We were like lost sheep, but we have been found. Jesus has sought us out and brought us home to the Father. Now we respond with a grateful heart that lovingly celebrates and anticipates the reality of being forever in the arms of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.

Sheet music
Hymn recording
Instrumental recording of hymn tune