This will be my first Sunday back leading worship, so the ‘Hymn of the week’ post will move to Saturday, my usual sermon writing day. I’m at Camden Town Methodist Church where the hymn singing is accompanied by a pipe organ, so I usually keep the music there fairly traditional.
For the gradual hymn (that’s the hymn before the Gospel) I have chosen William Cowper’s ‘Hark my soul! It is the Lord’, particularly for verse 3, which echoes the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49:15. Here’s the text in full:
Hark, my soul! it is the Lord.
‘Tis thy Saviour, hear his word;
Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee,
‘Say, poor sinner, lov’st thou me?
‘I delivered thee when bound,
And when bleeding, healed thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turned thy darkness into light.
‘Can a woman’s tender care
Cease towards the child she bear?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
Yet will I remember thee.
‘Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death.
‘Thou shalt see my glory soon,
When the work of grace is done;
Partner of my throne shalt be,
Say, poor sinner, lov’st thou me?
Lord, it is my chief complaint,
That my love is weak and faint;
Yet I love thee and adore,
O for grace to love thee more!
When published in Olney Hymns (1779) the hymn was prefaced with the title Lovest thou Me? John XXI.16. Companion to Hymns and Psalms suggests that this question, originally addressed to Peter, in Cowper’s hymn “becomes a daring dramatic monologue addressed to every individual sinner.”
This hymn was highly regarded by previous generations; for example, Julian’s Dictionary of Hymnody (1903) states that “It is a lyric of great tenderness and beauty, and ranks as one of Cowper’s best hymns.” A century later, the popularity of Victorian hymns has declined, but ‘Hark my soul’ still deserves its places in modern hymnals.