Hymn of the week: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty

This well-known hymn for Trinity Sunday is principally based on Revelation 4:8-11. However there are also numerous allusions to Old Testament passages, including in verse 3 line 2 Exodus 33:20, which is part of this Sunday’s  first reading. In fact the whole hymn makes a suitable introduction to this chapter of Exodus, with its emphasis on God’s glory and holiness.

The author of the hymn was Anglican clergyman, Reginald Heber (1783-1826, a published poet and not inconsiderable man of letters, who numbered Scott and Southey among his friends. His hymn writing career was limited to the period he was Rector of Hodnet in Shropshire. Although of High Church persuasion, he was a great admirer of the  Olney Hymns (1779) published by Newton and Cowper and argued that if the use of hymns in church could not be suppressed, then it was better to regulate it. In total he wrote fifty seven hymns at Hodnet, but when he approached the Bishop of London for permission to publish his book he was dissuaded to complete the project. It was only after his death in 1826 that his collection was published by his widow as Hymns written and adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year. (In addition to his own hymns there was a further forty one written by other authors.) As the title suggests, this was the first attempt to integrate hymns to the calendar of the church year. Heber claimed that ‘no fulsome or indecorous language has been knowingly adopted; no erotic address to Him whom no unclean lips can approach; no allegory, ill-understood, and worse applied.’

By all accounts an exemplarary and popular pastor, in 1823 Heber was appointed Bishop of Calcutta. This was a huge task, for he had oversight of the Anglican church in all India and other Eastern territories. Bishop Heber died suddenly and unexpectedly at Trichinopoly (Tiruchirappalli), Tamil Nadu in 1826.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Reginald Heber (1783-1826)

Sources: The Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated, Companion to Hymns and Psalms.


About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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One Response to Hymn of the week: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty

  1. rcottrill says:

    Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. And thanks for sharing the background and text of a great hymn. I posted an article on it myself this morning, so yours caught my eye. All the blessings of the Christmas season.

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