Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken


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.

 

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, while such a river

Ever flows their thirst t’assauge?

Grace, which, like the Lord, the giver,

Never fails from age to age.

 

Round each habitation hovering,

See the cloud and fire appear!

For a glory and a covering,

Showing that the Lord is near:

Thus deriving from their banner

Light by night, and shade by day;

Safe they feed upon the manna,

Which he gives them when they pray.

 

Blest inhabitants of Sion,

Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!

Jesus, whom their souls rely on,

Makes them kings and priests to God.

’Tis his love his people raises

Over self to reign as kings:

And as priests, his solemn praises

Each for a thank-offering brings.

 

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.

Blest inhabitants of Zion,

Washed in the Redeemer’s blood!
Jesus, whom their souls rely on,

Makes them kings and priests to God.
‘Tis His love His people raises,

Over self to reign as kings,
And as priests, His solemn praises each for a thank-off’ring brings.

 

The author of this hymn is John Newton, 1725-1807 and the composer of the music was Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809. Tune of the hymn usually refered to as “Austrian Hymn“.
Scripture Reference  for the hymn is Psalm 87:3 and Isaiah 33:20-21.

If you have watched any official international spot  where Germany is involved, you have probably heard, sung or recognised this hymn as the national Anthem of Germany. As hymn it is a very popular one in the churches too. The hymn praises God for his strong will in protecting and defending the city of Jerusalem, and praises the power and glory of God and God’s city. But there is something very troubling about the song as well.

How the Hymn is an Anthem of a Country: The trouble with this hymn comes from the music associated with the words of  “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”. This music was served as the national anthem for Hitler’s Germany, during World War II. The song was called “Deuschland” in honor of Germany, and its first line went like this, “Deuschland Deuschland uber alles,” which means, “Germany, Germany, is over all.” It was a song of ethnic pride, as the Germans thought themselves to be the master race, placed by God over all other peoples and tribes on the earth.  As a result, so many people especially  Jews and people with good knowledge of Germany and European history are often uncomfortable with this hymn up to date.

What we know for sure is that the Germans were wrong for there is no master race or tribe by blood or ancestry. This contributed a lot to causes of the Second World War I therefore do not want the music to the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” to obscure the meaning of that psalm from which its words come. After all, what glorious things are spoken about Jerusalem? And what does it matter for us here today?  Psalm 87 has some answers for us.

About the hymn: “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is from Part I of the Olney Hymns and is generally considered to be one of Newton’s finest hymns. It is said to be the only joyful hymn in the entire collection. The hymn gives a stirring description of God’s protection of His chosen people. Expressions such as “He whose word cannot be broken formed thee for His own abode” show Newton’s profound respect for the covenantal promises to the Jews as well as to the local church and its earthly ministry. The hymn originally had five verses. The final two stanzas are generally omitted but I have included them in this version.

About The tune:  The tune “Austrian Hymn,” was composed by Franz Joseph Haydn or the Austrian national hymn text by Hauschka, “Gott Erhalte Franz Hayden Kaiser,” and was first performed on Emperor Franz II‘s birthday, February 12, 1797. Haydn later used the air as a theme for variations in the slow movement of his string quartet known as the “Emperor” of “Kaiser,” Opus 76, No. 3. The music was first used as a hymn tune, in 1802, in Edward Miller’s hymnal, Sacred Music. Its first appearance with John Newton’s text was in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1889).

Franz Joseph Haydn was an eighteenth-century, Austrian musician who ranks as one of the master composers of all time. Though raised a Catholic, Haydn was a devout believer in Christ. He once wrote: “When I think of the divine Being, my heart is so full of joy that the notes fly off as from a spindle; and, as I have a cheerful heart, He will pardon me, if I serve Him cheerfully.” Haydn always began each manuscript with the inscription “In Nomine Domini ” and signed at the end “Soli Deo Gloria!”

Haydn was born in Rohau, Austria, on May 31, 1732. In 1761, he became musical director to the Hungarian family of Esterhazy and remained in this position for the next thirty years. During this time he composed more than one hundred symphonies, twenty-two operas, four oratorios, sixteen masses, and a great amount of chamber music. His most famous choral work was the oratorio, The Creation. All of his works are said to be characterized by the “joy of a heart devoted to God.”

John Newton’s majestic text wedded to this stirring music by Franz Haydn makes this a worthy and uplifting hymn of worship for any congregation.

About John Newton

John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.

This fitting testimonial, written by Newton himself prior to his death, describes aptly the unusual and colorful life of this man, one of the great evangelical preachers of the eighteenth century. The granite tombstone bearing this inscription can still be seen in the small cemetery adjoining the parish churchyard in Olney, England, where John Newton ministered so effectively for fifteen years.

The story of John Newton’s early life is generally quite well known. He was born on July 24, 1725, in London. His mother, a godly woman, died when he was not quite seven years of age. When he was eleven years old, he went to sea with his sea-captain father and followed this life for the next eighteen years. These years were filled with adventure but were one continuous round of rebellion and debauchery. He became known as one of the most vulgar and blasphemous of men. Following his dramatic conversion experience, in 1748, and his call later at the age of thirty-nine to the Christian ministry, Newton became pastor of the Anglican parish in the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England, and began writing hymn texts that expressed his spiritual experiences and convictions. His most popular hymn, “Amazing Grace” (101 Hymn Stories, No. 6), is really a testimony of Newton’s early life and conversion.

While pastoring the Olney Church, John Newton enlisted the aid of William Cowper, a friend and neighbor, who was a well-known writer of classic literature during this period, to aid him in his hymn writing. (See “O For a Closer Walk With God, ” No. 67) In 1779, their combined efforts produced the famous Olney Hymns Hymnal, one of the most important single contributions made to the field of evangelical hymnody. In this ambitious collection of 349 hymns, 67 were written by Cowper, with the remainder by Newton. The hymnal was divided into three parts: Part I contained texts based on Scripture texts, used especially to climax a sermon or to illustrate prayer meeting talks about Bible characters; Part 2 was devoted to “Occasional Subjects,” texts relating to particular seasons or events; Part 3 was devoted to “The Progress and Changes of the Spiritual Life.” This hymnal became the hymnbook of the Low or Evangelical churches within the Anglican Church and was reprinted both in England and America for a hundred years.
A Couple of comments about Psalm 87 and the Sons of Korah:  This hymn is based on one of the songs of the Sons of Korah. The Bible first speaks about  them when their father Korah rebelled against God, seeking to be made a priest of God when he had been placed in a position of service in the temple below the priesthood. Instead of joining in his rebellion, the Sons of Korah were loyal and faithful to God, and in the Bible we have a record of their service for more than a thousand years.

Among the service activities of the Sons of Korah was being musicians and singers in the wat, or temple, of God, as well as being gatekeepers protecting the temple from thieves and those who did not belong there. The Sons of Korah also wrote psalms, songs used in the worship service at God’s temple, and still sung by believers today.

What Glorious Things Are Spoken?: This hymn is taken from Psalm 87 although the most important part of the psalm  left out is the one that is most glorious about God’s kingdom. Psalm 87:1-3 reads as follows: “His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” Indeed, we who are baptized into God are part of His people, the Israel of God, citizens of the New Jerusalem, members of the family of God. This is the glorious thing that is spoken.

We see this in the rest of Psalm 87, in verses 4-7. In Psalm 87:4-7 we read: “I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to those who know Me; Behold, O Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia: ‘This one was born there.’ “ And of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her; And the Most High Himself shall establish her.” The Lord will record, when He registers the peoples: “This one was born there.” Both the singers and the players on instruments say, “All my springs are in you.”

What does this mean? First, let us examine the peoples that this psalm talks about. Many of them were enemies of Israel. Rahab is the name of a naga, a sea dragon, and is often used to describe Egypt, the place where the people of Israel were enslaved by cruel rulers. Babylon was the city where mankind first rebelled against God after the flood, where God placed the curse of many languages, dividing the tongues of man so they could not understand each other. It was also the city where the Jews went into captivity almost 2600 years ago when God judged them for disobedience to His laws and ways.

The Philistines were a cruel people who constantly sought to oppress and fight against Israel with weapons of iron, and they were a people who worshiped Dagon, another naga. Tyre was a wealthy city of Canaan with wealthy merchants who sold the people of God into slavery during its history. Ethiopia was, and is, a country of people with dark skin, who have always seemed very alien and different.

What the Bible says, though, is that all of these peoples, no matter that many of them are Israel’s blood enemies, like the Burmese are to the Karen and Thai, are counted to have been born in Israel if they repent and leave their worship of demons to worship the true God. Once they are brothers in faith, their tribe and nation does not matter. They are counted as citizens of Jerusalem just like anyone else. Today, all of us who are baptized are citizens of God’s city, members of His family, regardless of where we come from or who we are descended from. For this reason we, and the psalm, celebrates the salvation of God that is open to all peoples all over the earth who come to worship God as He commands.

We Are One In Christ: This point is repeated often later in the Bible. If we turn to Galatians 3:26-29, we see the Apostle Paul saying that there are no distinctions based on tribe or even gender within the Kingdom of God: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

What these verses are saying is that once you believe in God and are baptized than it no longer matters what tribe you come from. You are the brother and fellow citizen with all others who believe in God and have ever believed in God throughout history, and whoever will ever believe in God in the future. We are all one body of believers together, with the same father in God above, and the same king, savior, and elder brother in Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore remember that even though mankind may believe that some peoples and some nations are better than others, and look down on others, that we are called by God into one family to be citizens of one holy nation ruled by God. Unlike the Germans, who sang that they were above all, we do not sing of a master race or people. Instead, we are equal citizens with all of those who have been, are, or will be called by God into salvation. Let us therefore praise God for making us all one nation and one family out of the many peoples and tribes on the face of the earth, for that truly is a glorious blessing from our heavenly Father above.

 

 

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