Thursday, November 24, 2016

"O Heavenly King, Look Down From Above"

O heavenly King, look down from above; 
Assist us to sing Thy mercy and love: 
So sweetly o'erflowing, so plenteous the store, 
Thou still art bestowing, and giving us more. 

O God of our life, we hallow Thy Name; 
Our business and strife is Thee to proclaim; 
Accept our thanksgiving for creating grace; 
The living, the living shall show forth Thy praise. 

Our Father and Lord, Almighty art Thou; 
Preserved by Thy word, we worship Thee now, 
The bountiful Donor of all we enjoy! 
Our tongues to Thine honour, and lives we employ. 

But O! above all, Thy kindness we praise, 
From sin and from thrall which saves the lost race; 
Thy Son Thou hast given the world to redeem, 
And bring us to heaven, whose trust is in Him. 

Wherefore of Thy love we sing and rejoice; 
With angels above we lift up our voice: 
Thy love each believer shall gladly adore, 
For ever and ever, when time is no more. 

This hymn of Charles Wesley is listed under the heading: "For Believers Rejoicing." Though the emphasis of the hymn is more on spiritual blessings than physical ones, it seems appropriate for the season of Thanksgiving. It is interesting to note that the hymn actually begins with an invocation, "O heavenly King, look down from above;/Assist us to sing Thy mercy and love." Even in the act of thanking God for His help, Wesley was asking for help from God in order to do it. In this, Wesley recognized our utter helplessness and complete dependence on God. It is only by God's help that we can ask for His help and only by His help that we can thank Him for it, for it is God who is at work within us both to will and do His good pleasure.

The main keynote of the hymn is wonder at the vast and overflowing nature of God's goodness to us. God has not given us a little; He did not bestow the bare minimum we needed and no more. No, for His grace and generosity are constant: “Thou still art bestowing, and giving us more.” The most generous person can only give so much, but there is no limit to God's grace because God has an infinite supply. This may be the meaning behind the line: “So plenteous the store.” Old Mother Hubbard went to her cupboard and found it bare, but God's cupboard is never empty for it is supplied by His own omnipotence.  It is not just that God has given us grace but, as the second stanza says, we thank Him “for creating grace.” God is not a rich man; He is the mint.

God is the source of all blessings; He is “the bountiful Donor of all we enjoy.” And that returns us to the opening thought that even our power to praise God comes from God. He is the “God of our life.” It is “the living” that “show forth Thy praise.” While we must be careful not to read too much into this, Wesley may have been thinking of the fact that God is the source of life and that we live in Him. As John Wesley put, Jesus “is now the life of everything that lives, in any kind or degree.” (Sermon LXXVII: "Spiritual Worship," Works, 6:429-430) In any rate, our life only continues because of God, because of His Word by which all things were created and continue to exist. We are truly “preserved by Thy word.” Because of this, our life belongs to God and it must be poured out in praise: “Our tongues to Thine honour, and lives we employ.” The whole purpose of our life is to praise God. “Our business and strife is Thee to proclaim.” Strife here seems to mean “that for which we strive.” In other words, praising God is to be the central focus of our life, that which we work and strive for.

And what is interesting is that all this is in the first three stanzas. It seems that in these Wesley is simply looking at God as the Creator and sustainer of the world. The “grace” which He creates is not specifically saving grace but common grace. This is great, but what is “above all” is “Thy kindness” through which God “saves the lost race.” (Note in passing that Wesley speaks of the race being saved, referencing the fact that the plan of Atonement is not merely for the individual but for the human race itself.) He saves us “from sin and from thrall” or, in modern terms, slavery. (Wesley intrinsically connects salvation with liberation. The doctrine of a salvation which does not affect liberation is very alien to Wesleyan thought.) God gave His son “the world to redeem” so that for those “whose trust is in Him” there now the promise that Christ will “bring us to heaven.” Wesley rather succinctly summarizes the entire Gospel in this stanza.

The final stanza can be seen as the climax of the hymn. Because of all that has been said up to this point--because of all God is and has done for us--therefore “we sing and rejoice.” And in this praise of God there is unity, both with fellow Christians (“Thy love each believer shall gladly adore”) and with the “angels above.” Praise for God unites the church militant, the church triumphant, and even the angelic hosts. And because this praise is direct at God, it can continue as long God exists. When the world is destroyed and remade, when all we know has been swept away and recreated, “when time is no more,” even then our praise shall continue “for ever and ever.” It will never end, because we will never come to an end of all God is or run out of reasons to praise Him.

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