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Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 1996 -- Volume 9:16


A HYMN OF GRACE

 

KEITH W. WARD
Scientist
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Pittsboro, North Carolina

 

TO GOD BE THE GLORY

To God be the glory, great things He hathdone;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life, an atonement for sin,
And opened the lifegate, that all may go in.

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood,
To every believer, the promise of God;
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport1, when Jesus we see!

Refrain:
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He hath done!

—Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Frances (Fanny) Jane Crosby ranks among the Church’s greatest writers of hymns and spiritual songs. Over the course of her more than 90 years of life, she composed more than 8,000 texts, many of which have been set to music and are today our favorite hymns of the faith. These include "Praise Him! Praise Him!," "Tell Me the Story of Jesus," "I Am Thine, O Lord," "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross," "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine," "All the Way My Savior Leads Me," and "Jesus is Tenderly Calling." This prodigious output is made more remarkable still with the realization that Crosby2 was totally blind from six years of age; she praised the Creator and Light of the World for more than 80 years without actually seeing the work of His hands.

"To God Be the Glory" is well-recognized as a wonderful hymn of praise and adoration of God. Written and first published in 1875, it was used by Ira Sankey in the British editions of his famous song books. However, it was not included in the U.S. editions, and so was practically unknown in North America until it was first used by Cliff Barrows in a Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville in 1954.3 Since that time, it has become one of the most well-known and loved of songs.

Several aspects of this beloved composition set it forth not only as a hymn of praise, but also as a hymn of grace. From the outset, it is clear that Fanny Crosby ascribes all credit to God for His work ("great things He hath done"), with no role for man’s efforts in God’s great plan. In the first stanza, it is Jesus alone who opens the lifegate of salvation, so that all have the opportunity to be saved. This is a clear message of grace, in contrast to the idea that man must prove his worth before eternal life is granted.

However, it is in the second stanza that Crosby most clearly sets forth the conditions for entrance through this gate—faith, and faith alone. Note that redemption is promised to "every believer" (cf. John 3:16), and that regardless of the magnitude of one’s sins, even "the vilest offender" who puts his or her faith in Christ, such as the criminal crucified with Christ (Luke 23:43) or Saul of Tarsus (1 Tim 1:15), will immediately receive pardon from Jesus. The third stanza and chorus continue to bring this point of grace home, proclaiming that it is God who has done great things, and the One to whom praise and adoration belong. As is evident here, as well as in her other hymns, Fanny Crosby was a great woman of God who clearly understood the importance of God’s marvelous grace in salvation.

The tune to which this hymn is set was composed by William H. Doane (1832-1915), a frequent collaborator with Ms. Crosby in the production of spiritual songs. In his lifetime Doane composed more than 2,000 tunes, many of which are still in common use today, including the tunes to such hymns as "Rescue the Perishing," "Near the Cross," "I Am Thine, O Lord," and "More Love to Thee."4

As with other classic hymns and gospel songs from the pen of Fanny Crosby, "To God Be the Glory" is a marvelous expression of praise to God for His wondrous works. However, this song also gives special place to the Free Grace position—that salvation is provided as a gift from God to everyone who will place his or her faith in Christ, regardless of one’s sins before or after conversion. The act of love on the cross which made this possible is truly reason to "Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear His voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice!" Let us indeed rejoice in our salvation provided so freely by Christ Jesus!

Endnotes

1Some editions prefer victory.

2In 1858 Fanny married Mr. Alexander Van Alstyne, a pupil and then a teacher at the New York Institution for the blind where she also taught. He was an accomplished musician and theologian, and apparently humble, since he insisted Fanny retain her literary name, which was already well known. See Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography (Reprint Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 129-30. This author also published many poems under pen names since she seemed to be flooding the market with her compositions.

 

3Hugh T. McElrath, "To God Be the Glory" in Handbook to The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), 259.

 

4 Ibid., 328.

 

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