“A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing”

This Latin hymn is attributed to the Venerable Bede (673-735). It was not found in any documents prior to the eleventh century. As part of his composition, Bede was very fond of bringing in the actual words of Scripture. We see evidence of this in stanzas 3 and 4 of “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing,” where he brought in some of the contents of what the two angels in Acts 1 said to the followers of Jesus as they observed His ascension. What a great blessing for us and for many others that this wonderful hymn was finally translated from Latin into English by Benjamin Webb in 1854 and published in that same year in The Hymnal Noted. In the hymnal which we use in our congregations, The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), this hymn is #212 in the Ascension section. It is noteworthy that this always-timely hymn has been published in 50 other hymnals.

One of the unique features of this hymn is that there are seven “Alleluias” in each stanza. The word “Alleluia,” transliterated as such in New Testament Greek and in the English of our Bible from the Old Testament Hebrew “Hallelujah,” means “Praise ye the Lord!” or the shortened version: “Praise the Lord!” This expression was common among the Jews and was used in their liturgy on the basis, chiefly, of the Psalms, specifically, in Psalms 106 and 113, in Psalms 146-150 (at the beginning and at the end of these Psalms), and in Psalms 111 and 112 (at the beginning of these psalms). Moreover, the Jews regularly sang (and do so still today) their “chief” song of “praise,” called the Great Hallel [hah-LAYL], Psalm 136, at the conclusion of the Passover seder or service; and that Psalm may well have been the “hymn” that Jesus and His disciples sang together (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26) after they had concluded both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper before heading out to Gethsemane on “the same night in which He was betrayed”(I Corinthians 11:23). In Revelation 19, the Apostle John documents the words of the songs sung by those who are already in heaven. In their songs of gratitude, they include “Alleluia” in verses 1, 3-4, and 6. For those of us who are God’s “saints” by faith in His Son (I Corinthians 1:2; II Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2), who are still here on earth “gazing up into heaven” in awe at the Savior’s ascension, we gratefully sing our “Alleluias” in “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” to give evidence of our great thanks to our gracious God for all that He has mercifully done and completely “finished” (John 19:30) for us and all sinners when He “justified [us] freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), gaining for us and giving to us “the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57b), the everlasting victory of “the Lamb of God,” who took “away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and who “destroy[ed]the works of the devil” (I John 3:8b; see also Genesis 3:15).

Now let us examine the seven stanzas/parts of this precious hymn. The first stanza is:

A hymn of glory let us sing;
new songs throughut the world shall ring.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ, by a road before untrod,
ascendeth to the throne of God.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

One of the “fruit[s] of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22a) produced in the believing hearts of “the children of God” (3:26) is joy(5:22b). Such believers, according to their “new man” (Ephesians 4:24), love to sing, with their hearts and/or with their lips, to their gracious God for all that He has done for them and given to them through the vicarious atonement of the ascended Christ Jesus. The Psalmist, in Psalm 98, calls out with this plea and exhortation: “O sing unto the Lord a new song, for He hath done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory” (v. 1). God’s “people” (I Peter 2:10a) — wherever they are located in this world, and whether they are rich or poor, healthy or sick — His “people, with their faith anchored in Christ and in His sinless obedience and sacrifice in their stead before God, will “show forth the praises of Him who hath called [them] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9b). They will gladly give their assent, their “Yes,” to the confession of the Psalmist for himself and for all of his “born again” (John 3:3b) brethren: “The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad” (126:3). These “great things” include not only our Savior’s substitutionary suffering and death in our behalf, and His mighty resurrection as testimony that the justice of our holy and just God has been satisfied, but they also include His witnessed ascension, the glorious and triumphant end of His visible stay here on earth, and His visible entrance, as the God-man, according to His human nature, into His heavenly kingdom, at “the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19b), where He will always carry out His unchanging, sure, and certain promise to all of His dear sheep and lambs here on earth: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20b). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

The second stanza of this marvelous hymn is:

The holy apostolic band
upon the Mount of Olives stand.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
And with His followers they see
Jesus’ resplendent majesty.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

“The mount called Olivet” (Acts 1:12b) was the location where “the apostles” (v. 2b) actually saw Jesus “parted from them and carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51b). They were actual eye-witnesses of Jesus, according to His human nature, in His own body, being “taken up and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9b). Whether any others were there with the apostles as witnesses of His ascension cannot be established from any of the three ascension accounts (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:9-12). Nevertheless the ascension of Jesus was a real historical event which took place according to true facts revealed in the three Gospel records, written by chosen men of God “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21b). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

The appearance of two angels at the ascension of Jesus is taken note of in the third stanza of this hymn:

To whom the angels drawing nigh:
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?”
Alleluia! Alleluia!
“This is the Savior,” thus they say;
“This is His noble triumph-day.”
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In this stanza, the hymn writer, the Venerable Bede, shows his acquaintance with and his love for the Holy Scriptures when he paraphrases the Evangelist Luke’s account in verses 10-11a of Acts 1: “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, which also said: ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?’” These two holy angels, God’s messengers, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14), appeared as “men,” as human beings who could be seen by the apostles, even though, by creation, by nature, they were and are “spirits,” which have no body. Here we see another of our God’s marvelous and miraculous works, temporarily causing these two angels to appear in human form. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14a) was the question which the Lord asked Sarah when she laughed after hearing that she would give birth to Isaac, even though she was well past child-bearing age. This question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is a question which we can ask again and again when difficulties, problems, unexpected events, and seemingly impossible obstacles are allowed by our God to come into our lives. The answer to this question is an unhesitating “No,” as long as it is in accord with His divine “will” (Matthew 6:10b).

The ascension of Jesus was the ascension of the Savior for “the world” (John 3:16a), this event giving evidence and proof that His purpose for coming into the world, namely, “to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15b), was now completed, and that He had accomplished the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies, so that now, “through His name, whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43b). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

In the fourth stanza, the angels give us a wonderful promise for the future:

“Again shall ye behold Him so,
as ye today have seen Him go,”
Alleluia! Alleluia!
“in glorious pomp ascending high,
up to the portals of the sky.”
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Venerable Bede, once again in this stanza, paraphrases from the Scriptures in Acts 1 the message which the angels conveyed to the apostles: “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (v. 11b). As Jesus visibly, bodily left this earth at His ascension, so He will visibly, bodily return to this earth on the Last Day. The Apostle John, in the first chapter of the Book of Revelation, gives this report concerning that return of Jesus on the Final Day of this world: “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him” (v. 7a). Matthew, in the 25th chapter of his Gospel, provided us in verses 31 and 32 with further information concerning that future visible return of Jesus to this world: “When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” Is this future visible return of Jesus something for us to dread? Oh, no! As believers in the priceless truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the Word of reconciliation. …For He hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin [Christ was sinless], that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him [in Christ](II Corinthians 5:19), we can be certain that the Savior, on that Last Day, will say to us and to all on His right hand: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25: 34). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Stanza 5 is a prayer to our ascended Savior at the right hand of God:

Oh, grant us thitherward to tend
and with unwearied hearts ascend –
Alleluia! Alleluia!
– unto Thy kingdom’s throne, where Thou,
as is our faith, art seated now.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

In this stanza, we petition our ascended Savior, “whom having not seen, [we] love” (I Peter 1:8a), to help us to come more “boldly unto [His] throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), “for we have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (v. 15). His genuine invitation and His words of encouragement are set forth for our benefit in Matthew 11: “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (vv. 28-30). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

In stanza 6 we have another intercession to “Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2a):

Be Thou our Joy and Strong Defense,
who art our future Recompense.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So shall the light that springs from Thee
be ours through all eternity.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, our dear ascended Savior, our true “Joy” now and forevermore in having Thee as the only “Way” to heaven, for “no man cometh unto the Father but by [Thee](John 14:6a and c), Thou, the only Giver of “the Truth” (v. 6b) that all sinners have been “justified freely by [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24), and Thou, the only Provider of “eternal Life” (Romans 6:23b), instead of eternal “death,” which is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6:23a): Inscribe more and more on our hearts and souls, as our “Strong Defense” and our everlasting “Light” (John 8:12), the changeless message from the Apostle John, closing out the third chapter of his Gospel: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (v. 36).

Now, to close out this much-appreciated hymn with a prayer of gratitude, stanza 7:

O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
all praise to Thee let earth accord,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
who art, while endless ages run,
with Father and with Spirit one.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

We owe our risen and ascended Savior unending thanks, praise, glory, and honor for willingly being the Triune God’s “Servant” (Isaiah 53:11b) in having the sins of all in the whole world “laid on Him” (Isaiah 53:6b) as the “one Mediator [the one Peacemaker] between God and men [all people] (I Timothy 2:5). On account of this redemption by Christ Jesus “for all” (I Timothy 2:6a), God has forgiven the sins of “the world” (II Corinthians 5:19) and declared all sinners “righteous” (Romans 5:19b) in His sight. Now and until the end of this world, “whosoever believeth in Him [in Christ Jesus] should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16b). Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

R. J. L.

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