The opening stanza of this hymn echoes Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! Bless the Lord, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! Bless the Lord, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:20-22, ESV) This hymn is based, in part, on the Te Deum laudamus, an ancient hymn that is still used in both the Eastern and Western branches of the Church.
The refrain of this hymn echoes the words of the apostle Paul, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 ESV) The stanzas are a prayer that the Christian would always remember the redemptive work of Christ on the cross, and live faithfully in that memory.
The psalmist gave Psalm 100 the title, “A psalm of thanksgiving.” The opening verses tell us how this thanksgiving is to be rendered: boldly and jubilantly. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! … Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:1,2 ESV) The final stanza of this hymn, which is a paraphrase of Psalm 100, tells us why God deserves such unabashed worship: “His truth at all times firmly stood, And shall from age to age endure.” Sing this psalm with your whole being, for our good God deserves nothing less than whole-hearted praise.
The words of this hymn of praise allude frequently to scripture passages. The first stanza reminds one of Philippians 2:10-11, where “at the name of Jesus … every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord …” (ESV). The last two stanzas are especially rich with allusions to scenes of worship in Revelation, including a quotation from Revelation 7:10, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne!”
One of the best-known Bible verses on the topic of joy is Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (ESV). In a fallen world, it is easy to find excuses for being gloomy, but the apostle Paul wrote those words while a prisoner in Rome. In fact, despite his outwardly dreary circumstances, the whole letter to the Philippians is overflowing with joy and thankfulness. This hymn is a good reminder of the joy that Christians should display, regardless of circumstance.
On a Wednesday evening, Joseph Gilmore was preaching at a mid-week prayer service on the topic of Psalm 23. He wrote later, “I set out to give the people an exposition of the 23rd Psalm, but I got no further than the words ‘He leadeth me.’ Those words took hold of me as they had never done before.
The first three stanzas of this hymn explore both the contrast between the glory of heaven that Christ came from and the suffering He endured on earth, and the mystery of the love that motivated Him to make that journey. In stanza four we are reminded how God brings us to salvation in language that reminds us of Peter's experience in Acts 12:6-11, where God sent an angel to open the prison doors and loose Peter's chains. The final stanza is a jubilant celebration of our new state in Christ and the privilege of communion with God that we enjoy.
In November, 1873, Horatio Spafford sent his wife and four daughters on the French ship Ville du Havre from their home in Chicago to a vacation in France, planning to set out a few days later himself. Somewhere in the Atlantic, the Ville du Havre collided with a British ship coming the other way, and sank in just 12 minutes. Of his family, only Spafford’s wife survived.
There was a video that went viral a few years ago of a four-year-old girl looking in the mirror and exclaiming how much she loved everything in her life. I suspect it went viral because of its infectious positivity and the reminder that we could all use some child-like enthusiasm and gratitude. If we still need this message today, it means we have forgotten in part the beautiful story of Jesus welcoming the children unto him. Those children were able, more than the adults, to receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a gift, with unquestioning joy and gratitude.
Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed
The first two stanzas of this hymn address the same paradox that Paul wrote about in Romans: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8 ESV) Isaac Watts shows the contrast very powerfully:
“When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature's sin.”