O Worship the Lord

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, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – 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 Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his name.

Low at his feet lay thy burden of carefulness,
high on his heart he will bear it for thee,
comfort thy sorrows and answer thy prayerfulness,
guiding thy steps as may best for thee be.

Fear not to enter his courts in the slenderness
of the poor wealth thou would reckon as thine;
truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness
these are the offerings to lay on his shrine.

These, though we bring them in trembling and fearfulness,
he will accept for the name that is dear;
mornings of joy give for evenings of tearfulness,
trust for our trembling and hope for our fear.

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,
bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
with gold of obedience and incense of lowliness,
kneel and adore him: the Lord is his name.

J S B Monsell

Music: Melody from Rheinhardt MS

CCLI - 1073121







Hymn Commentary 

This week’s Hymn for the Week, O Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness is one of several hymns that tell are undeniably associated with Epiphany.  As far as the words go, however, it is only the third line that really reveals the clue: ‘Gold of obedience and incense of lowliness.  The second line (‘bow down before him’) and fourth line (‘Kneel and adore him’) are perhaps also references to the narrative of Epiphany in which the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus in adoration.  

The tune to this hymn is Was Lebet.  It originally came from a German manuscript of 1754, Choral-Buch vor Johann Heinrich Reinhardt, where it accompanies the song Was Lebet, was Schwebet(translated What Lives, what Floats).  It was in 1906 that the tune and words of the hymn were married together in The English Hymnal by one of its editors, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958); he is believed to have also provided the harmony.  Although there was a second tune provided to the words in that hymnal, Was Lebet has become the more popular and has secured its place as one of the sounds of Epiphany.

The words were written by John Samuel Bewley Monsell (b. St. Colomb's, Londonderry, 1811; d. Guildford, 1875) and published in 1863.  He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and served as a chaplain and rector of several churches in Ireland after his ordination in 1835.  Moving to England in 1853, he became rector of Egham in Surrey and was rector of St. Nicholas Church in Guildford from 1870 until his death (caused by a construction accident at his church).  He was a prolific poet and wrote over three hundred hymns. 

Psalm 96 is the basis of the words which, in verse 9, are: ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before him, all the earth.’  There are similar references elsewhere in the Old Testament books (Chronicles and Psalms), one of which is repeated in the New Testament (1 Timothy).  Verse 3 of the hymn calls for all of us to worship as seen or expressed in nature: ‘truth in its beauty’.  There are other calls to worship throughout the hymn and, as worshipping God is not confined just to Epiphany, it is a hymn that deserves to be (and is) sung at any time of the year.  Most telling is that the first verse – ‘O worship the Lord…’ – is repeated in its entirety as the fifth verse.  When the words were published by Monsell ten years later he had removed the opening ‘O’ for some reason.  However, it is that ’O’ – which requires the additional note or upbeat to verses one and five – that serves to highlight the invitation to worship; unsurprisingly it is the 1863 version that survives.

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

Anthem for the Week