“Ancient Of Days”

"…And the Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow…" (Dan. 7.9)

     INTRO.: A hymn which expresses praise to God as the Ancient of Days is simply entitled "Ancient of Days." The text was written by William Croswell Doane, who was born on Mar. 2, 1832, in Boston, MA, the son of an Episcopal bishop, George Washington Doane, himself a hymnwriter whose works include "Softly Now the Light of Day," "Fling Out the Banner," and "Thou Art the Way," and his wife Elize Greene Callahan Doane. The son attended Burlington College in New Jersey, graduating with his A. B.
degree in 1850, and Trinity College, receiving his M. A. in 1852. After his marriage to Miss Sarah Katherine Condit of Newark, NJ, on Nov. 7, 1853, he followed his father into the Episcopal ministry, serving first at St. Mary’s Church in Burlington, NJ, from 1853 to 1860, during which time he completed his main literary work, the Life and Writings of the Second Bishop of New Jersey, then at St. John’s in Hartford, CN, from 1860 to 1864, and St. Peter’s in Albany, NY, from 1867, when he was honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree from Columbia University, to 1869, being appointed Bishop of Albany in 1869.

     "Ancient of Days" was produced in 1886 for the bicentenary of the granting of the city charter to Albany, NY, the first city to receive such an instrument in what is now the United States. The tune (Ancients, Albany, or Hymn to Joy) was composed at Doane’s request for this text by the music director of the church, John Albert Jeffery (1855-1929). The song was first sung that same year in the Episcopal All Saints Cathedral there. The text was altered by the author for its first publication in the new 1892 Episcopal Church Hymnal, of which Doane was commission chairman, and the tune was first printed with it in the 1984 music edition to the Church Hymnal. In 1902, Doane published Mosaics, or the Harmony of a Collect, Epistle, and Gospel for the Sundays of the Christian Year and Rhymes from Time to Time, and served as Chancellor of the University of the State of New York from 1902 until 1909. He died at Albany on May 17, 1913.

     Among songbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ during the twentieth century, this hymn was used in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1), edited by E. L. Jorgenson, and after being omitted from the 1925 edition that combined the 1922 appendix with the original collection, was reinstated in Jorgenson’s 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2; 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 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann. Each of these books uses only three (numbers 1, 2, and 5) of the original five stanzas.

     This song is a great hymn of praise to God that also asks His blessings upon His people.

I. Stanza 1 is addressed to the Ancient of Days
"Ancient of Days, who sittest throned in glory,
To Thee all knees are bent, all voices pray;
Thy love has blessed the wide world’s wondrous story
With light an life since Eden’s dawning day."
 A. The "Ancient of Days" is the one who sits enthroned in glory: Rev. 4.2-3
 B. To Him all every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess: Rom. 14.11
 C. His love has blessed the whole world from creation until now: Jer. 31.3

II. Stanza 2 is addressed to the Holy Father
"O Holy Father, who has led Thy children
In all the ages with the fire and cloud,
Through seas dry-shod, through weary wastes bewildering,
To Thee, in reverent love, our hearts are bowed."
 A. We are to hallow the name of the Father in heaven: Matt. 6.9
 B. The guidance that the Father provides for us is compared to His leading the children of Israel through the wilderness with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night: Exo. 13.20-22
 C. Therefore, we bow our hearts before Him as a symbol of our reverence and godly fear: Heb. 12.28

III. Stanza 3 is addressed to the Holy Jesus
"O Holy Jesus, Prince of Peace and Savior,
To Thee we owe the peace that still prevails,
Stilling the rude wills of men’s wild behavior,
And calming passion’s fierce and stormy gales."
 A. Jesus is identified both as Savior and Prince of Peace: Isa. 9.6
 B. Therefore, He is responsible for whatever degree we are able to live peaceable lives in all goldiness and reverence: 1 Tim. 2.1-2
 C. He is able to bring peace to men’s troubled hearts just as He brought peace to the stormy sea: Matt. 8.23-26

IV. Stanza 4 is addressed to the Holy Spirit
"O Holy Ghost, the Lord and the Life-giver,
Thine is the quickening power that gives increase;
From Thee have flowed, as from a pleasant river,
Our plenty, wealth, prosperity, and peace."
 A. The Holy Ghost is God, a divine being, a member of the Godhood: Acts 5.3-4
 B. Many brethren object to songs that are addressed to the Holy Spirit.  For example, while E. L. Jorgenson included hymns about the Holy Spirit in Great Songs, he specifically omitted any stanzas that are spoken directly to the Spirit, although the Doxology which concludes, "Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" is used. The usual argument for such omissions is that since there is no example in scripture of "praying" to the Holy Spirit, we should not be "singing" to the Holy Spirit. I would agree that there is no Biblical precedent for praying to the Holy Spirit. However, I would also argue that praying and singing are two separate
and different acts of worship: 1 Cor. 14.15
 C. Therefore, though some may disagree and if so can choose not to sing such stanzas or songs, I cannot see any principle of scripture that is violated by addressing the Holy Spirit in song to "praise Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost" for all the things that He has done and is doing for God’s people: Gal. 5.16-25

V. Stanza 5 is addressed to the Triune God
"O Triune God, with heart and voice adoring,
Praise we the goodness that doth crown our days;
Pray we that Thou wilt hear us, still imploring,
Thy love and favor kept to us always."
 A. All of our books alter the opening line to read, "O Holy God." Many object to using the words "Triune," "Trinity", and even "three persons" to describe the Godhead because they are not so used in scripture. For example, in Great Songs Jorgenson changed the final stanza of "Come, Thou Almighty King" from "To the great One in Three" to "O Lord, our God to Thee." He also changed the final line of stanzas one and four of "Holy, Holy, Holy," from "God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity" to "God over all and blessed eternally" (or rather borrowed that change from another book). Many of our other books have followed these same changes, since many of them have copied directly out of Great Songs. However, brethren have not always been consistent in their objections to certain wording in songs. In the third stanza of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save," Jorgenson retained the opening line, "O Trinity of love and power." I understand the term "Triune God" simply to mean that there are three persons in the Godhood, which the scriptures certainly teach: Matt. 28.19
 B. This Triune God is worthy of praise for the goodness that has crowned our days: Ps. 103.1-5
 C. We also need to pray to Him that He will hear us and continue His love and favor upon us: 1 Ki. 8.46-53

     CONCL.: Some might look upon this as a sort of "national hymn."  Certainly, there is nothing wrong with praying for our nation, and if that is true, then there should be nothing wrong with singing about such things either. At the same time, the praise offered and the requests made in this song have special meaning and application to God’s spiritual people because we look to our Heavenly Father as the "Ancient of Days."


One thought on ““Ancient Of Days”

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