On the 8th May 1945, Winston Churchill addressed the Speaker of the House, saying: “Sir, with your permission to move 'That this House do now attend at the church of St. Margaret, Westminster, to give humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination.’”
The Speaker then led the parliamentarians to St Margaret’s, which shelters next to the bulk of the great Abbey. As the MPs gave thanks in what is their parish church, members of the public were gathering for hourly services of thanksgiving in the Abbey. These services ran on the hour between 9.00am and 10.00pm and it is estimated that 25,000 took part that day.
The order of service used for that day begins with the encouragement: “The congregation are asked to join heartily in the responses”, and contains a mix of prayers, responses and hymns. The first hymn was the venerable setting of Psalm 100: “All People that on Earth do Dwell”.
I like to have an impression of hymn writers as thoughtful types, tapping their teeth with a pencil as they gaze upon wild gardens in the hope of inspiration. Not so the author of this hymn, William Kethe. Rather than the rhyme inducing peace of an undisturbed home, he was exiled to Frankfurt during the persecutions of Mary I and then went on to join his fellow Scotsman John Knox in Geneva. It was here in 1564 that was published a book of Psalms put into verse, amongst which is the this particular hymn.
When you read through the words below, and realise they came from the pen of a man who had fled for his life, it gives you some idea of the comfort and confidence that comes from knowing that whatever happens, we are not out of God’s hands. A comfort in the 1560s, a comfort in the 1940s and a comfort now.
All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell,
Come ye before him and rejoice.
Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid he did us make:
We are his flock, he doth us feed,
And for his sheep he doth us take.
O enter then his gates with praise,
Approach with joy his courts unto:
Praise, laud, and bless his name always,
For it is seemly so to do.
For why? the Lord our God is good,
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure