Sunday evening was my second of three harvest festival services, although as it was Cafe Worship, it wasn’t a traditional service. However I did want to finish with a couple of traditional hymns. Because the accompaniment to singing at Cafe Worship is usually a guitar, I needed to find hymns that have a fairly simple chord structure. In the event, we sang a couple of verses of ‘How great thou art’ and the whole of the Hymn of the Week, ‘Yes, God is good.’
The hymn was inspired by a children’s hymn written by Elizabeth Follen and published in 1825. The first verse was as follows:
God is good! each perfumed flower,
The smiling fields, the dark green wood,
The insect fluttering for an hour;
All things proclaim that God is good!
The first line seems a little odd as it is short of a syllable, with the metre 220.127.116.11. It is possible this was a misprint. Mrs Follet later published a revision of the hymn with the first line
God, thou art good, each perfumed flower
The hymn appeared in several collections in the 1830s, one of which came into the hands of Revd John Gurney, the Rector of St Marylebone Parish Church. Gurney revised the hymn for a hymnal he compiled entitled Collection of Hymns for Public Worship (1838). The first verse was Mrs Follen’s, now beginning
Yes, God is good! each perfumed flower
Gurney further revised the hymn for Psalms & Hymns for Public Worship, Selection for some of the Churches in Marylebone (1851) which he co-edited. Of Mrs Follen’s original hymn only the first two lines of the fourth verse remained, and of course the phrase ‘God is good’. This was the version of the hymn that appeared in the Methodist Hymn Book (1933):
Yes, God is good; in earth and sky,
From ocean depths and spreading wood,
Ten thousand voices seem to cry,
“God made us all, and God is good.”
The sun that keeps his trackless way
And downward pours his golden flood,
Night’s sparkling hosts, all seem to say,
In accents clear, that God is good.
The merry birds prolong the strain,
Their song with every spring renewed;
And balmy air, and falling rain,
Each softly whispers, “God is good.”
I hear it in the rushing breeze;
The hills that have for ages stood,
The echoing sky and roaring seas,
All swell the chorus, God is good.
Yes, God is good, all nature says,
By God’s own hand with speech endued;
And man, in louder notes of praise,
Should sing for joy that God is good.
For all Thy gifts we bless Thee, Lord,
But chiefly for our heavenly food;
Thy pardoning grace, Thy quickening word,
These prompt our song, that God is good.
Verse 5 was omitted in Hymns and Psalms. Companion to Hymns and Psalms has an interesting comment:
This verse is impossible to sing in the face of natural disasters; although there seems no reason why it should have been singled out for omission, because the whole hymn, movingly and beautifully expressed as it is, is vulnerable to rational objections. Verse 4 lines 3-4, for example, are presumably unconvincing to sailors caught in a severe gale; and the bird song (verse 3 lines 1-2) is almost certainly an assertion of territorial rights rather than the praise of God.
In spite of this the hymn has become greatly loved, for it expresses a sense of harmony between nature and God: the beauty of the earth does seem to be praising the Creator, and Gurney’s hymn captures this feeling very well.