Both of the alternative Old Testament readings this week suggest the theme of wisdom. In Proverbs 9:1-6 Wisdom calls those who lack understanding to come to feast at her house. And in 1 Kings 3:3-14 the young Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom. These readings find an echo in the epistle:
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Hymns about wisdom are rare, but the hymn of the week is a notable exception. It is based on Proverbs 3:13-18, which in the KJV reads as follows:
13 Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. 14 For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. 15 She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. 16 Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
In the hands of Charles Wesley this reading is ‘skilfully adapted to a New Testament reading’. (Companion to Hymns and Psalms). It is interesting to note how the text has been changed: the ‘wisdom’ that is found in v.13 is expanded in the first stanza to ‘grace… blessing… wisdom… faith that sweetly works by love’ and the gift of ‘understanding’ is specifically the knowledge that ‘The Saviour died for me’. Wisdom’s ‘riches’ (v.16) are now the ‘riches of Christ’ bestowed ‘on all’. The hymn ends with the wonderful statement that the one who has found wisdom is able to declare ‘Wisdom, and Christ, and heaven are one.’
This hymn is one of those that has been altered by the editors of Singing the Faith to make the language more inclusive. The most obvious change is in the first line:
Happy the man that finds the grace.
Happy are they who find the grace.
Personally speaking, I do not have a problem at all with the altering of hymns to inclusive language and I think that this is one of the more successful examples in Singing the Faith. I do wonder whether the first line would have been better rendered ‘Happy are those…’. I note that in both the NRSV and NIV translations of Proverbs 3 that 3:13 is given as ‘Happy/blessed are those who find wisdom’.
Anyhow, this is how the hymns appears in StF:
Happy are they who find the grace,
The blessing of God’s chosen race,
The wisdom coming from above,
The faith that sweetly works by love.
Happy beyond description we
Who say ‘the Saviour died for me,’
The gift unspeakable obtain,
And heavenly understanding gain.
Wisdom divine! Who tells the price
Of wisdom’s costly merchandise;
Wisdom to silver we prefer,
And gold is dross compared to her.
Her hands are filled with length of days,
True riches, and immortal praise,
Riches of Christ, on all bestowed,
And honour that descends from God.
To purest joys she all invites,
Chaste, holy, spiritual delights;
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her flowery paths are peace.
Happy are they who wisdom gain,
Thrice happy who that guest retain!
They own, and shall for ever own,
Wisdom, and Christ, and heaven are one.
Charles Wesley (1707-1788)