April 13, 2010
Our hymn for the month of April led us into our worship celebration last week on Easter Sunday.
Psalm 66:2 commands us to, “Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.” As the worshippers raised their voices and sang, it was glorious!
Crown Him with Many Crowns begins with a focus on Christ as revealed in Revelation19:12,13 which says, “His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns …. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God.” As we sang, “Awake my soul and sing…,” the music transposed up a key. Like a rocket igniting and then slowly picking up speed, our praises lifted with power into the heavens and continued to grow with intensity and feeling from that point on. The second verse hails Jesus as the “Lord of Love” and invites us to “behold his hands and side.” With that, we vividly remembered the wounds that our Savior suffered on our behalf. After a joyful musical interlude, the tempo slowed dramatically, allowing every word of the last verse to resound from deep within. We had finally arrived at the resurrection! “Crown Him the Lord of life who triumphed o’er the grave!”
I’m so grateful to my friend Jeff Moore who arranged this wonderful hymn for our orchestra team and truly led us into the presence of the Lord in a powerful and dramatic way.
Crown Him with Many Crowns became a collaborative work between two men, most likely unknown to each other, yet both desirous to exalt the Lord, Jesus Christ. Good theology is important and the rich text that we sing today is a result of that refining process.
Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) was a part of the Anglican church and converted to Catholicism when he was 48 years old in connection with the Oxford Movement led by John Henry Newman. Among other things, the leaders of this movement were discovering the rich hymnody of the early church and devoting themselves to translations of their Greek and Latin texts. Bridges wanting to share in the rich hymnic tradition of the Protestant church began writing original hymns for the Catholic Church. Crown Him with Many Crowns” was published in the second edition of Hymns of the Heart in 1851 in six, eight-line stanzas.
Hymnology scholar J. R. Watson, notes that, “During the 1870s, objections were made to Bridge’s words, perhaps because of the complex references to the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Godfrey Thring (1823-1903), an Anglican priest, composed a new version and published it in his Hymns and Sacred Lyrics(1874). The United Methodist Hymnal, like many others, combines a stanza of Thring’s text (stanza two) with three from Bridges’ original. (C. Michael Hawn, HISTORY OF HYMNS: Hymn enumerates Christ’s many crowns, (November 2009).)
I can’t imagine singing Crown Him with Many Crowns without Thring’s wonderful 3rd stanza that exalts Christ as the Lord of Life! I’m thankful to the refining process that happens when men and women who are committed to uphold the Word of God, test everything by it. Through that process, a good hymn became a great hymn and encompassed the whole of the gospel by adding the resurrection.
Here’s a little history on the tune.
A good or even a great text does not survive without a stirring tune. DIADEMATA (meaning “crowns”) is the tune that was written by Sir George Job Elvey (1816-1893) for this hymn when it was published in the Appendix of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868. Watson agrees with most when he observes, “[DIADEMATA] makes a magnificent setting for the text, march-like and joyful without ever becoming mechanical or strident.” (ibid)
Here are the verses that have endured the ages and that we will sing together at Trinity. Verses 1,2 and 4 are by Bridges and verse 3 is by Thring.
Crown Him with many crowns
The Lamb upon His throne
Hark! how the heav’nly anthem drowns
All music but its own
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of Him who died for thee
And hail Him as thy matchless King
Thru all eternity
Crown Him the Lord of love
Behold His hands and side
Rich wounds, yet visible above
In beauty glorified
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight
But downward bends his wond’ring eye
At mysteries so bright
Crown Him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o’er the grave
Who rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save
His glories now we sing
Who died and rose on high
Who died eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die
Crown Him the Lord of heaven
One with the Father known
One with the Spirit through Him given
From yonder glorious throne
To Thee be endless praise
For Thou for us hast died
Be Thou, O Lord, through endless days
Adored and magnified