Hymns of the Faith
“For All the Saints”
A Presentation of
First Presbyterian Church
Dr. Ligon Duncan, Dr. Derek Thomas, and Dr. Bill
Dr. Wymond: Good morning! This is “Hymns of the
Faith,” brought to you by Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. The minister of
the First Presbyterian Church is Dr. Ligon Duncan. Stay tuned for “Hymns of the
Faith.” And now here with “Hymns of the Faith” is Dr. Ligon Duncan.
Dr. Duncan: Thank you, Bill Wymond. This is
“Hymns of the Faith,” and I’m Ligon Duncan with my good friend, Derek Thomas and
with Dr. Bill Wymond to discuss great hymns of the Christian faith.
The Christian faith is a singing
faith, and we have had a delightful time over the last number of months studying
together some of the greatest hymns of the last 1900 years. And today we are
looking at a hymn, the text of which was written in the 19th century;
and the tune that is probably most associated with this text now was written in
the early part of the 20th century by one of my favorite modern
composers. For All the Saints is the name of this hymn.
I guess, Derek, that this has come to be very
much associated, in our congregation, with funeral services. It’s very often
sung at services where Christian believers are being laid to rest, and their
families are singing with hope in their hearts about that which is to come. And
it’s a song which really stretches over the whole of the Christian life, looking
at the trials and tribulations and labors and struggles and all the way to the
end, the consummation–not only the coming of Christ but the establishment of his
reign. And it was written by a great Anglican bishop, William Walsham How.
Tell us a little bit about the background and the writer.
Dr. Thomas: Well, yes, I’d be glad to do that; but
before I do that…This is your favorite hymn.
You quote this a lot. And although this is a hymn that is
well-known to me, and I’ve sung it many, many times in Britain; it wasn’t until
I heard you quote it often that it become (for me) perhaps my most favorite hymn
now. I just think it spans a redemptive, historical timeline from the martyrs
and the apostles in one of the stanzas and all the way through to heaven, and
that gorgeous description of the saints marching into heaven.
Dr. Duncan: And describes Christian experience in
such an evocative way, including in some stanzas that we don’t have in our hymn
book that I’m sometimes jealous to sing.
Dr. Thomas: William Walsham How, lived almost,
spanned almost the entirety of the 19th century–a bishop. By all
accounts, a very archetypal Anglican bishop is how I think of him–sweet and
tender and a little portly, perhaps. I have no idea what weight he was, but
that’s my impression of William Walsham How. He was often called “the poor
Dr. Duncan: And there’s a reason for that.
Dr. Thomas: Because of his love and concern for
Dr. Duncan: He spent a great portion of his
ministry apparently laboring amongst the urban poor in his district.
Dr. Thomas: He was born in Shrewsbury.
Dr. Duncan: Which is where for people that don’t
know English geography? They’re in London…
Dr. Thomas: North Yorkshire, north of…Think All
Creatures Great and Small, if you can think of the veterinaries in All
Creatures Great and Small. There is Shrewsbury–It’s right there. Either
his mother or his father (and I haven’t been able to work this out)–but one of
them, I think, came from County Mayo; so there are Irish connections, of course
in the 19th century when Ireland was still part of Great Britain. He
was ordained in 1846. He had curacies in Kidderminster, which is the place, of
course, that we associate with…
Dr. Duncan: Richard Baxter. I didn’t know that.
I did not know that.
Dr. Thomas: And he became a rector in Whittington,
a rural dean in Oswestry (south of Manchester, north of Birmingham), and an
honorable–Is it an honorable canon of St. Asaph? These are all very famous…
Dr. Duncan: He’s moving up the, sort of the chain
of command in Anglican polity–from a smaller charge to larger charges and to
higher positions within those charges.
Dr. Thomas: Eventually moving to Bedford which
included east London and eventually became the bishop of Wakefield. It is said
that he was totally without ambition in the worldly sense–declined the offer of
the See of Manchester (position of bishop) without even mentioning it to his
wife. And later refused also one of the most distinguished posts in the
Anglican church, the bishopric of Durham, the third ranking bishopric, with an
income, it was said at least double and maybe treble of what he was currently
He was a master, it is said, of
the pastoral art. His bishop’s staff had engraved on it “Pasce verbo, Pasce
vita”–“Feed with the Word, Feed with the Life.” But it’s his hymns–and there
are many, many hymns that we associate with William Walsham How: Soldiers of
the Cross Arise, O Word of God Incarnate, We Give Thee but Thine Own. These
are all some of his hymns.
Dr. Duncan: And still sung today with great
appreciation. And this text is not only glorious but the tune that Ralph
Vaughan Williams wed to it is glorious.
Dr. Thomas: Well, yes if this is my favorite hymn,
certainly Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music would be very high up there for me,
quintessentially English. His nine symphonies–I think the 5th is my
favorite. His music to Pilgrim’s Progress (Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s
Progress) is a kind of opera. It’s not really an opera. His settings of
Walt Whitman’s poetry, which you don’t like…
Dr. Duncan: It’s not one of my favorite tunes.
Dr. Thomas: But this tune once heard is just
unforgettable. And I’m not sure why that is. I’m waiting to hear Bill Wymond
Dr. Duncan: Weigh in, Bill. Tell us about the
Dr. Wymond: Well, Ralph Vaughn Williams was
a master of melody as well as, I think, symphonic form. And, as you have said,
he is considered just quintessential English.
Dr. Thomas: And as we speak, I should add that
Ursula, his wife, died this week. I saw her obituary yesterday.
Dr. Duncan: When we were in London for the Furman
singers’ summer tour in 1981, several of our folks looked up Mrs. Vaughn
Williams in the phone book and rang her up and asked if they could just come by
and meet her. And she was very gracious to have these music students come by
her house and entertain them with tea and told them stories about her husband.
She was very, very gracious. I don’t know how old she would have been there.
She wrote some of the libretto for some of his pieces. And, of course, I love
his Christmas piece, Hodie
Dr. Wymond: Well, what I was thinking was that his
interest in the folk songs of Great Britain which he collected assiduously and
also his interest in specifically carol tunes. He published a whole book of
those with Gustaf Holst. Probably all of these things informed his tune
writing. But what is interesting to me about this tune is it is very much a 20th
century tune. It’s not contemporary in the sense that it has unusual
harmonies or odd intervals or anything like that. But compared to the tune
that was first wedded to these words, it is so very strong. I’m going to play
just a little bit of…
Dr. Thomas: Before you play the first note, it
comes in on the second beat. Is that right? I mean the organ always plays a
note and then you sing.
Dr. Wymond: There’s a down beat, and then you
come in. So it doesn’t come in on the strong beat, but I think maybe
that’s because he wanted to emphasize the word “saint”–“for all the
saints,” and that comes on the first beat of the measure which is the
And so let me just do a little bit of this
tune. And I want to compare it to the tune that originally it was sung to.
That’s a little strong.
continues to play.]
So that is the tune of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
But let me show you what it originally was sung to. This
is a Joseph Barnby tune.
Wymond plays tune.]
I won’t do the whole tune. Very 19th century; very “Barnby,” because
he is the one wrote Now the
Day is Over. And his tunes
are very safe and not really exciting.
Dr. Duncan: Not to say bor-ing!
Dr. Wymond: But Vaughan Williams’ tune is
wonderful. And it is not particularly easy. Congregations take a while to
learn this tune, partly because of that down beat. That always throws them
until they get used to that. And it has a pretty big stretch of intervals.
It goes at least an octave or more, but the tone is so marshal and so
uplifting that once a congregation gets hold of the tune then it becomes one of
Dr. Duncan: Bill, in the left-hand, there is a
running, flowing marshal line. Play that for us.
Dr. Wymond: There is a marching line:
And I have to tell you when you play this on the organ, it’s fun to do that
because you can slightly detach that and add to the effect and the feeling of
marching right along and progressing…
Dr. Duncan: Right. But it flows all through, and
it’s almost connected–As you cycle through each of the stanzas there is a
connectedness to it. It’s almost like that line keeps on going even though you
have this very, at some points, almost a syncopated feel in the right hand. You
have this very steady thing going on in the left hand. And it does give that
feel of a march which I think is so appropriate to the text, because you are
walking through the whole. You’re marching through the whole of the Christian
life all the way to the consummation. And so the very motion that’s going in
the left hand gives you that feel.
Dr. Wymond: I agree with you. And it propels the
song on and is the connecting musical link, I think, to keep it moving so that
this makes a wonderful procession. And so often is sung as the first hymn or
even an entrance hymn at funerals.
Dr. Duncan: So true. Now tell us why does it
have a 20th century sound to it? I mean you’ve given us a
musical demonstration of a very standard kind of Victorian 19th
century English hymn or tune and this one. But tell us why does it have a 20th
Dr. Wymond: Well, I don’t want to over-dramatize
this, but it is sort of daring in the way that it starts, because it starts
on a high note and descends down the scale.
[Dr. Wymond plays tune.]
And it has such a memorable and
strong tune to it as well, that that is more adventuresome than the (as I had
already said) Victorian hymns which proceeded it which were very safe
melodically–or the very strong corral tunes which do have a boldness about
them but generally don’t have these very large leaps, or do not ascend and
descend down the scale the way that this particular one does.
Dr. Duncan: Now Vaughan Williams had–I mean he
had an agenda in writing hymns. He had some complaints with some of the tunes
that were wed to what he thought were outstanding texts in the Anglican
hymnals. And he wanted to contribute some tunes that would be of a matching
quality to those outstanding texts. And he felt like that there were a number
of tunes that were being utilized that were not sort of showcasing the text or
helping the text or helping the congregational singing in the way that they
ought to. And so this is one of those tunes that he wrote to try to improve
sort of what tunes were being used in Anglican hymnody.
Dr. Wymond: I think that the hymn originally was
probably published around 1864. I’m not sure of that date. But then
Vaughan Williams contributed this tune when he was putting together a new hymnal
around 1906. So this is an early 20th century tune.
But the thing that sort of
fascinates me about this is that he would have such a zeal for hymns, because
(as we know) Ralph Vaughan Williams didn’t manifest a real interest in the life
of the church. He loved the music of the church and liked to write music for
the church, but didn’t seem himself to want to partake much.
Dr. Duncan: And that really is remarkable. It’s
always struck me that this has happened from time to time where composers
show an uncanny ability in their selection of text to grasp exactly the
theological thing that you would want to emphasize, even though they themselves
are not invested. They don’t personally embrace that theology. Yet
they are extremely gifted from an artistic standpoint. They are musically
gifted, and they are able to wed that text with just what it needs in order to
emphasize the very thing that a consecrated Christian would want to emphasize.
And Vaughan Williams is one of the very first ones that comes to mind when I
think about that phenomenon. I’m not sure that I can explain it, but I
certainly see that happening over and over in musical history.
Dr. Wymond: Well, I think that there might be two
explanations and you certainly can check me on this. One of them is common
grace–that God gives great gifts of music both to the believer and the
non-believer. The rain rains on everyone, you know, graciously. So he
gives these gifts, and even unbeknownst to them (or sometimes beknownst) their
gifts are used for his service in the church. And so I would argue that even
though he did not manifest an interest in Christianity that his gifts came from
God and were used in spite of him; and therefore we ought to accept these as
gifts to ourselves for worship.
Dr. Duncan: Surely that’s true. Even as you
spoke, I though too–no doubt Vaughan Williams himself was the benefactor of a
tremendous musical legacy that had been bequeathed to him by the church in his
own experience growing up in England. I mean in England there is–you know even
today you have the hymns program on the BBC, and that lots of people that never
darken the door of a church.
Dr. Thomas: Sure, sure. And, of course, he was
educated in Trinity College, Cambridge where as an undergraduate he would have
been attending worship services with one imagines choirs singing the Cranmerian
texts (from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer). And then at the Royal College of Music
in London–And there are Stanford and Perry–all are noted again for writing music
for the church to some extent–Perry especially. And I suppose there is that
love for–and this text is the te deum behind it. And part of Cranmer’s
liturgy had prayers for the martyrs and the evangelists and the apostles and so
on. And they appear, not in all the stanzas that we sing, but in the original
text of this hymn. So it was a classic text that stood behind this hymn; so
Dr. Duncan: Well, that–certainly that–but I was
just thinking too of the musical legacy that he had absorbed. I mean not only
as an outstanding musician but just as someone nominally attending Anglican
services in those days. You would have been treated to–you know, all the way
from those incredible Elizabethan pieces of music that would have been sung
certainly in the larger churches and cathedrals in England, but there was a rich
musical heritage. And I think that’s one reason why he felt that some of the
late 19th century stuff fell short of the quality that it ought to
have risen to in light of the longer history of English hymnody and of English
church music. And so not only do you have outstanding musicians–and those like
Perry who himself was writing fairly daring tunes for his time. But you just
have this legacy of the church. It does remind us, doesn’t it, of some of the
residue that Christianity gives to a culture even if the culture doesn’t embrace
the fullness of the gospel. There are all sorts of side benefits that are being
given to a culture, and in this case it came back and benefited the church, I
Dr. Wymond: I think so, and one of the last things
to go in a liturgical church, for instance, would be historic liturgy based in
the Scriptures and based on good solid theology. So a church may have long ago
abandoned a belief in orthodox Christianity but still every Sunday members will
hear that Christianity because of the retention of the text.
Dr. Duncan: And be tremendously attached to it,
as well. The text–we’ve been referring to the text over and over, but we
haven’t given you many of the words of it. So I do want to draw attention to
just a few of the stanzas, because there is some extraordinary lines in this
It begins “For all the saints who
from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, Thy name,
O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!” And so it is a hymn of
thanksgiving to God for the saints–for all the saints. And it stresses–It
stretches through the whole earth, and as you said, Derek, it takes the root of
the te deum–taking us all the way back to the apostles and the prophets
and the martyrs and all the way up through today and our own struggles, and then
points us to the great consummation and the coronation of Jesus Christ. And who
better to write a coronation piece than an Englishman! I mean there’s no one
that does pomp and circumstance better.
And so you move through–“Thou was
their rock, their fortress, and their might; Thou, Lord, their Captain in the
well-fought fight,”–Another of my favorite lines in the hymn. You are reminded
of that Hebrews- theidea of the Captain of our salvation in that passage in
Jesus Christ —“Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia!
Alleluia! 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!
A stanza, that is not found in
our hymnal, reminds us that when our arms are weak from battle, that stills in
our ear a distant triumph song, and hearts are strong again, and arms are
strong. It’s a beautiful picture of the way certain truths that the Scriptures
tell us–that we learn in the gospel–strengthen us for the fight.
The final two stanzas are among
the most uplifting in modern hymnody. “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!”
And so he’s asking you to picture
the scene of consummation in which the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, is marching
in triumphal procession in victory in that great day.
And then he finally describes
that scene with these words: “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!” “Praise to the Lord!” those words
say from Latin, out of the Hebrew.
And so it’s a tremendously
uplifting hymn. It’s no wonder that Christians love to sing this hymn at
funerals when they are thinking of the last things; when they are thinking of
their departed loved ones. But it’s also a hymn, I think, that instills in us a
tremendous energy and comfort for the living of these days as we fight our
battles in the Christian life.
Dr. Thomas: I like it too, because it’s a very
Puritan, Buyan-esque theme, masculine, Mr. Great-Heart going to do battle.
There’s a stanza that’s missing in our own version of it. “And when the strife
is fierce, the warfare long; stills on the ear the distant triumph song, and
hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. Alleluia! Alleluia!” And those
lines are, from a literary point of view, so evoking of all kinds of things–and
Lord of the Rings comes into mind. But that depiction of Christianity as
Dr. Duncan: Mr. Great-Heart and the sword that’s
cleaving to his hand that we’ve just recently covered as we’ve gone through the
second part of Pilgrim’s Progress.
Dr. Thomas: Right. And as Mr.Valiant for Truth is
on the edge of the river, he hears the triumph song from the other side–the
horns of victory. And I just think that’s a very masculine, but also biblical
portrayal, of what the Christian life is.
Dr. Duncan: Let’s hear this great hymn, Bill.
Dr. Wymond: This morning singing For All the
Saints, we have the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge.
“For all the saints who from their labors 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
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
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.