Eternal Spirit, God of Truth

Full Text

1 Eternal Spirit, God of truth,
our contrite hearts inspire;
ignite a flame of heavenly love
and feed the pure desire.
O come to soothe the sorrowing mind
with guilt and fear oppressed;
O come to bid the dying live
and give the weary rest.

2 Subdue the power of every sin
and make our hearts your throne,
that we in singleness of heart
may worship God alone.
Then with our spirits witness bear,
O Spirit of our God,
that we are children of the Lord,
redeemed through Christ's own blood.

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Stanza 1 is a prayer for renewal by the Holy Spirit (see PHH 420); stanza 2 continue this prayer with allusions to Romans 8:9-17.


Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Since it is uniquely the work and passion of the Holy Spirit, who is “our Sanctifier by living in our hearts” (Belgic Confession, Article 9) and “by the work of the Holy Spirit [God] regenerates us and makes us new creatures, causing us to live new life and freeing us from the slavery of sin” (Belgic Confession, Article 24), we plead for his power to continue this work. The Holy Spirit restores us into God’s image “so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits, so that he may be praised through us...” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32, Question and Answer 86). We come to know, therefore, that our growth in holy living will not occur without the Holy Spirit’s ministry.


Eternal Spirit, God of Truth

Introductory/Framing Text

The tune's simple, easy-singing character beautifully carries the text without calling attention to itself—a mark of any good tune-and-text combination. If your congregation does not know the music, its AABA form is quickly learned—only two lines of music to master.
Despite the beautiful harmony, do not overlook the exceptional quality of the melody. Whether sung by a soloist, a section of the choir, a children's group, or the entire congregation, the loveliness of the melody alone will inspire all.
Once your congregation knows the hymn well, try stanza 2, using Vaughan Williams's alternate harmonization with a choir or instrument on the descant by Thomas Armstrong. The arrangement was first published in Carols for Choirs, vol. I, (Oxford University Press) to the text "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
The general playing and singing style of the hymn should be smooth and flowing yet have a steady rhythm. A moderate tempo works best, perhaps thinking in 2/2 rather than 4/4. The hymn must not move so fast that it sounds trite and leaves singers breathless, nor should it be allowed to plod along in heavy quarter notes.
A number of useful organ pieces are based on FOREST GREEN. I enjoy the meditative quality of Paul Manz's setting in 10 Choral Improvisations, set 7, (Concordia 97-5308), now available from Morning Star, (MSM 10-101) as Improvisations for the Christmas Season (Set 2). Wilbur Held's brief prelude in Six Carol Settings (Concordia 97-4985) is quite nice when played in a meditative fashion, ignoring the composer's indication to play "whimsically."
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 18)
— John W. Ourensma


You are not in the flesh;
you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin,
the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies
also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
—Romans 8:9-11, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

A Prayer for Indwelling
Eternal Spirit, God of truth, displace our fibs and fables. Crowd out our tales and myths. Subdue the power of every sin and make our hearts your throne, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

Eternal Spirit, God of Truth

Tune Information

F Major
Meter D



Eternal Spirit, God of Truth

Hymn Story/Background

Originally entitled "For a well-grounded hope of salvation," this text by Thomas Cotterill was published in Coterill’s Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1810). The text's original first line began "Eternal Spirit, source of truth."
Stanza 1 is a prayer for renewal by the Holy Spirit; stanza 2 continue this prayer with allusions to Romans 8:9-17.
FOREST GREEN is an English folk tune associated with the ballad "The Ploughboy's Dream." Ralph Vaughan Williams turned FOREST GREEN into a hymn tune for The English Hymnal (1906), using it as a setting for "O Little Town of Bethlehem."
Shaped in rounded bar form (AABA), FOREST GREEN has the cheerful characteristics of folk tunes. Sing in unison or in harmony, but given the tune's many eighth notes, do not rush. 
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Thomas Cotterill (b. Cannock, Staffordshire, England, 1779; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1823) studied at St. John's College, Cambridge, England, and became an Anglican clergyman. A central figure in the dispute about the propriety of singing hymns, Cotterill published a popular collection of hymns (including many of his own as well as alterations of other hymns), Selection of Psalms and Hymns in 1810. But when he tried to introduce a later edition of this book in Sheffield in 1819, his congregation protested. Many believed strongly that the Church of England should maintain its tradition of exclusive psalm singing. In a church court the Archbishop of York and Cotterill reached a compromise: the later edition of Selection was withdrawn, and Cotterill was invited to submit a new edition for the archbishop's approval. The new edition was published in 1820 and approved as the first hymnal for the Anglican church of that region. Cotterill's suppressed book, however, set the pattern for Anglican hymnals for the next generation, and many of its hymns are still found in modern hymnals.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Through his composing, conducting, collecting, editing, and teaching, Ralph Vaughan Williams (b. Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, England, October 12, 1872; d. Westminster, London, England, August 26, 1958) became the chief figure in the realm of English music and church music in the first half of the twentieth century. His education included instruction at the Royal College of Music in London and Trinity College, Cambridge, as well as additional studies in Berlin and Paris. During World War I he served in the army medical corps in France. Vaughan Williams taught music at the Royal College of Music (1920-1940), conducted the Bach Choir in London (1920-1927), and directed the Leith Hill Music Festival in Dorking (1905-1953). A major influence in his life was the English folk song. A knowledgeable collector of folk songs, he was also a member of the Folksong Society and a supporter of the English Folk Dance Society. Vaughan Williams wrote various articles and books, including National Music (1935), and composed numerous arrange­ments of folk songs; many of his compositions show the impact of folk rhythms and melodic modes. His original compositions cover nearly all musical genres, from orchestral symphonies and concertos to choral works, from songs to operas, and from chamber music to music for films. Vaughan Williams's church music includes anthems; choral-orchestral works, such as Magnificat (1932), Dona Nobis Pacem (1936), and Hodie (1953); and hymn tune settings for organ. But most important to the history of hymnody, he was music editor of the most influential British hymnal at the beginning of the twentieth century, The English Hymnal (1906), and coeditor (with Martin Shaw) of Songs of Praise (1925, 1931) and the Oxford Book of Carols (1928).
— Bert Polman
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