Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Story

And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)

We’ve spent a couple of days looking at the sixth chapter of the Book of Isaiah, and today we’ll look at a hymn based upon a parallel passage which grants another glimpse into the throne-room of God: Revelation 4:8. In both these passages God is proclaimed as “holy, holy, holy” and early Christins were quick to find in this phrase a statement of the Trinity. There were three ‘holies’ brought forth from the lips of the heavenly beings as they gazed upon God.

Reginald Heber (1783-1826) was a son of Cheshire and gained a reputation as a poet when he studied in Oxford. On graduation he made a grand tour of Russia, Scandinavia and central Europe but young Heber soon returned to Hodnet, Shropshire where he took on the parish from his father. In those days, the rights of appointing the local vicar was often a family affair and those who held the right often appointed themselves. Heber’s father had also been vicar of Holdnet. It was here that Heber penned ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, which was first sung on a Trinity Sunday. It speaks of John’s vision in Revelation and presents us with God, magnificent in his three-fold glory.

Sixteen years on, Heber was appointed as Bishop of Calcutta. After just three years, and after preaching in opposition to the caste system, he was found dead in a swimming pool. Apparently, the shock of the cold water on a scorching day had brought on a stroke. He died aged just 43.

Although his statue stands in St Paul’s Cathedral, Heber’s most enduring legacy are his hymns. Both ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ and ‘Brightest and best of the sons of the morning’ are staples of the Anglican church year, and today’s hymn speaks of the majesty of the Trinity. The last line of each verse, speak of God’s Triune nature, his eternity and his perfect holiness. Here is a great praise of the God who is both three persons, but one God.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, Holy, Holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man, thy glory may not see:
Only Thou art holy, there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in power in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty,
God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Woe is me!

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) - To see ourselves in the light of God is humbling, but it is also glorious when we then realise that nonetheless God loves us, calls us and forgives us. This is the “Amazing Grace” of which Newton wrote, the grace which God shows even when we are shabby

The God who is Seen

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1) - At the beginning of this passage is the phrase “I saw the Lord”. Now, this is a curious thing! There is a long tradition in the Old Testament that God cannot be seen. In fact, in Exodus 33:20 we read “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live”! And yet, Isaiah writes that he saw God. And lived.

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