Text: John Newton (1725-1807) Tune: Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) or Cyril Taylor (1907-1991)
1 Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God! He, whose word cannot be broken, Form'd thee for his own abode: On the rock of ages founded, What can shake thy sure repose? With salvation's walls surrounded, Thou may'st smile at all thy foes. 2 See the streams of living waters Springing from eternal love, Well supply thy sons and daughters, And all fear of want remove: Who can faint while such a river Ever flows thy thirst t' assuage? Grace, which like the Lord, the giver, Never fails from age to age. 3 Round each habitation hovering, See the cloud and fire appear! For a glory and a covering, Shewing that the Lord is near: Thus deriving from their banner, Light by night and shade by day; Safe they feed upon the manna Which he gives them when they pray. 4 Blest inhabitants of Zion, Wash'd in the Redeemer's blood! Jesus, whom their souls rely on, Makes them kings and priest to God: 'Tis his love his people raises Over self to reign as kings, And as priests, his solemn praises Each for a thank-offering bring. 5 Savior, if of Zion's city I thro' grace a member am; Let the world deride or pity, I will glory in thy name: Fading is the worldling's pleasure, All his boasted pomp and show! Solid joys and lasting treasure, None but Zion's children know.
Transfiguration Sunday is the brightest Sunday in Epiphany. The light from the manger and the wisemen seems to grow brighter and brighter through the season. Now Jesus is standing on a mountain with Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, shining brighter than anything the disciples have seen. Luke has it that they were heavy with sleep, like they were in Jesus’ darkest moment as he is praying in Gethsemane.
We can imagine the terror that must have leveled the disciples. Although they had hints of Jesus’ divinity, now they saw it in the fullest glory flesh could bear. Peter speaks of building booths for the three of them, but before he is able to finish his sentence, suddenly, a cloud “overshadows them” and they hear the voice of God thundering from the cloud as it did at Jesus’ baptism. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
I always wonder, will they, while watching their Lord be treated like the lowest of criminals, remember this is God’s Son they are punishing? It doesn’t seem to look like that. They continue to be questioning as they watch, and then after the arrest in Gethsemane they disappear into the crowd. They are fearful for their own skins and seem to forget who Jesus is. We grow fearful when we see our faith getting us into trouble in the world.
If we read our Old Testament closely, we know the cloud is the glory of the Lord. It followed the Israelites in the wilderness. When Moses is on Mount Sinai, he is swathed in a cloud, the glory of the Lord. John Newton expands on that glory in the hymn for today. “See the cloud and fire appear!/For a glory and a covering,/Shewing that the Lord is near.”
When it lifted, the disciples saw Jesus only. He is in the flesh the glory of the Lord for believers. John 11:40 So we can sing in John Newton’s words “Solid joys and lasting treasure,/None but Zion's children know."
John Newton, the writer of "Amazing Grace," had been a reprobate child sent to sea early in life. He left his career as ship captain in which he had even sailed with slaves from Africa, to become an Anglican rector. He moved to Olney where he took care of William Cowper, another hymn writer who suffered great mental pains. He and Cowper published a famous collection of hymns named for the parish, Olney Hymns in 1779 in which this appeared. Deeply repenting of his slaving days, he joined forces with William Wilberforce to fight slavery in the British Empire. Their ultimate goal, the Slavery Abolition Act, was made law in 1833. The tune by Joseph Haydn "Gott erhälte Franz den Kaiser"in 1922 became the tune for the national anthem of Germany, "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles." The British, understandably, prefer the Cyril Taylor tune, Abbott's Leigh, written in 1941 by Taylor to avoid the Haydn tune.
University of North Carolina Chapel choirs
East Liberty Presbyterian Church
Global Praise Mission, John Hong
New Worship Band Version Scottish
Choirs of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal
Queen’s Jubilee/to Abbot’s Leigh, by Cyril Taylor
The season of Lent is soon upon us and you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references for each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." The poems on the passion have been called the best ones. Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.