"All Thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes…out of the ivory palaces…" (Psa. 45.8)
INTRO. A song which takes the figurative language of the verse quoted above and applies it to Jesus is "Ivory Palaces" (#447 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #70 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Montreat) was composed both by Henry Barraclough, who was born at Windhill in Yorkshire, England, on Dec. 14, 1891. Educated at Bradford Grammar School, he began his music studies at age five by training on the organ and piano. After first making his living as a claims adjuster for the Car and General Insurance Co. in Bradford, he was then secretary to Sir George Scott Robertson, who was a Member of Parliament from 1911 to 1913. However, in 1914 he joined the evangelistic team of Presbyterian evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman and his song director, Charles M. Alexander, who were on a preaching mission to England.
When the team returned to the United States, Barraclough came with them. In 1915 Chapman, who was also a hymnwriter and whose best known hymn is "One Day," preached a sermon on Ps. 45.8, in an evening service at a conference at the Presbyterian conference grounds in Montreat, NC, in which he applied the symbolism of the perfumed garments to Christ. As he was riding with Alexander to take some friends home to their Blue Ridge YMCA Hostel a few miles away that night, the 24-year old Barraclough thought about the message and the phrases of the refrain began to take shape in his mind. While they were stopped at a little village store, he penned his thoughts on the only paper that was available to him at the time– the back of a visitor’s card which he had in his pocket. Upon returning to his room at the conference hotel, he worked out the first three stanzas, using the outline of Chapman’s message, and the music.
The next morning the the hymn was sung at a session of the conference. Later, Chapman suggested that a fourth stanza be added about the second coming of Christ. The song first appeared in Alexander’s Hymns, No. 3, published later that year in London, England. After serving as a soldier in the American army during World War I with the American Expeditionary Force in France, rising to the rank of sergeant-major, Barraclough was an officer in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, for nearly fifty years, from 1919 to 1961, serving first as a secretary and then as manager of the Department of Admininistration. Also, he was awarded an honorary LL. D. degree from Bloomfield College and Seminary in New Jersey. Credited with twenty hymn texts and 120 hymn tunes, he retired to Elkins Park, PA, and died at nearby Philadelphia in August of 1983.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1925 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song reminds us of the sacrifice that Christ made for us.
I. The first stanza tells us that Christ left the glorious garments of heaven for us
"My Lord has garments so wondrous fine, And myrrh their texture fills;
Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine, With joy my being thrills."
A. Jesus is pictured as having garments so wondrous fine, which can symbolize the glory and majesty that He had with God in heaven: Jn. 1.1
B. Myrrh is an exotic perfume that was often associated with joy and ecstasy: Matt. 2.11
C. Yet, this fragrance can reach to our hearts because Jesus left these garments of joy and ecstasy in heaven that He might come to earth for us: Phil. 2.5-7
II. The second stanza tells us that Christ experienced sorrow on the cross for us
"His life had also its sorrows sore, For aloes had a part;
And when I think of the cross He bore, My eyes with teardrops start."
A. Next, Jesus is pictured as having sorrows wore; indeed, He was prophetically called the "Man of Sorrows": Isa. 53.3
B. Aloes is a bitter herb that was often used in embalming: Jn. 19.38-39
C. Thus, the aloes represent the fact that Jesus suffered for us, culminating in His death on the cross for our sins: Rom. 5.6-8
III. Stanza 3 tells us that Christ is our healer (I have difficulty in understanding why, when the verse upon which the song is based has three perfumes mentioned, one would want to omit one of the stanzas):
"His garments too were in cassia dipped, With healing in a touch;
Each time my feet in some sin have slipped, He took me from its clutch."
A. Cassia is a spicy ointment that was also used as a medication: Exo. 30.22-25, Ezek. 27.19
B. This symbolizes the fact that Christ has healing in His touch: Mal. 4.2
C. Thus, Christ has power to heal us from the wounds of sin when we turn to Him: 1 Jn. 2.1-2
IV. The final stanza tells us that Christ will come again for us
"In garments glorious He will come To open wide the door;
And I shall enter my heavenly home, To dwell forevermore."
A. The glorious garments indicate that Jesus is now glorified with the same glory that He had with the Father prior to His earthly incarnation: Jn. 17.5
B. It is in these garments that He will come to open wide the door: Acts 1.11
C. And when He comes, we can enter the heavenly home to dwell with Him forevermore: Jn. 14.1-3
CONCL.: The chorus first cites Psa. 45.8 to picture Christ, who was deity with the Father on His throne, coming out of the ivory palaces of heaven to this low land of suffring and sin, and then adds that the only motivation for His doing so was His great eternal love for us.
"Out of the ivory palaces, Into a world of woe;
Only His great eternal love Made my Savior go."
Therefore, we should be eternally thankful that Christ was willing to come out of the "Ivory Palaces."