“God the Omnipotent”

"My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isa. 32.18).

     INTRO.: A hymn which calls upon the all powerful God to help us dwell in a peaceful habitation is "God the Omnipotent." The original text was written by an English Quaker writer of the Victorian Era, Henry Fothergill Chorley, who was born on Dec. 15, 1808, at Blackley near Billinge in Lancashire, England. Though lacking in formal education, he showed early literary talent and gave up his job in a merchant’s office at Liverpool to become a journalist. For many years he was associated with the Athenaeum in London as its music editor. Later, he was a music critic with The Times. In addition to his music writings, he was a book reviewer, novelist, playright, and poet. In four stanzas, this poem first appeared in John Hullah’s 1842 Part Music.

     A new text in imitation of Chorley’s was written by an English minister of the Anglican Church, John Ellerton (1826-1893). Also in four stanzas and produced in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, it was first published in Robert Brown-Borthwick’s 1871 Select Hymns for Church and Home. Chorley died in London on Feb. 16, 1872. Beginning with the 1874 edition of the 1871 Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge’s Church Hymns, different editors have chosen from the eight total stanzas to form a composite hymn and also made various textual alterations. Sometimes Ellerton is said to have "arranged" Chorley’s text, but his was actually a separate hymn.

     The tune (Russian Hymn) was composed by Alexis Feodorovitch Lvov (or Lwoff, 1799-1870). It was produced in 1833 at the request of Czar Nicholas for a truly Russian national hymn tune, with a new text by Joukovsky, and first publicly performed on Nov. 23 of that year. The previous Russian national anthem had been "God Save the Czar" with Russian words set to the tune of the English national anthem ("God Save the King/Queen," in the United States known as "America" beginning, "My Country ‘Tis of Thee"). Both Chorley’s and Ellerton’s texts were intended for this music, and the melody’s first appearance as a hymn tune was with Chorley’s words in Hullah’s 1842 Part Music.

     Among hymnbooks used in churches of Christ, the song is found under the title "God, the Almighty One," with three stanzas in the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today, the song may be found, with the same three stanzas, in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest H. McCann; and with four stanzas beginning "God, the Omnipotent" in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand. Since this song has not been included in the majority of hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church, it is largely unknown among us, but it has a powerful message set to powerful music.

     It ascribes various characteristics to God and asks Him to use them for our benefit.

I. According to stanza 1, God is omnipotent (Chorley; used only in "Praise for the Lord")
"God, the Omnipotent! King, who ordainest Thunder Thy clarion, Lightning Thy sword;
Show forth Thy pity on high where Thou reignest; Give to us peace in our time, O Lord."
 A. This omnipotent God is the King of the universe: Ps. 10.16
 B. His power is figuratively demonstrated by calling thunder his clarion (trumpet) and lightning His sword: Ps. 104.1-4
 C. Yet, He is also a God of pity upon whom we can call to give us peace: Ps. 103.13

II. According to stanza 2, God is all merciful (Chorley, used in all three)
"God the all-merciful! Earth hath forsaken Thy ways of blessedness, slighted Thy word;
Bid not Thy wrath wrath in its terrors awaken; Give to us peace in our time, O Lord."
 A. Though God is merciful, earth has forsaken His ways through sin: Rom. 3.23
 B. And the reason for this sinful forsaking of His ways is that we have slighted and transgressed the law of His word: 1 Jn. 3.4
 C. Therefore, our prayer must be that God will be merciful and not allow His wrath to destroy the earth: Ps. 103.8-11

III. According to stanza 3, God is all righteous (Ellerton, used in all three)
"God the all-righteous One! Man hath defied Thee, Yet to eternity standeth Thy word;
Falsehood and wrong shall not tarry beside Thee: Give to us peace in our time, O Lord."
 A. Again, the point is made that while God is righteous, man has defied Him in rebellion to His will: Ps. 2.1-3
 B. Yet, in contrast to His faithless creation, God’s word stands to eternity: 1 Pet. 1.24-25
 C. However, God will not allow forever falsehood and wrong to tarry but will ultimately bring it to judgment: Eccl. 12.13-14

IV. According to stanza 4, God is almighty (Ellerton, used in all three)
"God the almighty One! Wisely ordaining Judgments unsearchable, famine and sword;
Over the tumult of war Thou art reigning: Give to us peace in our time, O Lord."
 A. Because He is almighty, God exercises wisdom in ruling the earth: Rom. 11.33
 B. Sometimes His judgments unsearchable may allow famine and sword: Ezek. 5.16-17
 C. Yet, even in the midst of such things, we can know that He is still on the throne reigning through it all: Rev. 4.1-11

V. According to stanza 5, God is all wise (Ellerton)
"God the all-wise! by the fire of Thy chastening, Earth shall to freedom and truth be restored;
Through the thick darkness Thy kingdom is hastening; Thou wilt give peace in Thy time, O Lord."
 A. In His infinite wisdom, God often allows those things which chasten us: Heb. 12.5-11
 B. And His purpose in this chastening is to restore us to truth and freedom: Gal. 6.1, Jas. 1.2-3
 C. The kingdom that is hastening is not the some millennial reign on earth but the eternal kingdom in heaven for which we should be using this life to prepare: 2 Pet. 1.11

VI. According to stanza 6, God is worthy of our praise (Chorley)
"So shall Thy people, with thankful devotion, Praise Him who saved them from peril and sword,
Singing in chorus from ocean to ocean, Peace to the nations, and praise to the Lord."
 A. Even though things may not always turn out in this life as we might like, we should be thankful for the good gifts that God has given us: 1 Thess. 5.18, Jas. 1.17
 B. And with thankful hearts, we should praise God for the direction and protection that He does provide: Ps. 44.4-8
 C. Thus, we need to work in the proclamation of the gospel that this song of praise will be sung from ocean to ocean among all nations: Matt. 28.18-20

     CONCL.: There is another stanza by Chorley that is used only in Great Britain.
"God the all-terrible! Mighty Avenger, Watching invisible, judging unheard,
Save us in mercy, O save us from danger; Give to us peace in our time, O Lord."
In my research, I was not able to locate Ellerton’s fourth stanza. Most books have only three to five stanzas selected from both Chorley and Ellerton. The final product reminds us that we should both express our praise to and call as our helper upon "God the Omnipotent."


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