In his epistle, James has a lot to say about social justice: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, …. My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” (James 1:27, 2:1 ESV) A more pointed passage is this: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence.” (James 5:4-5a ESV) This hymn deals with similar ideas, as a prayer that we will live in a just and loving way, and it ends with a reminder that we are made in God's image.
Fred Kaan wrote this hymn in 1965 for a service for Human Rights Day (December 10) at Pilgrim Church in Plymouth, England. It is his most widely published hymn, and was used to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the United Nations and the 50th anniversary of the International Labor Organization (The Hymn Texts of Fred Kaan, Fred Kaan, p. 35). This hymn has four stanzas. The first three stanzas deal with common societal problems: poverty, war, and prejudice. The fourth stanza is a reminder that humankind is created in the image of God.
This text has been associated with a number of different tunes, of which the three most popular are WESTMINSTER ABBEY, CWM RHONDDA, and REGENT SQUARE. Fred Kaan wrote “When introduced in a 'Come and Sing' lecture at the Westminster Abbey, London 1973, it was sung to Henry Purcell's WESTMINSTER ABBEY with which it has been principally associated ever since” (The Hymn Texts of Fred Kaan, p. 35).
Ernest Hawkins arranged the final Alleluias from Purcell's anthem “O God, thou art my God” as a hymn tune named BELLEVILLE in 1843. In 1939, Sidney Nicholson, a music consultant on the revision of Hymns Ancient and Modern, included the tune in the Shortened Music Edition. It was renamed WESTMINSTER ABBEY in honor of Purcell's long association with that famous church.
CWM RHONDDA is a well-known Welsh tune. It was written in 1907 by John Hughes, a Welshman who spent most of his life as a railway worker. The tune name literally means “Rhondda valley.” The Rhondda is a river that flows through a coal-mining district of Wales. When this text is sung to CWM RHONDDA, repeat the last line of each stanza to fit the music.
REGENT SQUARE is most often associated with the Christmas text “Angels From the Realms of Glory.” The tune was composed by Henry Smart, and first published in Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship in 1867. It was named after the Regent Square Presbyterian Church in London, whose minister, James Hamilton, was editor of that hymnal.
This hymn is suitable for use on any occasion where social justice is a theme. If CWM RHONDDA is the tune used, try singing a stanza unaccompanied. For preludes or other service music, organ settings of CWM RHONDDA can be found in “Three Partitas on Welsh Hymn Tunes” and “Shine on Us,”, while “Partita on Westminster Abbey,” contains seven different settings of that tune for organ.