"GOD IS PRESENT EVERYWHERE"
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?" (Ps. 139.7)
INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us that there is no place that we can go to flee from the presence of God is "God Is Present Everywhere." The text was written by Oliver Holden, who was born at Shirley, MA, on Sept. 18, 1765. At the age of 21 he moved to Charlestown, MA, which had been burned by the British during the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, and labored as a carpenter to help rebuild the town. That same year, 1786, while he was working, he beat out the bars of a melody. Later, he failed to show up at work one day, and when friends called at his home they found him at his organ. Having just become the father of a baby girl, he was putting his melody down on paper to celebrate the occasion. Continuing to live in Charlestown, he served as a justice of the peace and even composed a welcoming song for George Washington when the General visited Boston in 1789, even though he had never had a music lesson. Around 1790, having prospered and acquired a great deal of property, he abandoned carpentry and opened a general store.
A member of the Puritan Church in the community, Holden eventually came to serve as its minister. In 1792 he was compiling material for a hymnbook, American Harmony, and while reading the English periodical The Gospel Magazine came across some anonymous verses which he found matched the tune he had composed after his little daughter was born, so he published his melody with "All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name" in his 1793 Union Harmony or Universal Collection of Sacred Music. It is the best-known tune used with this hymn in America. In succeeding years, he continued to edit several hymnbooks, including The Massachusetts Compiler in 1795, The Worcester Collection in 1797, Sacred Dirges, Hymns and Anthems in 1800, Modern Collection of Sacred Music in 1800, Plain Psalmody in 1800, and Charlestown Collection of Sacred Songs in 1803.
Around 1808, it is thought that Holden published a small book with 21 of his own poems or hymns which included one beginning "All those who seek a throne of grace," but this cannot be verified. Only one copy of this book remains, and that without a title page, which was in the possession of Hubert P. Main, who said that it was impossible to identify this hymn because it was signed simply with an "H." A prominent citizen, music teacher, publisher, and real estate agent, Holden served as the Charlestown representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives for eight terms between 1818 and 1833. The hymn previously mentioned, altered to begin, "They who seek the throne of grace," was published in Peabody’s Springfield Collection of 1835. Holden died at Charlestown on Sept. 4, 1844. E. S. Lorenz wrote of "They who seek the throne of grace" that "one of his hymns had a wide use in both American and England….After a long and useful life, it, too, has practically disappeared from our hymnals."
The first time I ever saw this hymn, it was used with three stanzas in the 1969 Hymns of the Spirit, a shaped-note hymnbook edited by Connor B. Hall and published by Pathway Press of Cleveland, TN. The tune was composed by James Henry Fillmore (1849-1936). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the only one in which I have seen the song is the 1977 Special Sacred Selections edited by Ellis J. Crum (apparently copied from Hymns of the Spirit). Since then, as I have continued to collect songbooks, I have seen the text with various tunes in other books, such as the 1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal of the Mennonite Church edited by J. D. Brunk; the 1904 American School Songs edited by J. H. Kurzenknabe and published by Hope Publishing Company of Chicago; The 1935 Church Hymnal: The Official Hymnal of the Church of The United Brethren in Christ edited by E. S. Lorenz; The 1957 Hymnal of the Evangelical United Brethren Church ; and the 1992 Pilgrim’s Praises , another Mennonite book edited by Steven S. Rodabaugh.
Even though this hymn is not well-known among us, it makes some good points about prayer.
I. Stanza 1 says that prayer brings us to the throne of grace.
"They who seek the throne of grace Find that throne in every place;
If we live a life of prayer, God is present everywhere."
A. The Bible teaches that just as ancient kings often allowed citizens to come before their throne to present their petitions, so God has a throne of grace to which we may come to find help in time of need: Heb. 4.14-16
B. Furthermore, because it is a spiritual throne, one does not have to be in some specific physical place to use it but can find it anywhere and everywhere: 1 Kings 8.46-52
C. The basic condition of finding that throne of grace is that we must "live a life of prayer," i.e., live in a right relationship with God what wherever we may be we can "pray without ceasing": 1 Thess. 5.17
II. Stanza 2 says that prayer is useful in both good times and bad.
"In our sickness and our health, In our want, or in our wealth,
If we look to God in prayer, God is present everywhere."
A. In this life, we shall have times of sickness and health: Jas. 5.13-14
B. Also in this life, we shall have times of want and wealth: Phil. 4.11-12
C. However, regardless of our circumstances, if we look to God in prayer, we shall find that His is not far from everyone of us: Acts 17.27
III. Stanza 3 says that prayer is especially helpful in times of woe
"When our earthly comforts fail, When the woes of life prevail,
‘Tis the time for earnest prayer; God is present everywhere."
A. There will be times when our earthly comforts fail because of trials and tribulations: Acts 14.22
B. At such times, the woes of life prevail to test our faith and help us develop patience: Jas. 1.2-4
C. Certainly, we should not wait until these times to pray, but when they do come, as they did to Paul, we can go to God in prayer and ask of Him those things that we need: 2 Cor. 12.7-10
IV. Stanza 4 says that prayer is something that God will answer
"Then, my soul, in every strait, To thy Father come, and wait;
He will answer every prayer; God is present everywhere."
A. Sometimes we find ourselves in a "strait," some situation where we are hard pressed: Phil. 1.23
B. When this is the case, we need to come to the Father in prayer and wait: Hab. 2.1-3
C. God has promised that He will hear and answer the prayers of the righteous; the answer may not always be exactly what we want, but the Bible says that His ears are open to our prayers: 1 Pet. 3.12
CONCL.: Obviously, no one hymnbook could contain all the hymns that have ever been written. John Julian’s monumental Dictionary of Hymnology has 1,768 pages just listing the most commonly used hymns up to that time, and the final edition of it was published in 1908! Think of the hymns written just since then. A few hymns stand the test of time, but some that are popular at one time because they speak to a certain generation are ultimately replaced by others which seem more relevant to succeeding ages. However, even though this rather obscure song is little more than a footnote in the history of hymns, it does have a message that we need to remember. We are children of a loving heavenly Father, and no matter where we happen to be, we can go to Him in prayer because "God Is Present Everywhere."