How shall I sing that Majesty

A hymn to sing along with…

The writer of this hymn was Revd John Mason (1645-94). He was Rector of Water-Stratford (a village in Buckinghamshire) for the last 20 years of his life, which ended in sensational circumstances. He had a vision of the Lord Jesus about a month before his death, and proclaimed the imminent Second Coming. People crowded into the village from the surrounding area, thinking that he was predicting both the time and the place. There were apparently extraordinary scenes of singing and dancing. The excitement was scarcely over when the old man died.

The hymn originally had twelve verses, but most are no longer considered suitable for singing today. The hymnbook we use at St Oswald’s has the three verses included here. Other hymnals include the following before the final verse:

Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
Inflame it with love’s fire;
Then shall I sing and bear a part
With that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
With all my fire and light;
Yet when Thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.

The tune “Coe Fen” probably has a lot to do with the popularity of this hymn today. It is the best-known hymn tune by Kenneth Nicholson Naylor (1931-1991), who was a music master at the Leys School, Cambridge, which is near the open space called Coe Fen. (The descant, written in 2006 by David Lee, has a one bar rest at the start of each half of the tune, and requires the omission of the word “Lord” in the first line.)

Revd John Mason wrote many other hymns that are rarely heard today. Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866), the prolific translator of hymns into English, was named after him, his mother being a descendant of the old Rector.

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