For All the Saints
(The United Methodist Hymnal, #711)
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
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.
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.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
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:
Words: William Walsham How, 1864 (Heb. 12:1)
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
Who are considered saints and are they to be revered? Nowadays, members of the church, perhaps knowing themselves and their sins all too well, no longer imagine themselves as saints.
In many churches in the West, 1Nov is set aside as All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows or Hallowmas to the Roman Catholics. This feast day arose out of the Christian tradition during the early centuries of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on their death anniversary. Professor Stooky describes All Saints’ Day as designated as a kind of omnibus occasion, on which all saints who were not canonised or accorded a specified day in the sanctoral calendar are honoured.1
The unfortunate association with Halloween (literally The evening before All Saints’ Day), particularly the inclusion of the occult in Halloween revelry, as well as the secularisation of the historic day, has raised alarm bells. Moreover, some have felt uncomfortable with the way saints were venerated, as some were worshipped in place of God.
Professor William Barclay, in explaining the affirmation of The Communion of Saints, believed that saints are not those with the ‘Saint’ prefix in their names. Rather, saints are members of the church: the hagioi, or those set apart by the calling and goodness of God to dedicate their lives wholly to Jesus Christ.2 For Dr Robert Webber, the real meaning in observing All Saints’ Day is to celebrate the lives and witness of God’s people who model a relationship with God for us to emulate.3
Bishop William Walsham How’s famous hymn ‘For All the Saints’ was written precisely to honour those who have influenced our lives by directing us to God, tutoring us in truth, and modeling the virtues of the Christian life.4 Originally consisting of 11 stanzas, the hymn begins with thanksgiving for the saints who by faith professed Christ to the world. The third stanza utters a prayer that we might emulate the saints by being Christ’s faithful and bold soldiers. The heart of the entire hymn is found in the fourth stanza where we acknowledge the essential unity of the whole church of God in heaven and on earth as being “knitted together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ our Lord.”5
What better way to remember and honour those loved ones and friends who have contributed to our lives, than to rededicate our own lives to God by doing His will and serving His purpose?
1 Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 147.
2 William Barclay, The Plain Man Looks at the Apostles’ Creed (London: Collins, 1967), 293.
3 Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality Through the Christian Year (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2004), 175.
4 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 321.
5 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 155.
Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.