A hymn to sing along with…
American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) wrote a poem published in 1856 entitled Our Master. Some decades later a few stanzas were extracted from the poem and published as this hymn. He also wrote Dear Lord and Father of mankind.
The full poem is shown at the bottom of this post. (It’s probably just as well we don’t sing all 38 verses!) The last two stanzas of the poem remind us that Whittier was a Quaker, whose form of worship followed the advice given in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God”.
So probably he wouldn’t have sung any of the verses!
The tune Bishopsthorpe was published in about 1786, and has been ascribed to Jeremiah Clarke. The exact dates of his birth and death are uncertain, but are approximately 1674-1707*. He is most famous for writing the Trumpet Voluntary often played at weddings. He was an organist at Winchester College, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Chapel Royal.
*It seems that Jeremiah fell madly in love with a woman of much higher social status and, as she was completely out of his league, he committed suicide.
Immortal love, forever full,
forever flowing free,
forever shared, forever whole,
a never ebbing sea!
Our outward lips confess the name
all other names above;
love only knoweth whence it came,
and comprehendeth love.
We may not climb the heavenly steeps
to bring the Lord Christ down;
in vain we search the lowest deeps,
for Him no depths can drown;
but warm, sweet, tender, even yet,
a present help is He;
and faith still has its Olivet,
and love its Galilee.
The healing of His seamless dress
is by our beds of pain;
we touch Him in life’s throng and press,
and we are whole again.
Through Him the first fond prayers are said
our lips of childhood frame;
the last low whispers of our dead
are burdened with His Name.
Alone, O Love ineffable,
Thy saving name is given;
to turn aside from Thee is hell,
to walk with Thee is heaven!
The full text of Our Master:
Immortal Love, forever full, forever flowing free,
forever shared, forever whole, a never-ebbing sea!
Our outward lips confess the name all other names above;
love only knoweth whence it came and comprehendeth love.
Blow, winds of God, awake and blow the mists of earth away!
Shine out, O Light Divine, and show how wide and far we stray!
Hush every lip, close every book, the strife of tongues forbear;
why forward reach, or backward look, for love that clasps like air?
We may not climb the heavenly steeps to bring the Lord Christ down;
in vain we search the lowest deeps, For Him no depths can drown.
Nor holy bread, nor blood of grape, the lineaments restore
of Him we know in outward shape And in the flesh no more.
He cometh not a king to reign; the world’s long hope is dim;
the weary centuries watch in vain the clouds of heaven for Him.
Death comes, life goes; the asking eye and ear are answerless;
The grave is dumb, the hollow sky is sad with silentness.
The letter fails, and systems fall, and every symbol wanes;
the Spirit over-brooding all eternal Love remains.
And not for signs in heaven above or earth below they look,
who know with John His smile of love, with Peter His rebuke.
In joy of inward peace, or sense of sorrow over sin,
He is His own best evidence, His witness is within.
No fable old, nor mythic lore, nor dream of bards and seers,
no dead fact stranded on the shore Of the oblivious years;-
but warm, sweet, tender, even yet a present help is He;
and faith has still its Olivet, and love its Galilee.
The healing of His seamless dress is by our beds of pain;
we touch Him in life’s throng and press, and we are whole again.
Through Him the first fond prayers are said our lips of childhood frame,
the last low whispers of our dead are burdened with His name.
Our Lord and Master of us all! Whate’er our name or sign,
we own Thy sway, we hear Thy call, we test our lives by Thine.
Thou judgest us; Thy purity doth all our lusts condemn;
the love that draws us nearer Thee is hot with wrath to them.
Our thoughts lie open to Thy sight; and, naked to Thy glance,
our secret sins are in the light of Thy pure countenance.
Thy healing pains, a keen distress Thy tender light shines in;
Thy sweetness is the bitterness, Thy grace the pang of sin.
Yet, weak and blinded though we be, Thou dost our service own;
we bring our varying gifts to Thee, and Thou rejectest none.
To Thee our full humanity, its joys and pains, belong;
the wrong of man to man on Thee inflicts a deeper wrong.
Who hates, hates Thee, who loves becomes therein to Thee allied;
all sweet accords of hearts and homes in Thee are multiplied.
Deep strike Thy roots, O heavenly Vine, within our earthly sod,
most human and yet most divine, the flower of man and God!
O Love! O Life! Our faith and sight Thy presence maketh one
as through transfigured clouds of white we trace the noon-day sun.
So, to our mortal eyes subdued, flesh-veiled, but not concealed,
we know in Thee the fatherhood and heart of God revealed.
We faintly hear, we dimly see, in differing phrase we pray;
but, dim or clear, we own in Thee the Light, the Truth, the Way!
The homage that we render Thee is still our Father’s own;
no jealous claim or rivalry divides the Cross and Throne.
To do Thy will is more than praise, as words are less than deeds,
and simple trust can find Thy ways we miss with chart of creeds.
No pride of self Thy service hath, no place for me and mine;
our human strength is weakness, death, our life, apart from Thine.
Apart from Thee all gain is loss, all labour vainly done;
the solemn shadow of Thy Cross is better than the sun.
Alone, O Love ineffable! Thy saving name is given;
to turn aside from Thee is hell, to walk with Thee is heaven!
How vain, secure in all Thou art, our noisy championship.
The sighing of the contrite heart is more than flattering lip.
Not Thine the bigot’s partial plea, nor Thine the zealot’s ban;
Thou well canst spare a love of Thee which ends in hate of man.
Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord, what may Thy service be?–
nor name, nor form, nor ritual word, but simply following Thee.
We bring no ghastly holocaust, we pile no graven stone;
he serves Thee best who loveth most his brothers and Thy own.
Thy litanies, sweet offices of love and gratitude;
Thy sacramental liturgies, the joy of doing good.
In vain shall waves of incense drift the vaulted nave around,
In vain the minster turret lift its brazen weights of sound.
The heart must ring Thy Christmas bells, thy inward altars raise;
Its faith and hope Thy canticles, and its obedience praise!