“Thy Word Is Like a Garden, Lord”

"Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law" (Ps. 119.18)

     INTRO.: A hymn which identifies figuratively some of the wondrous things that we may behold out of God’s law is "Thy Word Is Like A Garden, Lord." The text was written by Edwin Hodder, who was born on Dec. 13, 1837, at Staines in Middlesex, England. Moving to New Zealand in 1856 at age nineteen as part of a social experiment with a group of idealistic pioneers, he returned to England in 1861, publishing his Memories of New Zealand Life the following year, and became a civil servant, remaining in this work until his retirement. "Thy Word Is Like A Garden, Lord," was originally entitled "Holy Scripture," and was first published in his 1863 work, The New Sunday School Hymn Book, which contained 23 of his own hymns. The song consisted of seven four-line stanzas, but most books today use six of them to form three eight-line stanzas. An enlarged edition of the book came out in 1868 and contained four more of Hodder’s hymns. In 1897, he retired to Henfield in Sussex, England, where he produced his final volume, The Life of a Century, in 1900, before he died at Chichester in Sussex on Mar. 1, 1904.

     The tune (Bethlehem, Seraph, Evangel, or Old Carol) is attributed to Gottfried W. Fink (1783-1846). It is believed that it may possibly have been an old English melody adapted by Fink and published by him in 1841 or 1842. It was first used as a hymn tune with the hymn "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" in the 1874 Church Hymns by Arthur S. Sullivan (1842-1900). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the only one of which I am aware where the song appeared was the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson for the Gospel Advocate Co., where the tune was arranged by Sanderson and the text was attributed to T. H. Gill. There was a well-known hymnwriter of the nineteenth century, Thomas Hornblower Gill (1819-1906). However, I have not been able to find any connection between Gill and this hymn. I suppose that it is within the realm of possibility that Hodder’s hymn was an adaptation of something written by Gill or that Gill arranged Hodder’s words, but I have found no reference that would confirm this. In all likelihood, the attribution to Gill was simply an error.

     The song describes in highly poetic language some of the blessings of God’s word.

I. Stanza 1 refers to God’s word as a garden.
"Thy Word is like a garden, Lord, With flowers bright and fair;
And everyone who seeks may pluck A lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine, And jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depth For every searcher there."
 A. The word "garden" suggests a lovely place with beautiful flowers: Gen. 2.8-16; and the Bible is certainly a thing of great beauty
 B. However, it more than just something nice to look at; the idea of plucking a lovely cluster there suggests that there are benefits that we can receive from God’s word: Ps. 103.1-5
 C. Furthermore, these benefits can be more lasting than the passing beauty of flowers because God’s word is also like a deep mine with wonderful jewels, and therefore is more precious than gold: Ps. 19.7-10

II. Stanza 2 refers to God’s word as a light
"Thy Word is like a starry host; A thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveler, And make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armory, Where soldiers may repair,
And find, for life’s long battle-day, All needful weapons there."
 A. God created the starry host in the sky to help give light at night: Gen. 1.14-18
 B. And just as the stars can be used at night to help guide travellers in the direction they wish to go, so God’s word gives light to guide us on our way: Ps. 119.105
 C. In addition, God’s word also provides the armor and weapons that we need to fight the good fight of the faith as soldiers of the Lord while we look to its light on our journey: 1 Tim. 6.12, 2 Tim. 2.3-4

III. Stanza 3 refers to God’s word as a sword
"Oh, may I love Thy precious Word, May I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean, May light upon me shine!
Oh, may I find my armor there! Thy Word my trusty sword,
I’ll learn to fight with every foe The battle of the Lord."
 A. Because of all these blessings and benefits of God’s word, we should love it: Ps. 119.97
 B. But most of all, we need to remember that it is "the sword of the Spirit": Eph. 6.10-17
 C. Therefore, we can and must use it to wage the good warfare by which we can gain the victory of faith: 1 Tim. 1.18, 1 Jn. 5.4

     CONCL.: Several years ago I included the words of this hymn as a poem in the bulletin of the church where I was working, and I recall that several members made mention that they particularly liked it. It is a song with which most of us are probably not familiar, but any song that serves to increase our appreciation for the holy scriptures is worthy of our consideration. Our attitude towards the Bible should be that we can always say, "Thy Word Is Like A Garden, Lord."


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