Reginald Heber

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WE know most of our hymn-writers best by some particular hymn of their composition, despite the fact that they wrote many others perhaps of equal merit. So it is with Reginald Heber; his name is usually linked in our thoughts with his "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," though he wrote other hymns of equal, if not superior, merit.
He was born at Malpas, in Cheshire, England, April 21, 1783. His father was a clergyman of the church of England; the boy had fine chances for education, and early displayed marked abilities for composition. At Oxford, he took prize after prize during a most brilliant career of literary success.
He heartily entered the ministry, and began to preach at Hodnet in 1807. In 1822 he was invited to the important and honorable pulpit of Lincoln's Inn, but the next year he was appointed Bishop of Calcutta, and sailed at once for his new field of labor, in which he entered with a fervor and zeal that quickly consumed him in that tropical climate, so different from that of his native England. His career in that foreign land was brief, for he was called to rest from his labors April 3, 1826—less than three years from the time of his arrival in India. Actively engaged in the performance of his duties, he became over-heated in the high temperature, and was found dead in his bath from a stroke of apoplexy.
His majestic "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" is accorded great literary merit. It was published with others of his hymns in 1827, and "the tune to which it is now invariably sung, `Nicæa,' composed expressly for it by Dr. Dykes, has given it a matchless glory." Nicæa, in Asia Minor, was the city in which the great Council was held in A. D. 325, when the doctrine of Christ's eternal Sonship and equality with the Father was settled as the creed of the churches; the doctrine of the Holy Trinity also, which the Arians had attacked, was established at the same time. Hence the name of "Nicæa" was given to this grand Trinity Anthem.
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning let songs arise to Thee!
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! all Thy saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the
glassy sea,
Cherubim and seraphim falling clown before Thee,
Which, wert, and art, and evermore shalt be!
Holy, holy, holy! clouds no longer hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not
see!
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,—
Perfect in pow'r, 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!”
An interesting account is given of the circumstances in which Heber's best-known hymn, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains" was written. Dr. Shipley (Heber's father-in-law) was to preach a sermon in aid of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," and as they sat together with friends in the vicarage, Dr. Shipley asked Heber, "Write something for us to sing at our morning service." Heber retired from the table where they sat and wrote in another part of the room. A short time after Dr. Shipley asked, "And what have you written?”
Heber had already composed the first three stanzas, and read them. "There, that will do," exclaimed Dr. Shipley. "No, no," replied Heber; "the sense is not complete," and went to add the fourth and final stanza. Thus like a few other celebrated compositions, it was written, not by long and labored effort, but on the inspiration of the moment, giving it a character all its own. Unlike most other famous hymns, this has suffered no alterations from its original wording, and we hope it never will.
It was Heber's wish during his life-time to have his hymns published so as to cover the whole Christian Year, something after the manner of Keble. But he could not induce those in authority to consent to it. Dr. C. S. Robinson has remarked, "It seems strange to us that the poetry of such a man should have to wait for a fitting recognition until after his death." His biographer relates how he earnestly endeavored, though in vain, to persuade Archbishop Manners Sutton, and afterward the Bishop of London, to authorize the publication of his work, then in manuscript, but he could not even induce them to consent to the use of some of his compositions in the regular services of the church. "The whole collection is now found, however," says the biographer, "in the hymnals of all the churches on both sides of the sea, with a wideness of welcome altogether unique in the history of compilation.”
So much for human authority in divine things; the choicest and finest is judged, by those appointed by man as ecclesiastical "superiors," as unfit for publication or use in the churches; and it is left to others of less pretentions to recognize and make use of that which the great Head of the Church evidently intended for its edification.
Another hymn of world-wide celebrity, "All hail the power of Jesus' name!" by Perronet, had a similar experience of initial rejection, and afterward of unbounded popularity. When first offered for the Church's acceptance it was refused a place in the Methodist collection. The secret of its refusal is told in a note, as follows: "The Wesleys had a singular antipathy against the author, in common with the clergy of the Established Church.
Well need those who would serve their God to give heed to the exhortation of His Word, "Cease ye from man whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?”
(Isa. 2:2222Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of? (Isaiah 2:22)). Had not God preserved the truth, and had human authority or worldly wisdom in divine things prevailed, the Church had ceased a great while ago to retain even its imperfect present day resemblance to the model given of it in the New Testament. And had not our Savior and Head watched over His Church, and declared, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it," where would it be to-day?
The tune, "Missionary Hymn," to which "From Greenland's icy Mountains," is universally sung in the United States, has also an interesting history, which is thus given: "In Savannah, Georgia, a lady received in 1823 a copy of the words, sent her from England. She was arrested by the beauty of the poetry, but the meter, 7, 6, 7, 6, D, was almost new then, and there was no tune which would fit the measure. A young clerk, Lowell Mason by name, was in a bark just a few doors away. It was said he had the gift for making beautiful songs, and she sent her son to this genius in music. In half an hour he returned with this composition. Like the hymn it voices, it was done at one impulse, but will last through the ages. Lowell Mason became the leading spirit for sacred music in the American church." He was born in Medfield, Mass., Jan. 8, 1792, and died in Orange, N. J., August 11, 1872.
Lord, Thou Knowest That I Love Thee—by Reginald Heber
Though sorrows rise and dangers roll
In waves of darkness o'er my soul;
Though friends are false, and love decays,
And few and evil are my days;
Though conscience, fiercest of my foes,
Swells with remembered guilt my woes;
Yet ev'n in nature's utmost ill,
I love Thee, Lord, I love Thee still!
Though Sinai's curse, in thunder dread,
Peals o'er mine unprotected head,
And memory points, with busy pain,
To grace and mercy given in vain,
Till, nature, shrinking in the strife,
Would fly to hell to 'scape from life;
Though every thought has power to kill,
I love Thee, Lord, I love Thee still!
Oh, by the pangs Thyself hath borne,
The ruffian's blow, the tyrant's scorn,
By Sinai's curse, whose dreadful doom
Was buried in Thy guiltless tomb;
By these my pangs whose healing smart,
Thy grace hath planted in my heart—
I know, I feel, Thy bounteous will,
Thou lov'st me, Lord, Thou lov'st me still'