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St Oswald's

The parish church of Bollington

Bollington Road, Bollington Cross, SK10 5EG
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Sing-Along Hymns

The Ancient of Days

An English translation of the Jewish hymn Yigdal:

Exalted be the Living God and praised, He exists – unbounded by time is His existence;
He is One – and there is no unity like His Oneness – Inscrutable and infinite is His Oneness;
He has no semblance of a body nor is He corporeal – nor has His holiness any comparison;
He preceded every being that was created – the First, and nothing precedes His precedence;
Behold! He is Master of the universe – Every creature demonstrates His greatness and His sovereignty;
He granted His flow of prophecy – to His treasured, splendid people;
In Israel, none like Moses arose again – a prophet who perceived His vision clearly;
God gave His people a Torah of truth – by means of His prophet, the most trusted of His household;
God will never amend nor exchange His law – for any other one, for all eternity;
He scrutinizes and knows our hiddenmost secrets – He perceives a matter’s outcome at its inception;
He recompenses man with kindness according to his deed – He places evil on the wicked according to his wickedness;
By the End of Days He will send our Messiah – to redeem those longing for His final salvation;
God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness – Blessed forever is His praised Name.

painting

The Great Synogogue, London

The God of Abraham praise

This hymn is a Christian adaptation of the Yigdal, loosely translated and Christianised by the evangelist Thomas Olivers (1725-1799). It was first published in 1772. The Judaeo-Christian context of “The God of Abraham Praise” has meant that the hymn has been used in interfaith services between Jews and Christians. It has been referred to as “the hymn born in a synagogue”.

Thomas Olivers was a Methodist preacher and hymn-writer from Tregynon, Montgomeryshire. His parents died when he was a young child. He grew up to be a profligate and reckless young man. After his involvement in a scandal which forced him to leave his home, Olivers “saw the light” and eventually joined the Methodist society. He was working with John Wesley during the time that this hymn was written. At that time he often met with members of London’s Jewish community. In 1772, Olivers was attending The Great Synagogue in London and heard Cantor Myer Lyon sing Yigdal in Hebrew during a service. Olivers paraphrased and translated the hymn into English and gave it more of a Christian focus. He asked Lyon if he could use the Jewish melody for the new hymn. Lyon gave him the music and Olivers adapted it and named the tune Leoni after Lyon. (Yigdal is sung to various tunes. The tune heard by Olivers is the one that was regularly used in London on Friday evenings.)

Yigdal summarises the 13 principles of faith formulated by the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and Oliver’s hymn originally had thirteen verses too, but Hymns Ancient and Modern only included ten of them. By the time it was published in the English Hymnal in 1906 there were only eight. The setting here is for five of them, with three omitted verses shown below in case you want to organise a procession.

[1] The God of Abraham praise
Who reigns enthroned above,
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of love:
To him uplift your voice,
At whose supreme command
From earth we rise and seek the joys
At his right hand.

[4] There dwells the Lord our King,
The Lord our Righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin,
The Prince of Peace:
On Sion’s sacred height
His kingdom he maintains,
And glorious with his saints in light
For ever reigns.

[6] Before the great Three-One
They all exulting stand,
And tell the wonders he has done
Throughout the land:
The listening spheres attend,
And swell the growing fame,
And sing in songs which never end
The wondrous name.

[7] The God who reigns on high
The great archangels sing,
And ‘Holy, holy, holy’ cry
‘Almighty King!’
Who was, and is the same,
And evermore shall be:
Eternal Father, great I AM,
We worship thee.’

[8] The whole triumphant host
Give thanks to God on high:
‘Hail, Father, Son and Holy Ghost’
They ever cry:
Hail, Abraham’s God and mine!
(I join the heavenly lays)
All might and majesty are thine,
And endless praise.

Leoni

[2] Though nature’s strength decay,
And earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds we urge our way
At his command.
The watery deep we pass,
With Jesus in our view,
And through the howling wilderness
Our way pursue.

[3] The goodly land we see,
With peace and plenty blest,
A land of sacred liberty
And endless rest;
There milk and honey flow,
And oil and wine abound,
And trees of life for ever grow
With mercy crowned.

[5] Before the Saviour’s face
The ransomed nations bow,
O’erwhelmed at his almighty grace
For ever new:
He shows the prints of love–
They kindle to a flame,
And sound through all the worlds above
The slaughtered Lamb.

Myer Leon sang on the stage (as “Michael Leoni”) as a tenor in operas in London and Dublin.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise

The words were written by Revd Walter Chalmers Smith, a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. He was born in Aberdeen in 1824, was ordained in 1850 and was sent to minister at the Free Scots Church at Chadwell Street in London until 1854. The rest of his ministry was in Scotland, his last position before retirement being Moderator of the General Assembly, the highest position in the Free Church. He died near Dunblane in 1908 and was buried in Edinburgh. Although he wrote other hymns, this is the only one that is still popular today.

The last verse that we know today is an amalgamation of the two final stanzas that appeared in Hymns of Christ and the Christian Life 1867. These two stanzas are shown below.

The Welsh tune St Denio is well known, although the descant in the last verse may be less familiar.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.

Great Father of Glory, pure Father of Light
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All laud we would render, O help us to see:
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee.

St Denio

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendour of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, Almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.

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Christ as the Ancient of Days
Gospel book, Byzantine, 1297

For each hymn we have provided a set of verses together with an electronically generated sound-track. The sound track does not provide any words - just the tune.

The selection of hymns to be included was subject to certain limitations, notably the restrictions of copyright. This meant that many modern hymns were excluded, and the exclusion even applied to some updated versions of traditional hymns. Some publishers have made a few minor changes to make hymns more "inclusive" and have then claimed copyright over the revised text. So in most cases the ORIGINAL texts have been used, even though these may not be the versions that appear in modern hymnals.

In deciding what tunes to be used, this has largely been the Webmaster's personal choice. It is a mixture of familiar tunes and tunes that are not well-known, but deserve to be better known. The webmaster has included some personal favourites (and excluded some pet hates!). The soundtracks provided go with the words provided - if there are four verses, the tune is repeated four times. Where possible tunes have been provided with descants or alternative arrangements.

Wherever possible, there is an explanation of who wrote the words or tunes, the circumstances under which they were written, when (and sometimes why). Many hymns include references to verses appearing in the King James Version of the Bible; more modern translations were not then available! In some cases we have tried to explain these scriptural references or other instances where words have changed their meaning over time.

This selection of "Sing-along Songs of Praise" was originally a series of blog posts written during the COVID Lockdowns of 2020. It was intended to allow people to sing hymns in the safety and privacy of their own homes at a time when hymn-singing in church was not allowed (even if the church building was open!).

When hymns are sung as part of a church service, it is normally the case that the hymn books are set aside at the end of the hymn and the next part of the service continues. There is no time to sit and reflect on the meaning or the beauty of words and/or music. This collection allows you to take your time, to read, listen sing along, reflect, and to repeat a hymn again if you wish.

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Last modified: 25 February 2021