O Thou who Camest from Above

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week.  For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week.  The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

O Thou who Camest from Above

O Thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart!

There let it for thy glory burn
with inextinguishable blaze,
and trembling to its source return
in humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
to work, and speak, and think for thee;
still let me guard the holy fire,
and still stir up the gift in me.

Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat;
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make the sacrifice complete.

 Words: Charles Wesley

Tune: Hereford
Music: Samuel Wesley

CCLI - 1073121





Hymn Commentary 

Inextinguishable’!  How many other words take nearly a whole line in a verse in a hymn?  And what a way to describe the coming down of the Holy Spirit: ‘With inextinguishable blaze’ – see verse two of this week’s hymn for the week, O Thou who Camest from Above.

This week is a feast for Wesley lovers, the words were written by Charles Wesley (1707-88), whilst the regularly used tune was composed by his grandson, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-76).  You will realise of course that they never met but the link is Charles’ son, Samuel Wesley (1766-1837).  Married in 1749, Charles fathered eight children over the years but only three survived infancy.  Another of the children, Charles Wesley junior, was a musical prodigy like his brother. However, Samuel Wesley’s abilities (he was sometimes referred to as The English Mozart) weren’t reflected in his controversial personal life and are best not mentioned here as this would detract from the gem of the hymn that is being discussed this week.  

O Thou who Camest from Above made it into Holy Trinity’s Top Ten Hymns from 2018 and this is the third of Charles Wesley’s hymns that has been a Holy Trinity hymn for the week.  For more information on Charles Wesley I refer you to Love’s redeeming work is done (a previous hymn for the week) but suffice to say that, in both quantity and quality, Charles Wesley must be considered as the greatest of hymn writers.  First published in Charles Wesley’s Short Hymns on Selected Passages of Scripture in 1762, this hymn’s inspiration is Leviticus 6:13.  It refers to the Jewish practice of burnt offerings in which the fire is kept burning until the offering is completely consumed; Wesley portrays the faith of a Christian in a similar way.  Because of Wesley’s theology of sacrifice, some hymnals have re-worded the final verse and a couple of others couldn’t cope with the six syllable word mentioned initially.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s tune Hereford of 1872however, has had a near unedited life since it first appeared with his grandfather’s words in 1909.  SS Wesley (for short) was a cathedral organist and he held the post in Hereford from 1832 to 1835.  In churches his music is more widely used than his father’s and with tunes like this you can perhaps see why it is a favourite of the choir at Holy Trinity.  I said the tune has had a near unedited life but some years ago I was given a copy of a descant to be sung to the fourth and final verse by Dan Soper who is a full-time software developer and a freelance organist.  It means the much loved harmony has been edited but the descant is a crowning glory to a much loved tune.

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

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