"HOLY SPIRIT, TRUTH DIVINE"
"…And so also is the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him" (Acts 5:32)
INTRO.: A hymn which points out that the Holy Spirit has a definite work to accomplish in the lives of those who obey God is "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine." The text was written by Samuel Longfellow (1819-1892). It was first published under the heading "Prayer for Inspiration" in the 1864 Hymns of the Spirit which Longfellow, a brother to poet William Wadsworth Longfellow, edited with fellow Unitarian minister Samuel Johnson. Samuel Longfellow is best known among us as the author of "Love for All," and one stanza of his hymn "One Holy Church" was used to make a gospel song by Tillit S. Teddlie. "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" has been set to several tunes, including one (Mercy) adapted from music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk and usually used with the hymn "Cast Thy Burden on the Lord;" and another (Vienna) by Justin Heinrich Knecht. All of our books that include Longfellow’s song have a tune (Orientus Partibus), a French melody, c. 1200, attributed to Pierre de Corbeil and in other books of ours used with Handley Moule’s "Lord and Savior."
Many modern books use a tune (Canterbury or Song Thirteen) composed by Orlando Gibbons, who was born at Oxford, England, around Dec. 25, 1583. His father William was a musican at Oxford, and his brother William played the organ at Exeter. After being a choirboy at King’s College, Cambridge, from age twelve, he enrolled at King’s College in 1599, then became an organist at the king’s chapel in 1604, virginalist or harpsichordist at the royal court in 1619, and organist at Westminster Abbey in 1623. One of the leading English composers and keyboard performers of the late Renaissance, Gibbons was known especially for his madrigals, harpsichord pieces, chamber works, and Anglican church music. His volume of madrigals was published in 1612, and several of his harpsichord pieces were included that same year in Parthenia, the first printed book of harsichord music. This particular tune appeared with a paraphrase of Song of Solomon chapter 4 in the 1623 Hymns and Songs of the Church compiled by George Wither, which contained the complete output of sixteen hymn tunes by Gibbons.
Wither’s work is noteworthy because it is one of only a few collections for congregational singing published between 1551 and 1700 that was a book of songs rather than a Psalter. Two years later, Gibbons died of apoplexy on June 5, 1625, at Canterbury, England, after having conducted the funeral music for King James I earlier that same year. The modern arrangement of this tune was made in 1906 for The English Hymnal by editor Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" appeared in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise edited by Alton H. Howard. All of these used the Corbeil tune.
The song reminds us of the important part that the Holy Spirit plays in the lives of God’s people.
I. In stanza 1 He is called Truth
"Holy Spirit, Truth divine, Dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward Light, Wake my spirit, clear my sight."
A. The Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of truth and was sent to guide the apostles into all truth: Jn. 16:13
B. This truth is revealed to us in the written word which is the sword or instrument that the Spirit uses to do His work: Jn. 17:17, Eph. 6:18
C. It is by our knowledge of this word revealed by the Spirit that our eyes can be enlightened, our spirit awakened, and our sight cleared: Eph. 1:17-19
II. In stanza 2 He is called Love
"Holy Spirit, Love divine, Glow within this heart of mine.
Kindle every high desire; Perish self in Thy pure fire."
A. Through the word that He inspired, the Spirit reveals the love of God to us: 1 Jn. 4:7-11
B. This love will kindle every high desire because if we love Christ we will keep His commandments: Jn. 15:13
C. In this way, our faith will be tested and purified as by fire: 1 Pet. 1:7
III. In stanza 3 He is called Power
"Holy Spirit, Power divine, Fill and nerve this will of mine;
By Thee may I strongly live, Bravely bear, and nobly strive."
A. The gospel, which the Spirit revealed from God through Christ to mankind, is the power of God: Rom. 1:16
B. It is by faith in the gospel that we can live in a way pleasing to God: 2 Cor. 5:7 (modern hymnbook editors who feel it incumbent upon them to "update" the language of classic hymns change the third line to "Grant that I may strongly live")
C. The power of the gospel will enable us to strive nobly by taking up the cross and bearing our own load: Matt. 16:24, Gal. 6:5
IV. In stanza 4 He is called Right
"Holy Spirit, Right divine, King within my conscience reign;
Be my Law, and I shall be Firmly found, forever free."
A. "Right" here means the knowledge of what is right, which the Holy Spirit provides by the law that He reveals and that is intended to work on our consciences: Rom. 2:14-15
B. Therefore, realizing that we cannot be justified merely by law, we must understand that just as an inventor cannot get anywhere by going against natural law, so we cannot please God without abiding in the law that He has made known by His Spirit to us: ROm. 8:2
C. Obedience to this law is the only way to be truly free:Rom. 6:18-19
V. In stanza 5 He is called Peace
"Holy Spirit, Peace divine, Still this restless heart of mine;
Speak to calm this tossing sea, Stayed in Thy tranquility."
A. The Holy Spirit brings peace to our lives, because peace is the result of a right relationship with God which is based upon obedience to the word which the Spirit revealed: Phil. 4:6-7
B. Thus, when our hearts are restless and we feel a tossing sea in our souls, we can look to that word for the peace of God to rule in our hearts: Col. 3:15
C. In this way, God, through the word of the Spirit, will enable us to have peace and tranquility: Jn. 14:27, 16:33 (again, the "updaters" change the last line to "Grant me Your tranquility")
VI. In stanza 6 He is called Joy
"Holy Spirit, Joy divine, Gladden Thou this heart of mine;
In the desert ways I sing, ‘Spring, O Well, forever spring.’"
A. It is the revealed word of the Spirit that allows us to have joy, as well as righteousness and peace: Rom. 14:17
B. Therefore, we look to the Holy Spirit to provide spiritual water for us, like Israel travelling in the desert and being given water by God: Num. 21:16-17
C. And Jesus identified the Spirit as the source of living water in our lives: Jn. 7:37-39 ("updating" strikes again, with the second line
changed to "Gladden NOW this heart of mine," and the fourth line, inexplicably, to "Spring, O Living Water, spring")
CONCL.: While Longfellow was a Unitarian, one writer noted, "A good Trinitarian would not discover anything wrong with this Unitarian hymn" (I use the word "Trinitarian" simply to mean those of us who believe that there are three separate persons who make up the Godhead). Most books say that the song was originally published in six stanzas, but Net Hymnal lists a seventh.
"Now incline me to repent; Let me now my sins lament.
Now my foul revolt deplore; Weep, believe, and sin no more."
Many brethren may have a tendency to shy away from songs about the Holy Spirit because of all the wild claims made about the Spirit in the religious world. However, the Bible has a lot to say about the Holy Spirit and His work, so should we refrain from singing truth on this subject just because it might be misunderstood by others? Also, some brethren believe that it is wrong to sing songs addressed to the Holy Spirit, considering this the same as praying to the Spirit. Each will have to reach his own conclusion on this matter, but others would argue that praying and singing are separate acts of worship so that there is no scriptural principle violated by calling upon the Holy Spirit in song to do that which the scriptures teach that He has promised to do. In any event, we certainly need to search the scriptures diligently so that we can understand and appreciate the "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine."