Radio Series: Hymns of the Faith: Hymns of the Faith: To God Be the Glory

by Bill Wymond, Derek Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan on September 7, 2008

Download Audio

Hymns of the Faith

“To God Be the Glory”

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.”… Here with “Hymns of the Faith” is Dr. Ligon Duncan.

Dr. Duncan: Thank you, Bill Wymond! It is a
delight to be with you and with Derek Thomas this morning on “Hymns of the

We move maybe as far into the modern era of hymnody
as we’ve been in some time on “Hymns of the Faith,” and it seems like we’ve been
sort of plunging into some of the riches of the sixteenth and seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries mostly. Now we come to a hymn the text and tune of which
were written in the late nineteenth century, right on the beginning of the last
quarter of the late nineteenth century, 1875.

But as we were talking off-air before we came on, the
text and tune to this hymn probably didn’t become popular in the United States
until the 1950’s through the Billy Graham Crusades. And I’m talking about — and
this may surprise a lot of people, because my guess is there will be a lot of
people here who have been singing this hymn all of their life and they can’t
imagine a time when it wasn’t popular — it’s the hymn To God Be the Glory.
It’s a very famous Fanny Crosby hymn, but I’m told by the experts that it
didn’t catch on until Ira Sankey started using it in the Dwight Moody Crusades
in Britain, and so it caught on in Britain first, and then when Billy Graham
started using it in his Crusades in the 1950’s, it caught on in America. Bill
Wymond, you were telling us (and you can elaborate on this later) that you can
remember it catching on as a young man in Louisville, Kentucky, when Billy
Graham was doing his Crusades.

Dr. Wymond: And I suspect that Billy Graham ran
into it in Britain perhaps, because he had his early ‘50’s Crusades there, and
maybe that’s where he heard it.

Dr. Duncan: Bill, there will be so many people
who immediately know when I say To God Be the Glory what tune we’re
talking about, but let’s go ahead and play the hymn for them, and then everybody
will have it ringing in their ears as we talk about it. [Dr. Wymond plays.]

Bill, this is one of those…the tune in so many ways
is typical of late nineteenth century, and I guess on our team I’m kind of the
late nineteenth century curmudgeon and complain about late nineteenth century
hymn tunes, but I actually like this hymn tune a lot. But maybe it would be
helpful for you to talk a little bit about refrains and choruses, because late
nineteenth century hymns really liked to use refrains and choruses. Surely there
was a psychology behind that that was a part of the evangelical movement for
using that. Maybe you could opine about that for a little bit.

Dr. Wymond: Well, I think that these are
somewhat like certain folksongs, we could say, of the nineteenth century. They
became the people’s hymns, the folk hymns of the time
, and choruses were a
feature of them. They were more rhythmically active. They had a lot of dotted
notes in them, just like this chorus…[plays]…not that there weren’t
dotted notes in earlier music, but certain kinds of dotted notes and choruses
were one of the chief features of these
. I think it was just a
reinforcement of the simple idea of the hymn, that they would come back with a
chorus and give an extra punch
, as it were, with the main thought of the

This hymn
is in ѕ time, and you can’t have a sad hymn (or it’s hard to have a sad hymn!)
in ѕ time, because that’s the dance rhythm, the waltz rhythm
And so immediately when you have a hymn in that meter
you know that it’s going to be a happy hymn

And this starts off very joyfully [plays]…easy
intervals…repetition…resolution…then exhortation: “Praise the Lord, praise the
Lord….” And I don’t need to continue on with that, but that’s sort of the
pattern to that hymn.

Dr. Duncan: One question comes into mind. I know
in the case of Arthur Sullivan, in a number of his hymns that have choruses, it
makes sense that a man who wrote songs for little operettas that had choruses
that would have a chorus feature; it also strikes me though, that in the United
States you see the same tendency in the late nineteenth century. A lot of people
that were using the feature of verse followed by refrain or repeated chorus
probably would not have encouraged people to go to the theater or to go hear
those things either; and yet, there seems to be a musical influence of a style
that was common in the popular culture on the church culture. I may be totally
wrong in that supposition, but I just find that interesting.

Dr. Wymond: I think you’re right. If you think
about the Stephen Foster songs, the secular songs of the earlier time of the
nineteenth century, there are parallels musically
. A lot of the folks who
wrote these tunes were on the frontier in America. They were not in New York or
Boston so much — even though the poet here was. But the musicians were out in
Ohio and Kentucky and places like that where the music wouldn’t have been as

Dr. Duncan: You know we could talk about Fanny
Crosby until the cows come home, and we may have the opportunity to do that
today, but I wanted to ask Derek something because this hymn captures one of the
things that I know that you really like about late nineteenth century hymnody,
and I am in entire agreement with you about it, and that is there is a joy
and an exuberance about salvation and Christian experience that just exudes in
the text of this song
. And the melody, the tune itself sort of catches that.
There’s a deep gratitude for the saving grace of God to us; there’s an almost
direct quotation of John 3:16

Derek, talk about why you think that’s important in
the late nineteenth century hymns and why it’s something that we maybe miss out
on today in some of the emphases that we get maybe in the more Reformed

Dr. Thomas: Well, we talked on a previous occasion
(I imagine several previous occasions) about the importance of singing the
Psalms. And one of the things you get when singing the Psalms is you get the
whole gamut of Christian affections and states of mind and states of heart and
soul, so great joy and great sorrow.

One of the features I think of late nineteenth
century hymns is that they do tend to be upbeat and joyful and full of assurance
Now that can be a good thing, and it can also be a bad thing. I do think that
the expectation of the New Testament is that one ought to have assurance; and I
want to add a quick rider to the fact that true believers can lose assurance,
and I think that our worship must occasionally reflect that so that somebody who
comes to worship who, because of circumstances or trials, may not have the kind
of assurance that this particular song reflects. You don’t want that person to
go away thinking they may not be believers. I think that worship has to be
careful to have an all round addressing of Christian affections.

I don’t know if that’s where you wanted me to go, but
I wouldn’t want to sing this kind of hymn every day exclusively. It would be
like having dessert for morning breakfast, dinner, and supper — which would be
OK for me for a while, because I do love desserts and have been known at church
suppers to eat the dessert first! But you know, one just loves this hymn not
only because of its upbeat and very singable tune.

I actually do like on occasion the use of these
choruses. I’ve been thinking as you two have been talking about the importance
of on occasion singing choruses, because you don’t have to think quite so hard
about a chorus (because you know the words so well) and you can actually give
it…it can actually minister to you in a way that sometimes when you’re
concentrating on what the next word is, you’re not able to.

Dr. Duncan: And you can find it sticking in your
ears hours and hours later. You know, you’ll be walking down the hall and
suddenly that chorus will be ringing in your ears and then you’ll sort of listen
to it and think about the words.

Dr. Wymond: You know, the composer of this tune,
William Doane
, composed another hymn that is assurance related that we know
very well: I Am Thine, O Lord. Kind of the same rhythm… [plays]…

Dr. Thomas: And that’s a Fanny Crosby….

Dr. Wymond: Yes. So he wrote Rescue the
, he wrote Near the Cross [you hear the lilt in that], and
More Love to Thee, O Christ… [it’s a little bit more sober tune there,
but anyway…]

He wrote over two thousand tunes.
And I was just thinking as you were talking also about the fact that America
was just not sophisticated musically. They were on the East coast somewhat, as I
but generally there had not been music education in America. So
the level of the musical understanding was not as sophisticated as it would have
been in Great Britain during the same time, for instance.

Dr. Thomas: There’s something to be said in
worship…. We sang on Sunday morning, last Sunday morning, a hymn — I think it
was the opening hymn — where I didn’t need the hymnbook, I knew the words so
well. I love being able to sing without a hymnbook. You just know it and you
enter into the spirit of the hymn in a way that…

Dr. Wymond: [Plays “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”]

Dr. Duncan and Dr. Thomas: That’s what it was!

Dr. Duncan: I agree with you one hundred percent.

Dr. Thomas: And occasionally with a hymn like
this, one knows this hymn so well and knows the words of this hymn so well you
don’t need a hymnbook.

Dr. Duncan: Jim Boice had virtually memorized all
the hymns that they sang at Tenth Pres, and whenever R.C. Sproul was there, if
R.C. sneaked a peek at the hymnal, Jim would nudge him and wink at him and sort
of tease him about it because R.C. has a prodigious memory!

But Jim Boice sang everything…he
would hold his hymnal in his hand with his finger at the place in the hymnal
where the hymn tune is, and sort of rock back and forth on his feet with the
hymnbook down to his side. But he would sing it with exuberance. I don’t know
whether he was a very good singer at all, but he loved to sing and he had the
words memorized. And it is a great blessing to know the words by heart of the
songs that you are singing.

I want to ask you something about the first line,
Derek, because we were talking about this off-air. It may take us a few moments
to tease it out. The editors of The Trinity Hymnal, wanting to be good
Calvinists and wanting not to be accused of opening the door for a universal
doctrine of the atonement, changed a word in the opening stanza to:

“To God be the glory, great
things He has done!

So loved He the world that He
gave us His Son,

Who yielded His life an
atonement for sin,

And opened the life-gate….”

And then everybody who’s out
there in the listening audience is waiting for the final line. You know what it
is: “That all may go in.” But that’s not the way it’s written in The
Trinity Hymnal
. It’s changed to “that we may go in.” Now Derek, you
have an opinion about that, and I think I share it. So go ahead, spill the
beans! [Laughter]

Dr. Thomas: Well, first of all, now when I sing
this hymn I try to close my eyes on that line because I’m tempted to look around
and see who’s singing “all” and who’s singing “we”! [Laughter] And I
guess for those listeners who don’t sing this from The Trinity Hymnal,
they may not even know that this edition of this hymn actually exists. And of
course part of the problem for Calvinists is the doctrine of limited atonement,
or particular redemption: that Christ died not for everybody, but that atonement
was made for the elect and for the elect only. Now you either accept that
doctrine or you don’t, but assuming that one does accept that doctrine (and I
do, and I do so unapologetically), I have a suspicion that the editors would
also have edited John 3:16! [Laughter] Because after all it does say
“God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but
have everlasting life.” God so loved the world.

Dr. Wymond: Okay, Derek! Let me interrupt you just
a minute! You said that Christ died for the elect. Why do you say that,
and what’s the benefit of understanding that, just in a word?

Dr. Thomas: Well, one argument would be double
jeopardy, or double justice: that if Jesus died and by His death propitiated the
sins of every single human being that ever was or shall be, bore the covenant
anathema of God and retribution that that sin deserves (which is what we mean
when we say that Jesus died on the cross for me), if He died for every single
individual that ever was and ever shall be — myself, you, Hitler, Mussolini, Idi
Amin, Pol Pot, whoever — then if the unbeliever is judged for his sins on the
Day of Judgment, as we believe he will be, that sin is being punished twice.
It’s already been punished at the cross; it’s also going to be punished at the
Day of Judgment, and you have the classic case of double jeopardy, of double

Dr. Duncan: Let me say this. I think that both of
you… Our interest in this, however, is not to try and indoctrinate our
non-Calvinistic friends into our particular view of things here as much as to
actually explain something that we don’t want to convey. And I think a
lot of our non-Calvinistic friends might hear us singing “that we may go in” and
think that we think there are going to be fewer people in heaven than all those
who believe in Christ.

I think it’s very important for
us to state as Calvinists that we believe that every last individual who has
ever lived, lives now, and will ever live, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ
is going to be in heaven, whether their theological views are exactly the same
as ours on the doctrine of the atonement or not.

Dr. Thomas: I like to say to my students at the
seminary that exactly the same number are saved by the Calvinistic scheme as
there are by the Arminian scheme.

Dr. Duncan: Yes. And that means that this
discussion for Calvinists is about the issue of what Christ’s death
accomplished. Did it make people “saveable”, or did it actually save people? So
it’s not about getting fewer people saved; it’s about helping those who are
saved understand the complete sufficiency of Christ’s death to accomplish their

Dr. Thomas: And the editing here actually shifts
the meaning, I think, significantly, and I think shifts the meaning of John 3:16

Dr. Duncan: Right.

Dr. Thomas: Now, my understanding of John 3:16 is
that God so loved the world — namely, in a sense He loves everybody to some
degree. He loves some savingly and others He does not. He loves all kinds of
people. There is no ethnic divide. Let me just take that as an issue, and that’s
a very, very important issue for us in Jackson, Mississippi. And to be able to
say the gospel is for Caucasians, it’s for African-Americans, it’s for Latin
Americans, it’s for the Chinese…every people group, every ethnicity…God
loves the world in that sense, and “opened the life-gate” that all kinds of
people may go in. And it’s an evangelistic statement

Dr. Duncan: Yes, and in the context of the New
Testament it was a revolutionary declaration in the context of Jewish
particularism where there would have been very many devout Jewish people who
believed that it was necessary to be a Jew in order to be saved. And the New
Testament declaration is invariably that whether you are Jew or Greek or slave
or free or male or female, if your trust is in Jesus Christ you are saved.

Dr. Thomas: Well, the refrain as the editors have
done it doesn’t quite fit, because the refrain is going to say: “Praise the
Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice” whereas I’ve just
been saying ‘Thank You, Lord, for saving me’…. ‘let the earth then
rejoice’! And rather I think what the poem is saying is God loves all kinds of
people in all the world.

Dr. Duncan: And there’s a missionary intent to
it, isn’t there? Our hearts are to be enlarged and to desire the whole world to
come to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

Dr. Thomas: …so that this is a great missionary
hymn as originally written.

Dr. Duncan: Yes. And let’s just say that the best
of Calvinists over time have had a very big missionary heart, a heart for the
world. In fact, the modern missionary movement in
the English-speaking world began with Calvinistic Baptists and Calvinistic
Anglicans and Calvinistic Presbyterians sending their sons and daughters off to
Africa and India to die.

Dr. Thomas: And actually, in my naughtier moments
when I’ve been standing next to somebody whose Reformed and Calvinistic
credentials are unquestionable, have loved to sing “all” right there! [Laughter]
But it’s a great hymn.

Dr. Duncan: Let’s walk through the rest of the
stanzas, because even as it opens on this very happy note of praising God and
giving Him glory for the salvation that He has accomplished through the atoning
work of Jesus Christ — and isn’t it wonderful to have a hymn that’s glorying in
the atoning work of Christ!

We have so many Christians
even who call themselves evangelicals today that don’t like us to talk about the
doctrine of the atonement.
Here’s a hymn that’s just exuberant in its praise
to God for the doctrine of the atonement.

And then in the second stanza, that’s only

“O perfect redemption! The
purchase of blood!

To every believer the promise of

The vilest offender who truly

That moment from Jesus
forgiveness receives.”

That’s a line that every Calvinist has absolutely no
reservation about affirming, and that again is I think another reason why you’re
going to have to change the “all” to the “we” in the first stanza. That second
stanza says everything that a Calvinist wants to say. Derek?

Dr. Thomas: Well, I think it’s so important to
emphasize — perhaps in our circles, particularly — the doctrine of regeneration,
the doctrine of being born again, the doctrine that in believing in Jesus “…that
moment from Jesus forgiveness receives.” The absolute need to exercise faith in
Jesus Christ: I think that’s important to preach and I think that’s important to
sing about.

Dr. Duncan: Yes. And then, the final stanza I
think so appropriately culminating with the affirmation that as great as these
things are, as great as the things are that God has taught us, as great as the
things are that He has done, as great as our rejoicing is in Jesus Christ the
Son, there will be something greater. And that is when we see Jesus.

Dr. Thomas: Well, again the redactor has been
present! The editor has been present, because the original said, “And purer and
higher and greater will be our wonder our rapture when Jesus we see.” And
the editor has changed rapture to transport. Perhaps you can
elaborate on that.

Dr. Duncan: Then again, this is sort of a…you
might call it a malapropism, or you might just call it a double entendre,
that the term rapture certainly has been associated in Presbyterian
circles in the twentieth century with a view of theology that teaches that
there’s going to be a secret rapture of the saints before the millennium begins.
Now Fanny Crosby had no intention whatsoever of…

Dr. Thomas: Actually I remember Professor John
Murray, whose Reformed credentials are impeccable, I remember him at a Banner of
Truth Conference in Leicester in England saying about this very word rapture
here, that it was a perfectly good word.

Dr. Duncan: A perfectly good word, and it is. But
I think that was just to remove potential offense from the Reformed ilk in the
congregation singing this. Well, enough talk about this great hymn. Bill Wymond,
let’s hear To God Be the Glory.

“To God be the glory, great
things He has done!

So loved He the world that He
gave us His Son,

Who yielded His life an
atonement for sin,

And opened the life-gate that we
may go in.


“Praise the Lord, praise the
Lord, let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord, praise the
Lord, let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father through
Jesus the Son,

And give Him the glory, great
things He has done!”

“O perfect redemption! The
purchase of blood!

To every believer the promise of

The vilest offender who truly

That moment from Jesus
forgiveness receives.


“Great things He has taught us,
great things He has done,

And great our rejoicing through
Jesus the Son;

But purer and higher and greater
will be

Our wonder, our transport, when
Jesus we see.


Dr. Wymond: We have heard Victor Smith singing
To God Be the Glory.
This has been “Hymns of the Faith,” brought to you by
Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church.

Print This Post