HYMNS OF THE CHURCH

Charles Nutter

The God of Abraham Praise

Thomas Olivers

1    The God of Abraham praise,
   Who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
      And God of love:
   Jehovah, Great I AM,
   By earth and heaven confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred Name,
      Forever blest.
2    The God of Abraham praise,
   At whose supreme command
From earth I rise, and seek the joys
      At His right hand:
   I all on earth forsake,
   Its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only portion make,
      My shield and tower.
3    He by Himself hath sworn,
   I on His oath depend;
I shall, on eagle’s wings upborne,
      To heaven ascend;
   I shall behold His face,
   I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace
      Forevermore.
4    The goodly land I see,
   With peace and plenty blest;
A land of sacred liberty,
      And endless rest.
   There milk and honey flow,
   And oil and wine abound;
And trees of life forever grow,
      With mercy crowned.
5    Before the great Three-One
   They all exulting stand,
And tell the wonders He hath done
      Through all their land:
   The listening spheres attend,
   And swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end
      The wondrous name.
6    The whole triumphant host
   Give thanks to God on high;
“Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,”
      They ever cry:
   Hail, Abraham’s God and mine!–
   I join the heavenly lays,–
All might and majesty are Thine,
      And endless praise.

This remarkable hymn has a history of more than ordinary interest. It first appeared in a tract, without date, which is supposed to have been printed in 1770. The fourth edition bears the date of 1772. The title it bears is “A Hymn to the God of Abraham, in three parts: Adapted to a celebrated Air, sung by the Priest, Signior Leoni, etc., at the Jews’ Synagogue, in London.” There are altogether twelve stanzas, four in each part. The omitted stanzas (the third, fifth, seventh, eighth, tenth, and eleventh) are of such literary value and such lofty poetic sentiment as to justify our reproducing them here:

3    The God of Abraham praise,
   Whose all-sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days
      In all His ways:
   He calls a worm His friend!
   He calls himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end,
      Through Jesus’ blood!
5    Though nature’s strength decay,
   And earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way,
      At His command.
   The wat’ry deep I pass,
   With Jesus in my view;
And through the howling wilderness
      My way pursue.
7    There dwells the Lord our King,
   The Lord our Righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin,
      The Prince of Peace;
   On Zion’s sacred height
   His kingdom still maintains;
And, glorious with His saints in light,
      Forever reigns.
8    He keeps His own secure,
   He guards them by His side,
Arrays in garments white and pure
      His spotless bride:
   With streams of sacred bliss,
   With groves of living joys,
With all the fruits of paradise
      He still supplies.
10    The God Who reigns on high
   The great archangels sing,
And “Holy, holy, holy,” cry,
      “Almighty King!
   Who was and is the same,
   And evermore shall be:
Jehovah, Father, great I AM,
      We worship thee.”
11    Before the Savior’s face
   The ransomed nations bow:
O’erwhelmed at His almighty grace,
      Forever new:
   He shows His prints of love–
   They kindle to a flame!
And sound through all the worlds above,
      The slaughtered Lamb.

Very few hymns ever written have received higher praise from poets and students of hymnology than this superb Christian lyric. “There is not in our language,” says James Montgomery, the poet, “a lyric of more majestic style, more elevated thought, or more glorious imagery. Its structure, indeed, is unattractive on account of the short lines; but, like a stately pile of architecture, severe and simple in design, it strikes less on the first view than after deliberate examination.” “This is probably,” says the author of Hymn Studies, “the finest ode in the English language; the theme is the grandest possible, and the execution in keeping with it." Thomas Jackson refers to it as “one of the noblest hymns in existence. It will doubtless be sung by spiritual worshipers of every denomination with profit and delight as long as the English language is understood.” It is referred to by Earl Selborne as “an ode of singular power and beauty.” The hymn was written while the author (who was one of Mr. Wesley’s preachers) was on a visit to John Bakewell, author of “Hail, Thou Once Despisèd Jesus.” At a service in the Jewish Synagogue at Westminster, London, he had heard Signior Leoni sing an old Hebrew melody, and was so delighted with it that he determined to write a Christian hymn that should be adapted to the tune. Upon returning to the house of his friend, he immediately wrote out this magnificent hymn. It is something of a paraphrase on the Hebrew doxology, which rehearses in poetic form the thirteen articles of the Jewish creed. Joseph Rhodes, the precentor at the Foundry, helped the author to adapt the music which he got from Leoni to his needs and to arrange it in the form which it now bears in the tune which is very appropriately named Leoni.

Some facts in the author’s life add to the value and interest of this hymn. He was left an orphan by the death of both parents when he was only four years of age. He fell as a waif into wicked hands, and by the time he was fifteen years old it was said that he was the worst boy that had lived in Montgomeryshire for thirty years. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but was compelled because of his excessive wickedness to leave the town. In a certain town he chanced to hear Whitefield preach on the text, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” He was deeply convicted and profoundly converted. He is said to have fasted and prayed until his knees grew stiff. One of his first acts after his conversion was to return to Montgomeryshire and pay all his debts. He traveled from Shrewsbury to Whitechurch, a distance of many miles, to pay a single sixpence. This done, he set out on foot (October 24, 1753) to join John Wesley in Cornwall. He bought a colt at Tiverton for five pounds, on the back of which he is said to have ridden a hundred thousand miles in his work as an itinerant preacher. He was associated with John Wesley for many years in more than ordinarily intimate relations; and when he died, eight years after the death of Wesley, he was buried in Wesley’s grave at City Road Chapel.

This hymn is associated with the name of Henry Martyn, the heroic missionary of sainted memory. On July 25, 1805, just as he was about to sail for India, he wrote as follows:

The late Rev. T. M. Eddy, D.D., passing on one occasion through the streets of Baltimore, saw an aged and feeble colored man sawing some hard wood by the side of the road. Feeling that the colored man’s lot was a hard one, as he contrasted his age and feebleness with the hardness of the work to be done, he turned and began to approach him, intending to speak a few kind and encouraging words of sympathy and of admonition concerning the state of his, perhaps, benighted soul. But drawing near, unobserved, he heard the old man singing softly but feelingly:

   The God of Abraham praise,
   Whose all-sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days
      In all His ways:
   He calls a worm His friend!
   He calls Himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end,
      Through Jesus’ blood!

The Doctor passed on without interrupting him, saying: “He is rich; he is safe; he has a better Friend than I could be. He needs not my comfort. I am the one that has received the needed encouragement.”

Richard Watson, the Methodist theologian, found great comfort in this hymn during his last illness. One day, as the end drew near, he said he longed “to quit this little abode, gain the wide expanse of the skies, rise to nobler joys, and see God;” and then repeated the last four lines of this hymn:

   I shall behold His face,
   I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace
      Forevermore.

Thomas Olivers, one of Mr. Wesley’s itinerant ministers, was born in Tregoman, Wales, in 1725. Early in life he was left an orphan. Distant relatives brought him up in an indifferent manner. He was sent to school for a time, and his religious education was not altogether neglected. As he grew older he became very profane, and at length ran away from his master, a shoemaker, to whom he was apprenticed. The drinking vagabond— for such he was— in his wicked career arrived at Bristol, where Whitefield had an appointment to preach. He went to hear him, and was converted. “When the sermon began,” he says, “I was one of the most abandoned and profligate young men living; before it was ended I was a new creature.” From that time onward he lived a new life, joined the Methodists, and in 1753 became one of Wesley’s itinerant preachers. Clear, strong, and sometimes fiery, he was the man for the times, and for forty-six years made full proof of his ministry. Most of his prose writings relate to the Calvinistic controversies of that day. Wesley said he was fully a “match” for Toplady. For some years he aided Wesley in editing the Arminian Magazine. He wrote only four or five hymns, but they are all of high order. He died March 7, 1799.