“Lord of All Being, Throned Afar”

"For in Him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17.28)

     INTRO.: A hymn which praises Him in whom we live and move and have our being is "Lord of All Being, Throned Afar." The text was written by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who was born on Aug. 29, 1809, at Cambridge, MA, the son of Congregational minister Abiel Holmes, a strict Calvinist who was deposed from his pulpit at the First Church when it became Unitarian during his son’s senior year of college.  Oliver received his education at Phillips Academy and Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard in 1829, he studied medicine in Boston, MA, and Paris, France, and then taught anatomy at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, from 1839 to 1847, but returned to Harvard as a professor of anatomy and physiology in the Medical School in 1847, a position which he held for 35 years, and eventually became dean prior to his retirement in 1882. While a brilliant lecturer and teacher, he is best remembered as an author, coming to fame around 1830 with his poem "Old Ironsides" which reputedly helped to save the USS Constitution from being scrapped. Even before leaving college he had become known as a capable writer of verse.

     In 1836 Holmes read a paper, "Poetry, a Metrical Essay," to the members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard, and in 1857 he joined with James Russell Lowell, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and others to found The Atlantic Monthly, a literary magazine. In 1858, he wrote a series of essays for the magazine entitled "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table," and the next year followed that with another set entitled "The Professor at the Breakfast Table." In Dec. of 1859, that second series ended with the following words. "And so my year’s record is finished. The Professor has talked less than his predecessor [The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table] but he has heard and seen more….Join in singing (inwardly) this hymn to the Source of the light we all need to lead us." At the conclusion there was a poem entitled "A Sun-day Hymn" beginning, "Lord of all being, throned afar." According to a statement later made by Holmes to James W. Kimball in 1876, it had actually been finished eleven years earlier, which would make 1848 its date of origin. Holmes’s son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., became Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

     Though Holmes Sr. had become a Unitarian and was often called a "free-thinker," he remained profoundly religious and wrote to an old classmate in 1871, "We must all soon cast anchor, if we have one, and mine is trust in God." A member and regular attendee of King’s Chapel in Boston, originally an Episcopal congregation that had become Unitarian, he died in that city on Oct. 7, 1894. The tune (Arizona) used in our books was composed by Robert Henry Earnshaw (1852-1929). A native of Clivinger in Lancashire, England (some sources say Tidmordsen), he served as an organist at Morecambe for three years, Southport for one year, and Preston for several years. Later he returned to Southport and was a member of the town council. During his later years there he became interested in the cinema industry. In 1881, he was a professor of music and living at Cliviger. Most likely he produced this music around 1905, possibly as a setting for "God, Who in Various Methods Told" by Isaac Watts. It was found in hymnbooks as early as The Book of Praise published in England around 1918. Earnshaw was living in retirement at Blackpool, England, at the time of his death.

     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 1922 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 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons. 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 (with just three stanzas each) edited by Alton H. 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 the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song offers praise to the Lord as the eternal light and asks Him to be with us to guide our path.

I. Stanza 1 identifies the Lord as the source of all light
"Lord of all being, throned afar, Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Center and soul of every sphere, Yet to each loving heart how near!"
 A. God is the one who sits upon the throne of heaven: Rev. 4.2-3
 B. His glory flames from sun and star because He created them and declare His glory: Gen. 1.14-19, Ps. 19.1-6
 C. Yet, while He is the one whose divine power controls the movements of the heavenly bodies, He is mindful of man and is near to every one of us: Ps. 8.3-4, Acts 17.27

II. Stanza 2 identifies the Lord’s light as our comfort in life
"Sun of our life, Thy quickening ray Shed on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, Thy softened light Cheers the long watches of the night."
 A. Our Lord is the Sun of righteousness who gives life: Mal. 4.2
 B. He is also the Day Star who brings us hope: 2 Pet. 1.19
 C. His word is a lamp to our feet to shed light on our pathway: Ps. 119.105

III. Stanza 3 identifies the Lord’s light as a rainbow of mercy
"Our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn; Our noontide is Thy gracious dawn.
Our rainbow arch, Thy mercy’s sign; All, save the clouds of sin, are Thine."
 A. Throughout the scriptures, darkness is used as a symbol of sin, so when we sin and His smile or favor is withdrawn from us, we walk in darkness: 1 Jn. 1.5-6
 B. However, as the sun shines down in its fullness at noontide, when we live in harmony with God’s will, we walk in the light: 1 Jn. 1.7
 C. Also, God’s light shines on our troubles to turn them from bad to good, just as the light of the sun shines on the rain and makes a rainbow which is God’s promise of mercy: Gen. 9.13-17

IV. Stanza 4 identifies the Lord’s light as truth
"Lord of all life, below, above, Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever-blazing throne We ask no luster of our own."
 A. Our Lord is the Lord of life because He came to give life: Jn. 10.10
 B. His light is revealed in the truth, which is His word: Jn. 17.17
 C. When we walk in the light of His truth, we can come before His ever-blazing throne to find grace to help in time of need: Heb. 4.14-16

V. Stanza 5 identifies the Lord’s light as the source of the light we need in life
"Grant us Thy truth to make us free, And kindly hearts that burn for Thee,
Till all Thy living altars claim One holy light, one heavenly flame."
 A. The light of the Lord’s truth is what makes us free: Jn. 8.32
 B. If we allow the light of His truth in our lives, it will kindle kindly hearts that burn in love for Him: Mk. 12.30
 C. Then, just as animals were burned with fire upon altars under the old covenant, so we shall become living altars upon which we offer ourselves as living sacrifices: Rom. 12.1-2

      CONCL.: This hymn is likely not very well known among us, although it has appeared in several of our books, because we have passed from the golden age of the hymn, through the golden age of the gospel song, and have now apparently come to the golden age of the "camp song." A few of the older hymns still remain popular, but standard hymns are not as universally loved as they once were. While there should certainly be room in our worship services for the beloved gospel songs of generations immediately passed, and even for more contemporary expressions of praise, it will do us well from time to time to have and sing songs which focus our attention directly on the power and might of the "Lord of All Being, Throned Afar."


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