August 4, 2019

Behind the Hymns – God the Creative Ruler

Our focus today is on God the Creative Ruler. The hymns chosen for today’s service celebrate the creativeness of God and confirm our faith in God as the ruler of the universe.

Our first hymn is Great is thy faithfulness - 324

The author of this hymn was Thomas O. Chisholm. Thomas was born in Franklin, Kentucky in 1866. His boyhood was spent ona farm. He spent five years as editor of the local paper in Franklin. Thomas did not convert to Christianity until the age of 26. Soon after he became the business manager and office editor of the "Pentecostal Herald" in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1903 he entered the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church South.

Thomas said that his aim in writing was to incorporate as much as Scripture as possible and to avoid flippant or sentimental themes.

Written in 1923, this hymn has become for many one of the best loved and well-known hymns. The unchanging nature of God’s faithfulness is celebrated by the author. I am sure that his conversion as an adult had much to do with the strong convictions expressed in this hymn. To a person who had spent more than 25 years not knowing God I am sure that the faithfulness of the God he found, the compassion of this God and the fact that he could look forward to the mercies of God each morning as he awoke would have given him great comfort and hope.

Thomas goes on to reflect how the changing seasons only reinforced his strong belief in the faithfulness of God. In the final verse he reflects on the blessings that have come into his life through his relationship with God: pardon for sin, a peace that endures, the presence of God to cheer and guide him, strength for today and not just hope but bright hope for tomorrow. All these are blessings to him and what’s more there are ten thousand beside.

Wherever I may Wander – 319
Unfortunately, there is no information that I could find about Ann Snow, the author of this hymn. Set to a New England folk melody, this hymn celebrates the author’s firm faith that the world and all in it was not only made by God, but that God cares for it as well. But simply creating and caring for the creation is not enough for God. The maker of all things also loves the creation and it is that love of the creation – the mountains, the wide blue sea, the children of God wherever they may be found in the world – that makes Ann sure that wherever she may wander and wherever she may find herself in this world, God will be there loving and caring.

A mighty fortress is our God – 315
Our third hymn is one which is familiar to us in the Reformed tradition. Both the words and the tune were written by Martin Luther. Luther lived in a time when the church universal was being challenged about many of its practices. Luther was disturbed by the state of the church and the leadership. This led him to post his 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg in 1517. The pope condemned them in 1520 issuing a papal bull which Luther burned in 1520. Luther believed that the leadership of the church had forgotten its true purpose and that the good news of God was to be able to be read and interpreted by the people. To that end he produced the first version of the Bible to appear in German in 1521 and led a revolution that would bring the Bible into the languages people understood. The words of Scripture would no longer be the domain of priests and bishops.

Luther’s hymn is a declaration of his faith in God as the ruler of the universe. In the opening verse he affirms the ability of God to be a fortress, a refuge, a helper against everything in this world that would seek to destroy the faithful.

In the second verse he declares that we could never withstand the pressures of this life if not for the coming of God in the person of Jesus – the Saviour sent to be on our side who has already won the battle for our souls through his sacrifice on the cross and who continues to intercede for us even now.

In the third verse he continues to remind us of the evil in the world and how many would seek to destroy us, but God’s will, God’s rule will prevail, and we can weather the storms of life knowing that God is in control of our final destiny.

In the last verse he declares that the Word of God spoken in the very moment of creation and affirmed through the physical presence of Jesus will abide despite all earthly powers that would seek to alter the truth of God. The things of this earth will pass away, but the word of God will endure always, and his reign will last forever.

How great thou art – 332

Our closing hymn today is credited to Carl Gustav Boberg who lived from 1859 – 1940.Carl was a Swedish poet and author of many hymns. But this is not one that originated with him. The words came from an old German poem, “O store Gud” which was then translated into Russian before being translated into Swedish and then into English. It has since been translated into many more languages as its message is one that resonates with Christians around the world. The music is a Swedish folk melody but seems to have also had its roots in an old German melody. The English translation was done by Stuart Hine who also completed the harmony for this hymn. Given the background of this hymn, it is interesting to note that Stuart and his wife served as missionaries in Western Ukraine in the 1920’s at a time when that was part of Russia.

Whatever the origin of this hymn may be, its message is certainly timeless as no one of us cannot help but find ourselves in awe when we consider the world around us. Whether we are beside a brook or a stream, feeling the waves of the ocean or wandering down a path in the woods, the creativeness of God is ever present.

But the author did not want us to simply consider the present world with all its beauty, the person also wanted us to never forget that this world and this time are not the only gifts of God. God has also promised to bring us from this world to a world beyond so that there will never be a time when we will not be able to praise God for all that he has made, all that he has redeemed and all that he has loved and continues to love.

And so, the author declares in the chorus: Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee. How great thou art, how great thou art.