Notes from BenMonthly musings from the Choirmaster


Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken

John Newton 1725-1807 John Newton 1725-1807

                The Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725-1807) is perhaps best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing grace,” which he wrote when he became an advocate for the abolition of slavery, an institution which he had for years participated in as a slave trader himself.   The fascinating story of his life has inspired a number of films including the 2006 “Amazing Grace,” a movie in which Newton is portrayed by the actor Albert Finney.

But “Amazing Grace” is not his only legacy.  After his conversion to Christianity, he spent much of his life writing hymns at the rate of about one a week.  “Glorious things of thee are spoken” (number 522 and 523 in our hymnal) is one of these.  He wrote it at the same time as a sermon he preached based on Isaiah 33, verses 20-21:


       Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities: thine eyes shall see

                  Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken

                  down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither

                  shall any of the cords thereof be broken.


               But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers

                  and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall

                  gallant ships pass thereby.


There is also a connection to Psalm 87:


                His foundation is in the holy mountains.

                The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

                Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God, Selah.


and to Psalm 46:


                There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,

                  the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.


The first verse of Newton’s hymn is:


                Glorious things of thee are spoken,

                Zion, city of our God,

                He whose word cannot be broken

                Formed thee for his own abode;

                On the Rock of Ages founded,

                What can shake thy sure repose?

                With salvation’s walls surrounded,

                Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.


We have sometimes used the second verse of Newton’s poem by itself, for Holy Baptism, as the congregation is sprinkled with Holy Water when the sanctuary party returns to the chancel from the font after the Baptism:


                See!  The streams of living waters, springing from eternal love,

                Well supply thy sons and daughters and all fear of want remove.

                Who can faint, when such a river ever will their thirst assuage?

                Grace which like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age.


Omitted from our hymnal is Newton’s fifth verse:


                Saviour, if of Zion’s city

                I, through grace a member am;

                Let the world deride or pity,

                I will glory in thy name:

                Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,

                All his boasted pomp and show;

                Solid joys and lasting treasure

                None but Zion’s children know.


Was this verse omitted because the first two lines seemed to refer to the Calvinist doctrine of election?


Sung to the famous tune by Haydn, or to a twentieth century melody written especially for it called ‘Abbot’s Leigh,’ it is one of the most popular hymns in all Christian denominations.  The ‘Abbot’s Leigh’ tune was composed for it in 1941 by the head of religious broadcasting at the wartime BBC headquarters in Bristol.  At this time the traditional tune (the one by Haydn) was being used for the German national anthem “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” making it unusable in Britain.

 Also in our hymnal by John Newton is a hymn for Holy Matrimony, “May the grace of Christ our Savior,” and the hymn “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear.”

Event Calendar

Live Stream - Solemn Mass
Sun Jun 25 @10:15AM - 11:30AM
Vestry Meeting
Sun Jun 25 @11:45AM -
Parish Breakfast
Tue Jun 27 @ 7:00AM - 08:00AM
Mass - St Peter and St Paul
Thu Jun 29 @ 9:00AM - 09:30PM
Bible Study
Thu Jun 29 @ 9:30AM - 11:00AM
Brat Fry @ Miesfeld's
Sat Jul 01 @12:00AM

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