Hymn Study: “Praise to the Father, the Glorious King of Creation”

I did not know this hymn before I became a pastor. When it became my responsibility to pick hymns, I read the hymnal and found it. It became an instant favorite. It shares a tune with a “hall of fame” hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Ambassador Hymnal, #171), which is much more common, especially among Lutherans. Part of the reason may be that it was written by a German Lutheran, Joachim Neander. It’s also older, so it had a head start. “Praise to the Father, the Glorious King of Creation” (#140) was written by John H. Hopkins, an Episcopalian. As much as I like the German Lutheran hymns (and I really do!), there’s something to be said for hymns that were originally written in English. The poetry is much more natural.

One of the reasons I like “Praise to the Father, the glorious King of Creation” is that it is Trinitarian. I have an affinity to Trinity hymns. Watch for this as we get into this Pentecost season (sometimes called “Trinity”). Trinitarian hymns usually have three or four stanzas, one for each member of the Trinity, and then, sometimes, a praise stanza (doxology) at the end. I like these Trinity hymns, because they give us a more complete picture of God’s work for us. I’ll show you what I mean:

Praise to the Father, the glorious King of creation!
Swell the loud chorus, ye chosen of every nation!
O my soul, wake!
Harp, lute and psaltery take,
Sound forth thy true adoration.

Of the three members of the Trinity, the Father has a special role in the creation and preservation of the world. So this stanza calls people of every nation in creation to worship him.

Praise to the Son: for the cross that once shamefully bore Him!
Now, on the throne of His power let all creatures adore Him!
Man reigns on high!
Lo! all the hosts of the sky
Bow down and worship before Him!

This stanza calls us to praise Jesus, specifically because of the shame he endured on the cross. The third line is a simple, beautiful, and profound proclamation of his resurrection and ascension. “Man reigns on high!” Shout it when you sing it. Jesus took our frail, dying flesh. He has redeemed it and brought it to the height of heaven. In the fourth line, “hosts” means “armies.” The angelic armies of the sky bow down and worship the God in human flesh.

Praise to the Spirit, whose strong, rushing wind, ever blowing,
Still through the world, wheresoever it listeth, is going:
Darkness and death
Drink from Thy quickening breath,
Life, light and joy overflowing.

The Holy Spirit’s “strong, rushing wind” recalls the miracle of Pentecost. That same powerful Spirit still works throughout the world today. The third line is the most profound and beautiful description of the Holy Spirit’s work: “Darkness and death Drink from Thy quickening breath.” If you’re not familiar with the word “quickening,” it means “life-giving.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does. We live in darkness and death. But the Holy Spirit breathes upon us, and we don’t just breathe in his life, but we drink it in like living water.

Lord God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, and Giver,
Thy praise resounds by the shore of the bright crystal river:
We, too, would fain,
Echoing humbly the strain,
Praise Thee forever and ever.

This stanza sums it up and points us to the end (telos) of the Trinity’s work. “Lord God Almighty” is the one God. “Creator, Redeemer, and Giver” are the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The bright crystal river is the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of God in the new creation (Rev. 22). There, along the banks of that river, the angels and saints of God sing his praise. We also sing his praise here on earth. But as glorious as we think our songs may be, they are only a humble echo of the glorious heavenly anthem. One day we will join that chorus and “Praise Thee forever and ever.”

The peace of Christ be with you all,

Pastor Dan