Monday, November 2, 2020

For All the Saints

 We've begun to sing a hymn at our in-person services -- while wearing a mask and keeping socially distant! How fitting that one of the first congregational hymns was "For All the Saints" -- a celebration of the whole Christian community. At a time when many of us worry about that the pandemic has changed our world and our church forever, we draw strength from this resounding declaration of God's supremacy. 

The late Dr. Cecil Kirk wrote a wonderful essay on this triumphant and deeply encouraging hymn.

The hymn begins on a note of thanksgiving for the saints who, by faith, have been enabled to confess Christ before the world. It is only because he called them and empowered them that they have been able to do so. It is fitting, then, that Christ's name should be praised since he has been their inspiration and strength throughout their earthly life. A variety of words is used to suggest the various ways in which He helped them: "their rock, their fortress and their might." "their Captain:" "their light."  This leads to a prayer that those of us who are currently engaged in the good fight of the faith will prove worthy of those who have preceded us. We want to fight as courageously as them so that we too may "win with them the victor's crown of gold."

The pivotal point of the hymn arrives with the fourth stanza. Even now we have fellowship in the Holy Spirit with those who have entered into their reward. It is not as though we are cut off from them nor they from us. There is an essential unity in the whole Church of God in heaven and earth. We are all part of the body of Christ and enjoy a mystical fellowship with communion with one another through Him.

The remaining verses fall naturally into two pairs. The first pair (verses 5 and 6) presents a picture of the Church on earth as it bravely engages in the spiritual warfare. When the struggle seems hardest, the note of "the distant triumph song," can be heard as the saints encourage those below. Then "hearts are brave again and arms are strong." There also comes to the weary warrior the sign of the close of day when we will be able to rest from the conflict and enter into the rest that remains for God's people (Heb. 4:9)

The final two stanzas present us with a vision of the great day of the Lord. Christ the King "passes on His way," and His saints, then victorious, will be glorified in his presence. What a thrilling picture it is! From every corner of the world, and from every coastline of every continent they will come, "a countless host," streaming into the new Jerusalem "through gates of pearl" singing to the glory of the Triune God. Christ will take His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords and His saints will pass in review before Him. Such emotion sustains us now. We realize that we are fighting in a great crusade, the victory of the which is secure. 


 Set to the rousing tune, Sine nomine, this hymn is bound to lift the spirits of even the most tired "saint."

For All the Saints

1 For all the saints who from their labours rest ,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2 Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3 O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4 O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5 And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6 The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warrior cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

7 But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

8 From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #408



Saints above and Saints below

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