(photo of Mary S. Edgar)
GOD, WHO TOUCHEST EARTH WITH BEAUTY
“He hath made everything beautiful in His time” (Eccl. 3:11)
INTRO.: A hymn which reminds us of the beauty with which God made everything is “God, Who Touchest (or Touches) Earth with Beauty” (#621 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Mary Susanne (or Susannah) Edgar, who was born on May 23, 1889, at Sundridge in Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Joseph Edgar and Mary (Little) Edgar. After Barrie High School, she was educated at Havergal College and the University of Toronto, and was also a graduate of the National Training School of the Y. W. C. A. in New York City, NY. A member of the Anglican Church, she was for many years associated with the Y. W. C. A. of Canada. Though she published poetry, hymns, and plays, she is chiefly known for her development of Camp Glen Bernard for Girls in northern Ontario near Sundridge on Lake Bernard. It has become a leader in environmental education. Edgar was the director from its beginning in 1922 until her retirement in 1956. This hymn, penned in 1925 for campers, was awarded first prize in a contest conducted by the American Camping Association the following year.
The tune (Geneva) was composed by Carl Harold Lowden (1883-1963). In 1925, when he was music editor for the Sunday School Board of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (now the United Church of Christ), these words were brought to his attention, and he set them to music. The song was first sung from leaflets at an International Sunday School Association meeting in Chicago, IL, and has been translated into many languages. Lowden also provided the tune for the hymn “Living for Jesus.” Through the years Miss Edgar produced several collections of poems and essays including Wood-Fire and Candle-Light (1945), Under Open Skies (1955), and Once There Was a Camper (1970), as well as a number of hymns, mostly for use on special occasions at outdoor services, such as “Ere This Day at Camp Be Done” and “God of the Nations of the Earth,” and some one-act plays. After traveling widely, she retired in 1956 to Toronto in Ontario, Canada, where she died, aged 84, on September 17, 1973.
“God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty,” at least with Lowden’s music, was apparently not copyrighted until 1955. Other tunes have been used with it. Hymnary.com suggests one (Bullinger) composed in 1874 by Ethelbert W. Bullinger for use with Frances Havergal’s hymn “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus.” Another (Spiritus Christi) was composed by Henry Walford Davies. There was also a tune (Glen Bernard) that was composed for the hymn in 1925 by James Edmund Jones (1866-1939). The Baptist Hymnal of 1991 uses a tune (Butler) composed in 1966 by Aubrey L. (Pete) Butler (b. 1933). It was first published in 1972 and arranged for congregational unison singing in the hymnal by Anna Laura Page (b. 1943). Another new tune (Ludington) was composed in 2008 by Gregg DeMey. And I found a reference to a publication in which the hymn was set to new music by Helen Kemp. Many recent hymnbooks use a version in which, with permission of the copyright owners, the text was revised extensively by the editors of Hymns for the Living Church (1974). Aside from the updated pronouns and verb forms, I have tried to note the original in parentheses below. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, it appears to my knowledge only in Hymns for Worship.
The song calls upon the God of nature to bless us spiritually.
I. Stanza 1 asks Him tovrecreate us by His Spirit
God, who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew (me lovely, too),
With Thy Spirit recreate me,
Pure and strong and true (Make my heart anew).
- Those who wait on God are told that they can be renewed: Isa. 40:31
- To accomplish this, He gives us of His Spirit: 1 Jn. 4:12-13
- The result is that we are made pure and strong and true: Eph. 3:16
II. Stanza 2 asks Him to purify and strengthen our hearts
Like Thy springs and running waters,
Make me crystal pure,
Like Thy rocks of towering grandeur
Make me strong and sure.
- Like a crystal spring, God wants us to be pure: 1 Jn. 3:1-3
- God Himself is like a rock of towering grandeur: Ps. 71:1-3
- Thus, He can help us be steadfast and sure like a rock: 2 Pet. 1:8-10
III. Stanza 3 asks Him to help us live lives of gladness and uprightness (not in HFWR)
Like the dancing (shining) waves in sunlight,
Make me glad and free,
Like the straightness of the pine trees,
Let me upright be.
- The blessings of God should make our hearts glad: Ps. 16:7-9
- They also encourage us to be like a tree planted by the water: Ps. 1:1-3
- Therefore, we should strive to be upright in our lives: Ps. 112:1-4
IV. Stanza 4 asks Him to lift our thoughts to higher things
Like the arching of the heavens,
Lift my thoughts above,
Turn my dreams to noble action,
Ministries of love.
- We need to lift our thoughts above: Col. 3:1-2
- But we must also express these higher thoughts in “noble action”: 1 Jn. 3:16-18
- The reason for this is that we are to be ministers in love to one another: 1 Pet. 4:8-10
- Stanza 5
V. Stanza 5 asks Him to give us songs of joy and thanksgiving (not in HFWR)
Like the birds that soar while singing,
Give my heart a song;
May the music of thanksgiving
Echo clear and strong.
- God wants us to have a joyful song in our hearts: Ps. 40:1-3
- It should be a song of thanksgiving: Ps. 26:6-7
- And it should echo clear and strong for all to hear: Ps. 98:2-4
VI. Stanza 6 asks Him to keep us as we ought to be
God, who touches earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew (me lovely, too),
Keep me ever, by Thy Spirit,
Pure and strong and true.
- This is an echo of the opening stanza which asked God to make our hearts anew: Rom. 12:1-2
- However, the conclusion of the song then calls upon the Lord to keep us pleasing in His sight: Jude 1 vs. 24-25
- And He will make us pure and strong and true as we are transformed into His image: 2 Cor. 3:18
CONCL.: This hymn does not specifically tell us anything about how to be delivered from sin’s crippling bondage, through faith in Christ, or how to live and grow in Christlikeness; yet, it is not incompatible with these essential concepts. Thus the song can serve a worthwhile purpose to help remind us of lessons God has provided all around us in nature. We need learn those lessons ourselves, and then teach them to others, especially to instill godly wisdom in our children. In this way, we look for a re-creating work in our hearts from “God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty.”