In Response

by James D. Witmer

"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" by Reginald Heber, 1783-1826

Each and every line of this hymn staggers under the weight of the truth it carries. Somehow Heber wrapped in four verses an all-encompassing view of God, man and creation, all in their proper place and – consequently – beautiful. 

I’ve heard this song all my life. But this time verse three stopped me short: 

 

 

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.

 
Suddenly it seemed strange to think that the Light of the World could be hidden by darkness. And I wondered: From whom is He hidden? Not from His triune Self, certainly. Not from the angels who continually sing His praises. So from whom?


From us, of course.

Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?  (Psalm 10:1)

David wants to know – and so do I – why God hides in the darkness. When it seems that I most need some reassurance of His presence, or even His attention; why is it then that He is least visible?

Heber’s word-painting conjures up another image:

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 19:16-18 &  20:21)

Here God covered Himself and his glory with “thick darkness”. And what was he doing? He was establishing a covenant with His people.

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18)

Between Exodus 19, when the glory-hiding darkness first settles on the mountain, and Exodus 31, when Moses returns with God’s law etched into stone tablets, there is an almost unbroken monologue as God expresses His wishes for every aspect of His people’s lives. He talks at length about their worship, but He is indifferent to nothing. No subject is too mundane or too practical for His attention. In the midst of the darkness, God is shaping their lives with Him, and with each other.

This, this is what He does in the dark:

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.

(Hebrews 8:10)

He carves the truth of His love, of all that He is, on our hearts.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 6:6-9)

Let us sing!

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!

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One comment on “"Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" by Reginald Heber, 1783-1826

  1. Wife, Mother, Gardener
    March 16, 2011

    Beautiful honey. Thank you for writing it – you – down. I love you!

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This entry was posted on March 16, 2011 by .