As a hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy has had long-lasting appeal. From the time that the words were first penned by Anglican Bishop Reginald Heber in the early 1800s and then melded with music composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1861, the song has found its way into the hymnbooks of about every denomination around the globe.
Hymnbooks, however, are quickly becoming a thing of the past, just as songs with words like Wert and Shalt. Yet, this hymn continues to march on triumphantly in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its use of archaic language. These old-style words remind us of our history and at the same time, the timelessness of this song's message.
All Thy Works
Holy, Holy, Holy is a skillful blend of theology, poetry, sing-ability, and of course, reverence. On one hand, its tune is so simple that anyone can sing along, and even beginners can knock out the notes on a keyboard. Yet in striking contrast, its deep and intricate lyrics are so rich and full of meaning that they can stop you in your tracks.
“All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.”
Our Song Shall Rise
It’s no wonder that this hymn has had such universal appeal for anyone who sings it can find themselves somewhere in the landscape. We're either on the outside in some level of darkness, attempting to look in at the heavenly vision, or we've already entered in, at least to some extent, straining to get an even closer look.
Sinful and Saints
Words like Sinful are not popular words today, even in the Church. Holy, Holy, Holy, however employs it well, presenting the disparity between our natural position without God and our own state of holiness while resting in Him.
While no-one in creation is by nature holy, redemption is all about him making us holy, sanctified, and saints, for all these words in the Greek are from the same word, hagios and all mean Holy (Ro 1:7, 1 Eph 2:19, Rev 14:12, etc.).
Evermore Shall Be
Holy, Holy, Holy strives to raise our consciousness of God’s omnipresence and his timeless nature. Consider, for instance, how Heber stitched together biblical references of the angelic chorus found in two verses written nearly 800 years apart from each other that he might present one eternal heavenly anthem (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8).
Above all, Holy, Holy, Holy successfully tackles and presents the concept of the multifaceted glory of God. His glory is, on one hand, that which reveals his nature and emanates from his presence. He is... glorious! But, his glory is also that which is ascribed to him—our recognition of his works and his nature (Psalm 29:2). His glory is found in the fact that he is holy, or... set apart.
Holy, Holy, Holy is a hymn that purposefully repeats various words and themes. Scripture tells us that every fact should be established by two or three affirmations or witnesses (Mt 18:20, Acts 10:16, 2 Co 13:1, 1 Jo 5:8, etc.). This repetition is used to attest to the fact that he is truly holy but at the same time, also serves as a mirror to his triune nature as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Angels’ Song
In heaven, the angels never stop singing Holy, Holy, Holy! When Isaiah arrived on the scene to witness their song, he found that in comparison, the daily chatter between himself and his fellow believers did not quite measure up (Isaiah 6). This realization created a dilemma for Isaiah until the angels brought forth a solution.
Joining in the Song
Once Isaiah had been struck by a realization of his unworthiness, an angel brought him a remedy in the form of a coal taken from the fire of God's glory. Once the fiery coal touched his lips, he was transformed into a joyful and willing volunteer. Likewise, Holy, Holy, Holy draws it hearer's in that they too might join in the song of heaven.
The Heavenly Anthem
Holy, Holy, Holy has grown over the years to hold universal appeal. Still, how much more could be accomplished if we purposed to sing it each time we felt the darkness attempting to hide his works and to hide his desire to light up the darkness? What might God do if, like Paul and Silas, we sang this hymn whenever the darkness seemed to overcome us?
We might even see ourselves as more than just individuals or even members of a local congregation, but instead as powerful participants in a great heavenly choir.
Many renditions of the hymn are available on Youtube, unlike this traditional version, most do not include all four verses. So, follow the link and sing along.
Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee, Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea, Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee, Who wert and art, and evermore shalt be.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee, Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see; Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee, Perfect in power, love, and purity.
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea; Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!