Radio Series: Hymns of the Faith: Hymns of the Faith: Crown Him with Many Crowns

by Bill Wymond, Derek Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan on March 16, 2008

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Hymns of the Faith

“Crown Him with Many

A Presentation of
First Presbyterian Church



Dr. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Derek Thomas, and Dr. Bill

Dr. Wymond: Good morning! This is “Hymns of Faith,”
brought to you by Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. The minister of First
Presbyterian Church is Dr. Ligon Duncan. Stay tuned for “Hymns of the Faith.”
And now with “Hymns of the Faith” is Dr. Ligon Duncan.

Dr. Duncan: Thank you, Bill Wymond. This is Ligon
Duncan, along with Derek Thomas and “Hymns of the Faith” as we look at another
of the great hymns of the English-speaking world, this one by Matthew Bridges,
Crown Him with Many Crowns–one of my favorite hymns, and clearly probably
one of the top twenty favorite hymns still in the English language; a great hymn
of exaltation of Jesus Christ acknowledging His lordship. There’s a lot of rich

In our hymnal this song has four
stanzas; it has a lot of crowns in the original text. Godfrey Thring added yet
another one of them. But, Derek, tell us just a little bit about Matthew
Bridges, and then I want to take apart the text stanza by stanza, and then talk
a little bit about the tune and meter as well.

Dr. Thomas: Yes…good morning! We don’t know a whole
lot about Matthew Bridges. He spanned almost the entire nineteenth century: born
in 1800 and died in 1894. He grew up initially in England in Malden in Essex,
which is close to London, of course. And then in the latter half–I think he was
in his forties or so when he immigrated to part of the British Commonwealth in
Canada…to French Canada, to Quebec. He wrote in his early years a poem,
Jerusalem Regained
. He was twenty-five. And then three years later a book on
the Roman Empire and Constantine the Great. And it was, I think, studying that
period of history, that Matthew Bridges then became persuaded of Catholic views
with regard to papal succession and an historical argument for that, and became
a Roman Catholic. Now in the latter part of his…

Dr. Duncan: There’s something about that that may
interest — especially if there are Presbyterian ministers driving to their
churches today…One of the favorite books on pastoral ministry that certainly has
been used at Reformed Theological Seminary over the last twenty or thirty years
is by a man named Charles Bridges, and Matthew was his younger brother. Charles
Bridges’ classic book on the pastoral ministry has probably been read by many
people listening to us this morning. And so this would give you an indication of
some of the turmoil going on in Britain with what was called the “Oxford
Movement,” or the “Tractarian Movement,” where many fine men in the Church of
England began to yearn for the stability and the tradition that the Church of
Rome could provide.

Let’s face it: this was in the
high-water mark of nineteenth century liberalism, and there would have been a
lot of people in the Church of England unsettled by that kind of higher critical
liberalism, and they looked to the Church of Rome as a place that they could go.
But this was a thing of tremendous turmoil, and in the nineteenth century there
were a number of strong reactions to this in England. So, the establishment of
the Protestant Truth Society would have happened in the wake of this. The
republication of all the works of the English Reformers would have occurred
through the Parker Society in England. And then there was another society in
Scotland that published all the works of the Scottish Reformers in response.
John Henry Newman, of course, is one of these famous members of the Church of
England that eventually left the Church of England, joined the church of Rome,
became, finally, a Cardinal. And I have just heard that they are in the process
of beatifying Cardinal Newman, and the Roman church will soon name him to be a
saint. But Matthew Bridges would have been caught up in this time frame.

Dr. Thomas: And maybe a lesson on Henry Collins,
who became a Trappist monk, I think. But the influence of John Henry Newman, of
course, was Lead, Kindly Light (which still makes its way into some
Protestant hymnals, but definitely not others!) was enormous. I can’t imagine
the upheaval in the Church of England in the middle of the nineteenth century by
that Oxford Movement, as it was called.

Dr. Duncan: And so Matthew Bridges (we were
talking off the air ahead of time) — he had a rather prominent post in Britain
which he held for a long, long time, which was working in the Chapel of St.
George’s at Windsor. Do you want to explain to Americans what in the world that

Dr. Thomas: Well, the Queen, of course lives in
Buckingham Palace in London, but very often she is close by in Windsor — an
hour’s drive, I suppose, from the center of London…well, it depends on
traffic!…but Windsor is just a delightful little place, and some of you of
course will remember the fire in Windsor castle maybe ten years or so ago. And
when she is there, of course, she will worship at the church in Windsor castle.
And someone being the organist to that church would then be an organist for Her
Majesty the Queen.

Dr. Duncan: It’s the royal chapel in Windsor
castle — is that right?

Dr. Wymond: Yes, and the tune writer here, Elvey,
was the organist for that.

Dr. Duncan: Oh, it’s the tune writer, not Matthew
Bridges! I’m sorry. I misunderstood what you were saying.

Dr. Wymond: That’s OK. I’ll talk about that in a

Dr. Duncan: Well, let’s go right to that. Tell us
a little bit about the tune, then I’ll come back to Derek. I want to ask him
some things about the text.

Dr. Wymond: Well, that’s a logical connection
there. George Elvey, who wrote this tune, was actually baptized a Presbyterian —
got off to a good start there, I would say! — and then he later sang in the
choir of Canterbury Cathedral. And that probably doesn’t mean that much to us as
Americans, but the whole British system for training organists and directors
generally worked through the choir schools that they had associated with the
cathedrals, and many of the boys who sang in the choir also took organ lessons,
or they took conducting. And so this was just a natural school to train their
organists and their directors.

And so after he graduated from
college, he was hired as the organist for the Queen’s chapel at Windsor and he
stayed there 48 years. And because it is the chapel for the Queen, a lot of
important occasions happen at St. George’s Windsor. Most recently there were a
couple of royal weddings. I think Charles and Camilla were married there, were
they not? And earlier, his younger brother was married there. And so in Elvey’s
time, he played for the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter, Louise, and he was
knighted for that.

But the most important thing that
people say about him was that not only was he a good musician, but he was a
godly man and a kind person. And his personality was infused into his music and
music-making. And it’s a nice thing to know about this man, that he had such

The tune is a pretty straightforward tune, and
I wanted to say something about the meter of the tune, because I think that’s an
interesting subject. The poetic meter of the poem, rather, is designated as
S.M.D., and that’s just language that’s used by people who are interested in
meters of hymns to say that this was Short Meter that was doubled.

And there were three meters that
were so common that they were designated by the term Short Meter, or
Common Meter
, or Long Meter. And they could double them, and so on
like that, but these were so common that they were just designated that way.

And Short Meter means that
the poetic feet are counted out as …Crown Him with Many Crowns
is six feet; “Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns” is eight; and then, “all
music but its own” is six.

And then Common Meter…I
have to just go ahead and talk a minute about that, since it’s the most
common…had feet of, and all of the poems in that had footage so that
they would fit a tune like Dundee, which is one of the most familiar
Common Meter tunes. [Plays tune.] I just start that tune off to remind people.

And then, of the Long Meter
poems and tunes, probably the Old Hundredth is the most familiar
[Plays tune.] That’s a Long Meter one.

Now all this sounds kind of
esoteric in a way, but it’s a very practical thing to know because sometimes
there are words that are so good that we would like the congregation to be able
to sing them, but the tune may not be known or it may not seem very appropriate.
And so if one just goes back to the Metrical Index of the hymnal, in the back,
and looks up the meter of the words, and then finds a common tune that has that
meter, then one can take these unfamiliar words and put them to a Common Meter.
And I really recommend that to ministers who want to broaden the musical fabric
of their congregation. There are some churches that sing very few tunes — I call
them “maybe twelve tune congregations” — and especially if they’re in an area
where they don’t have a fulltime minister, they will sometimes not challenge
themselves. So this is a way that they can expand their repertoire.

Dr. Duncan: The name of this tune, Bill, is
. We were talking beforehand that there’s another tune in our
hymnal called Diadem. Tell them what diademata means, and let’s
talk a little bit about the hymn tunes.

Dr. Wymond: Well, it comes from the Greek, which
means crown. So the tune was actually written for this set of words and
it was given the term crown. And the tunes in the hymnal actually
have a name like that; the name may come from the text, it may come
from the street
on which this tune was written, it may come from a church
with which the poet was associated, it may be the name of the wife of the
, or it may just be some literary illusion.

But we often call the tune
by the set of words that we know it the best
, but actually it has a name
that lives beyond that, and so when we properly refer to tunes we ought to call
them by their tune name. Now, not many people know those. Our friend Terry
Johnson, I think, knows all the tune names! And he’s so much better at that than
I am.

But let me just say something
about this tune now in itself. I think it’s appropriate to the elevated text
that it has. It’s a very straightforward tune, it’s a simple tune,
it is recognizable from all other tunes, and it has some creativity.
And those are my four criteria for what I think is a good hymn tune.

Let me just remind us of this
tune [plays]. What I like about this tune is that it grows in its intensity as
you go through the words, and the words have a way of moving to the end with a
very exalted statement. So the way that it grows in its intensity is that
it starts moving up the scale, so you get higher and higher as you get
emotionally more intense
. And the third line goes [plays]….then it builds on
that…more emotion [plays]…and then the climax line [plays]. I think that’s a
tune that fits those words so well.

Dr. Duncan: And it’s got that regal English
“mojo” that just comes…you can tell you’re at the height of the empire at that
point in time. Queen Victoria is the queen when this tune is written.

I was looking in some of the
material we have, material that briefs us on this hymn that we try and study
ahead of time, and there’s a fascinating story told about the use of this hymn
on a special occasion. It was at the centenary thanksgiving service of the
London Bible Society held in November 1905 at Albert Hall. The presiding officer
was the Marquis of Northampton, and he had read congratulatory messages from all
of the Protestant rulers of Christendom, and then he said, “Now that we have
read these messages from earthly rulers, let us turn our minds to the King of
kings. We will sing Crown Him with Many Crowns.” And, boy, the tune and
the text would have matched that kind of an occasion!

Dr. Wymond: And especially in that hall! How many
does that seat, Derek? You and I have both heard concerts there before.

Dr. Thomas: Four or five thousand, I think.

Dr. Wymond: At least. It’s a wonderful place, and
there’s a very large, fine pipe organ in there that I’m sure sounded…

Dr. Thomas: It’s been renovated in the last couple
of years. There was a concert celebrating the new organ — I’m going to say last
year…and maybe the year before. I must have been in that hall fifty or sixty
times, I’m sure.

Dr. Wymond: Heard some wonderful…we’re kind of
getting off track here! Great emotions there.

Dr. Thomas: What is fascinating, though, is that
that occasion that you referred to, in 1905, was a time of celebration for
Protestant rulers, which then would have been (and still is) part of the British
establishment in regard to monarchy. They are the defenders of the faith. But
the Queen is the defender of the Protestant faith in law. I’m sure of some
debate at the time. But this hymn was written three years after his conversion
to Catholicism, in 1851, and he converted in 1848. And the original had a stanza
which has been dropped:

“Crown Him the virgin’s Son,

The God incarnate born,

Whose arm those crimson trophies

Which now His brow adorn.”

But then it goes on:

“Fruit of the mystic rose,

As of that rose the stem,

The root whence mercy ever flows,

The Babe of Bethlehem.”

And the objection was that Christ was
being subordinated there to the “mystic rose” and the stem of the rose was Mary.
So Mariolatry most definitely coming through in that stanza, and Victorian
sympathies of course being thoroughly opposed to that, that stanza was dropped.

Dr. Duncan: And doesn’t feature, I think, in any
hymnal that I’ve ever seen this hymn used. But the text of the rest of the hymn
is impeccably orthodox from a Protestant perspective. Let’s just walk through
each of the stanzas.

“Crown Him with many crowns,

The Lamb upon His throne;”

It’s an admission, it’s a celebration, it’s a declaration
of the lordship of Christ.

“Hark! How the heavenly anthem

All music but its own.”

Everything has to be subsumed under the headship of Christ.

“Awake, my soul, and sing

Of Him who died for thee,”

This again — I love when this happens in a hymn, where
suddenly the hymn writer and the singer starts talking or singing to himself, or
to ourselves. Here we’re exhorting ourselves not simply to see this spectacle of
the acknowledgment and the coronation of the Lord Jesus Christ in His lordship,
but to involve ourselves, to confess ourselves, to sing ourselves of Him who
died for thee…

“And hail Him as thy matchless

Through all eternity.”

Derek, any comments on that first stanza?

Dr. Thomas: Well, it’s just so uplifting, of
course, and it’s the way that it immediately throws you into the worship of
heaven. There’s something akin to that in the book of Revelation, that the
worship on earth reflects the worship in heaven; so that our Sunday morning
worship is a little glimpse of heavenly worship, not so much in the future, but
heavenly worship as it is taking place right now with angels and archangels and
cherubim and seraphim.

Dr. Duncan: So the first stanza represents
Christ’s kingship in general, and it does echo the language of Revelation 19:12
— “…on His head are many crowns”; and Revelation 22:1, and Revelation 5:11-14.
But it’s a celebration of the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Then we go through a series of three
attributions: “Crown Him the Lord of love,” in the second stanza; “Crown Him the
Lord of peace,” in the third stanza; “Crown Him the Lord of years,” in the
fourth stanza.

Now. There were six stanzas of
this hymn initially, as you have indicated. The second stanza is the one that
you were just telling us about which really, apart from Mariolatry, could simply
be read as referencing the Isaianic passages. But obviously those were read
through a particular grid in the Tractarian Movement in the nineteenth century.
But that’s the stanza typically omitted.

And the third stanza is omitted in our hymnal:
it’s “Crown Him the Son of God.” And it acknowledges His two natures. It
basically acknowledges a Chalcedonian Christology. So our second stanza in
The Trinity Hymnal
is really the fourth stanza of Matthew Bridges’ hymn, and
it’s a really good stanza:

“Crown Him the Lord of love;

Behold His hands and side,

Rich wounds, yet visible above,

In beauty glorified:

No angel in the sky can fully
bear that sight,

But downward bends his burning
eye at mysteries so bright.”

And it has a little bit of an echo of When I Survey the
Wondrous Cross
, Watts’ great hymn…

“Behold, His hands, His side.” It echoes that kind of
language of the glorified Savior who still bears in His body the wounds that He
received on Calvary. Thoughts on that, Derek?

Dr. Thomas: That worship must include an
appreciation not just of the presence of Christ among His people, but there must
be a transcendent aspect to worship. We’re in the presence of someone who is far
greater than we could ever imagine Him to be; and even the angels are bowing
down their eyes because they cannot take in the effulgence of the glory of

Dr. Wymond: And I love that reference in The
Revelation to the twenty and four elders bowing down and casting their crowns
before Christ, and it sort of makes me think about what our perspective and our
focus in heaven is going to be. A lot of times we sort of joke among ourselves
and say, “Now, when I get to heaven I’m going to look up Paul and ask this
question,” and all these other things that we are talking about settling. And I
think that we will just be absolutely overwhelmed when we see the majesty of
heavenly worship. And I like thinking about the fact that in our earthly worship
we want to try to capture, not in some dramatic way that points to us, but in
some way that points to Christ and His majesty.

Dr. Duncan: In the third stanza in our hymnal,
which is Bridges’ fifth stanza, you get a feel for the more flowery poetry of
the Victorian era as opposed to a hundred years earlier, the more simple or
plain style of writing in hymns:

“Crown Him the Lord of peace;

Whose power a scepter sways

From pole to pole, that wars may

Absorbed in prayer and praise:”

And then here it really gets flowery:

“His reign shall know so end;

And round His pierced feet

Flow flowers of paradise extend

Their fragrance ever sweet.”

That’s a very Victorian bit of poetry.

Dr. Thomas: And he’s living in Canada, part of the
British Empire that then ruled the world, and I imagine some of that is there.
And I can’t but imagine that when this was sung in the late nineteenth century,
especially in Britain and the Commonwealth, those ideas would naturally come to

Our Postmillennial friends, of course, see
something else here! “From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer
and praise,” which I doubt is what Matthew Bridges was thinking of, but it’s
more of the new heavens and new earth that’s in view.

Dr. Duncan: Bill?

Dr. Wymond: Well, we have now to sing Crown Him
with Many Crowns
, Victor Smith. Let us listen to Crown Him with Many

“Crown Him with many crowns, the
Lamb upon His throne;

Hark! How the heavenly anthem
drowns all music but its own:

Awake, my soul, and sing of Him
who died for thee,

And hail Him as thy matchless

Through all eternity.

“Crown Him the Lord of love;
behold His hands and side,

Rich wounds, yet visible above,
in beauty glorified:

No angel in the sky can fully
bear that sight,

But downward bends his burning

At mysteries so bright.

“Crown Him the Lord of peace;
whose power a scepter sways

From pole to pole, that wars may
cease, absorbed in power and praise:

His reign shall know no end; and
round His pierced feet

Fair flower of paradise extend

Their fragrance ever sweet.

“Crown Him the Lord of years,
the Potentate of time;

Creator of the rolling spheres,
ineffably sublime:

All hail, Redeemed, hail! For
Thou hast died for me:

Thy praise shall never, never

Throughout eternity.”

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