Hymn of the week: Behold the servant of the Lord!

The theme we followed  in worship this Sunday was ‘the Potter and the clay’, following Jeremiah 18:1-10, which describes Jeremiah’s visit to a potter’s house and how God spoke to Jeremiah through the actions of the potter.

This is a popular theme among contemporary song writers and I had no difficulty choosing songs for the service: ‘Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour’, ‘Change my heart O God’, ‘Spirit of the living God’ and ‘Jesus, you are changing me’. But I also wanted a more traditional hymn to sing alongside the praise and worship songs, and remembered the line in the Hymn of the Week: ‘Mould as thou wilt thy passive clay’. Although this is the only explicit connection to the potter theme, the whole hymn is a hymn of dedication and openness to God’s gracious leading.

Originally published as an appendix to John Wesley’s pamphlet A Farther Appeal to men of Reason and Religion (1745), its first appearance in a hymnal was Charles Wesley’s Hymns and Sacred Poems (1749) – of which publication see the last Hymn of the Week article – where it was entitled ‘An Act of Devotion’. In British Methodism it is generally sung to the tune MOZART, adapted from the duet ‘Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen’ from Mozart’s opera Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), to which it was first set in 1877. It may be familiarity, but I much prefer this to SAGINA, the tune to which it is sung in United Methodism, which in my opinion is too robust for the words.

John Telford (The Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated, 1934) relates an anecdote about Rev Dr William Morley Punshon, one of the greatest preachers and leaders of Wesleyan Methodism. Shortly before his death in 1881 Punshon visited the commune of Vallauris near Cannes in south-eastern France, an ancient centre of pottery production. With interest Punshon “watched the process of manufacturing in porcelain at Vallauris. As the potter out of his lump evolved form after form, he watched intently until tears ran down his cheeks, and then said in his own telling tones—tones they would have never have forgotten, even if they had not been so solemnly called to mind a little while afterwards—“Mould as Thou wilt Thy passive clay.”’

In addition to Jeremiah 18:6 in verse 4, and the obvious quotation of Luke 1:38 in the opening line, the hymn has an usually large number of Bible references – Methodist hymn-writer Andrew Pratt claims there are 42!

Here is the hymn in its entirety:

Behold the servant of the Lord!
I wait Thy guiding eye to feel,
To hear and keep Thy every word,
To prove and do Thy perfect will,
Joyful from my own works to cease,
Glad to fulfil all righteousness.

Me if Thy grace vouchsafe to use,
Meanest of all Thy creatures, me,
The deed, the time, the manner choose,
Let all my fruit be found of Thee;
Let all my works in Thee be wrought,
By Thee to full perfection brought.

My every weak, though good design,
O’errule, or change, as seems Thee meet;
Jesus, let all my work be Thine!
Thy work, O Lord, is all complete,
And pleasing in Thy Father’s sight;
Thou only hast done all things right.

Here then to Thee Thy own I leave;
Mould as Thou wilt Thy passive clay;
But let me all Thy stamp receive,
But let me all Thy words obey,
Serve with a single heart and eye,
And to Thy glory live and die.

Charles Wesley

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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