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The unchanging truth of the triune God

Jun 2015    

The doctrine of the Trinity, deeply entrenched in Church tradition and staunchly embraced by the likes of Gregory of Nyssa, St. Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and even John Wesley, was a much-debated topic between Trinitarian and Unitarians through the centuries.

 

Hymn-writers through the ages had played their parts in educating worshipers about the Trinitarian doctrine by writing hymns that reflected the balance of the whole Trinity in their texts giving equal emphasis to the three persons within the Godhead. But perhaps more importantly, these Trinitarian hymns draw us into a more fully Trinitarian language of worship.

 

One such hymn is ‘Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty’ (UMH 64 in The United Methodist Hymnal). This is the most famous hymn of Reginald Heber (1783-1826), an English clergyman who served as vicar in his family’s parish for 16 years before serving as the Anglican bishop of Calcutta until his sudden death at the age of 43.

 

Based on the passage taken from Revelation 4, this great Trinitarian hymn is a clear favourite for Trinity Sunday. Envisaging John’s vision of God enthroned in heavenly glory, surrounded by the 24 elders and the four living creatures, Heber weaves into his hymn the chanting of “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!”1

 

Using the solemn and sonorous “Holy, holy, holy” which starts each stanza, Heber ascribed pure adoration to God for his holiness or “wholly-otherness”.2 Granted that we can never fully comprehend the mystery of the Holy Trinity, this hymn conveys attributes of the Triune God that we mortals can grasp: that He is “merciful and mighty; perfect in power, in love and purity”.

 

In worship, a believer’s spiritual life is shaped not by knowing what God is doing in his or her personal life, but above all for who He is – His being, character, and deeds. 3

 

So let us – His creation and handiwork – raise our voices “in earth and sky and sea” to affirm the timeless truth: “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”


1 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 32.
2 Ibid., 32.
3 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 261.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God

Almighty (UMH 64)

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!

 

Words: Reginald Heber, 1826 (Rev. 4:8-11)
Music: John B. Dykes, 1861

Dr Yeo Teck Beng is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.

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