Farmville Enterprise November 14, 2018
“For All the Saints” is a majestic hymn, written for All Saints’ Day and often sung in churches on the first Sunday in November as well as at Christian funerals. William Walsham How penned eleven stanzas but most hymnals include only five or six. Educated at Oxford, he declined prestigious appointments as bishop of Manchester and Durham, instead choosing to live and work among poorer people in East London and Wakefield. How wrote his first hymn when he was just thirteen and authored approximately 60 over the course of his lifetime, many of them for people with little education. Being commissioned to compose a hymn text for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 demonstrated the extent that How was recognized as a gifted writer of songs for worship.
Through the years “For All the Saints” has been set to several tunes but the most widely used is Sine Nomine by Ralph Vaughn Williams. In 1864 it was first published in a hymnal with the heading “A Cloud of Witnesses” which refers to Hebrews 12:1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The cloud of witnesses is made up of the saints or the Christians who came before us, also called the Church Triumphant. “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” (Psalm 30:4) The hymn also is a commentary on the portion of the Apostles’ Creed where we attest to our belief in “the communion of saints.”
Hopefully I never will forget the first time I heard this glorious hymn when faculty, classmates, and I sang these lyrics at the 1988 Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary commencement.
“For all the saints who from their labors rest, who Thee by faith before the world confessed;
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might; Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight; Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light. Alleluia, Alleluia!
O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine. Alleluia, Alleluia!
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia, Alleluia!
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Alleluia, Alleluia!”