“God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour thy power.” These opening words from the hymn with the same name set the mood for a majestic and jubilant hymn. Although it is typically used as a processional hymn, I think it makes a particularly effective closing or recessional hymn, asking for God’s strength as we leave the sanctuary and return to the world.
Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) wrote this text as part of the 1930 opening celebration of Riverside Church in New York City. Fosdick was an influential figure throughout his career through teaching, preaching and writing. Ordained a Baptist, Fosdick served as minister to First Presbyterian Church, New York, where his eloquence from the pulpit became well-known. His writings garnered much attention, but his liberal views caused controversy among fundamentalists.
The story of his life is an interesting one, full of controversies and colorful personalities. As I was reading about him, I found myself frowning at some of his views, yet totally agreeing with others. With these mixed views, I began to wonder if my love of this hymn was misplaced. I mean, is it okay to appreciate the work of someone when I disagree with some of his opinions? Do the views that are in line with my own allow me to cut him some slack in other areas? I have researched hundreds of hymn writers through the years and I have come to this conclusion: Every single one of them, without exception, is human. Have hymn writers led lives that some would consider more Godly, more wholesome, more “correct” than others? Certainly, and I am thankful for their witness. Have some of them taught what might be considered heresy in certain circles, or others taken some mighty hard falls, even to denying their faith? Without a doubt. Does that mean we should avoid singing the songs they penned? Not necessarily. If we are to deny ourselves access to everything written by a flawed human, then you should not be reading this post. I, too, am a flawed human. It is only because of my imperfection and God’s perfect grace that I can sing with Fosdick “God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour thy power…..Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the facing of this hour!”