I’m thankful for most of the hymns I learned in the church growing up. I’m thankful for the timeless ones from Watts and Wesley and even the campy ones like Victory in Jesus. Considering the move to all things digital, I’m increasingly thankful that we even had a hymnal to hold, peruse, learn from, and take home.

But most hymnals have a few clunkers. I grew up singing God of Grace and God of Glory. It’s a good title set to a strong tune (almost always CWR RHONDDA, though the author wrote it for REGENT SQUARE) and has the stirring refrain: “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.” The problem is the hymn was written by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the well known liberal preacher who inflamed the modernist-fundamentalist controversy with his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win” (1922), in which he set aside essential articles of the Christian faith like the virgin birth and the Second Coming.

Can we only sing songs in church written by solid evangelical Christians? I wouldn’t say that. We may not know the precise theological convictions of some ancient hymn writers and, no doubt, popular tunes can come from a wide array of sources. But I question whether we should sing songs meaning something with the words that the author did not mean. Fosdick wrote God of Grace for the dedication of the Rockefeller financed Riverside Church in New York City (October 5, 1930). Years later when he penned his autobiography, Fosdick entitled it “The Living of these Days,” an allusion to a line in the second verse of his famous hymn. When Fosdick wrote of the church’s need for courage and asked God that the church might bloom in “glorious flower,” he had a different vision for the church than we should be comfortable with.

Besides the question of authorial intent and a host of vague exhortations, the hymn has one dreadful line:

Save us from weak resignation,
From the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.

The first sentence is passable, though it comes across as an ode to willpower. The second sentence should simply not be sung. Is it really the case that the search for salvation is our eternal glory? Is this what liberalism has to offer—that we exult in our journeying after God? It’s no wonder so many contemporary hymnals have left out this verse or changed the line to “the gift of your salvation.” The surpassing glory of divine grace is not be found in our seeking, but in our being found.

How striking that the other famous hymn to use the tune CWM RHONDDA is Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah, written by the great Welsh preacher and hymn writer William Williams. Where Fosdick celebrates earthly triumph and our seeking after salvation, Williams has us sing of God’s kindness in leading us through this pilgrim life until we safely reach our heavenly home on the other side of death and destruction. Both use the same stout Welsh tune, but only one deserves it. There are many true statements in Fosdick’s hymn, but not enough to overshadow the man’s errant theology and his misguided sense of where true glory lies.

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18 thoughts on “A Hymn Worth Not Singing”

  1. MarieP says:

    As it stands as a line, apart from whatever Fosdick meant, I’m not so sure I have a problem with “Let the search for Thy salvation, be our glory evermore.” Isn’t Jesus Himself our salvation and glory?

    “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it”- Matt. 13:44-45

    “My eyes fail from seeking Your salvation and Your righteous word”- Psalm 119:123 (NKJV and NASB supply “seeking”; ESV says “long for.”)

    “His glory is great in Your salvation; Honor and majesty You have placed upon him”- Psa. 21:5 (This is ultimately pointing to David’s greater Son, but David too sang it).

  2. a. says:

    “The surpassing glory of divine grace is not be found in our seeking, but in our being found.”

    Amen!!!

    and yet I think the Lord tells us He is pleased to be glorified in our desire by HIs grace to have as highest priority ‘seeking’ and “coming’ to Him – not for salvation but for relying on, knowing,loving Him,for abundant life – once there were none who sought Him, but to His Glory, by His Spirit, we now desire to!!!

    “So I say to you,ask, and it will be given to you;seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Luke 11:9

    The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. Rev 22:17

    This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3

    He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Heb 11:6b

  3. MarieP says:

    Good verses to think on, a.! Some others:

    “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”- Matt. 5:6

    “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you”- Matt. 6:33

    “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”- Luke 13:24

    “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you”- Luke 12:29-31

    “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath” Rom. 2:5-8

    Also, B. F. Westcott’s statement comes to mind- we ARE saved (in our justification and adoption), are BEING saved (in the process of sanctification), and WILL be saved (in our glorification).

  4. MarieP says:

    I changed the word “Let” to “In”….see what you think ;-)

    Save us from weak resignation,
    From the evils we deplore.
    In the search for Thy salvation,
    Be our glory evermore.

  5. Sean McDonald says:

    I would agree that the theology of a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist like Williams will generally be safer than that of the liberal Fosdick (or the anti-Trinitarian Watts, or the Arminian Wesley brothers). But the question should be asked, Is it therefore more acceptable to God, to be sung in His holy worship? “The words of David, and of Asaph the seer” (2 Chron. 29:30) still bear the distinct stamp of explicit divine approval, something for which no hymn of Williams, Toplady, Nettleton, or Bonar could hope.

  6. Michael says:

    There are other lines in the song that seem to spring from his liberalism.

    Having learned of his liberalism, when I hear the words:

    Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
    Bend our pride to Thy control.

    I hear Fosdick saying, “Let’s not fuss and fight over silly little things like the virgin birth.”

    And when I hear:

    Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
    Bring her bud to glorious flower.

    I hear him say, “The doctrines of the second coming, virgin birth, etc. are passé. They were fine way back then; but come on, let’s move forward into the modern era and leave these myths behind.”

    I realize that those lines may be fine in themselves and reinterpreted differently. But, in light of who wrote them, that’s how I hear them.

  7. “Save us from weak resignation,
    From the evils we deplore.
    Let the search for Thy salvation,
    Be our glory evermore.”

    Brother Kevin, I like what Fosdick represents about as much as you do. But I honestly think that if you didn’t know the writer and just looked at the words themselves, you wouldn’t take such issue. I could totally sing those lines without reservation.

    That being said, assuming possible meaning to them given the writer kind of spoils it a bit. In that I do sympathize with your thoughts here.

  8. Sam says:

    The search for God is what makes religion fun and interesting. The presumptions of doctrine are often boring and actually shut down curiosity. I love this hymn for what it says about “the living of these days” which are far different from any days ever seen by any of the Bible authors.

  9. Paul Janssen says:

    The logic seems to be…. Fosdick was a liberal, and liberals (all) think thus-and-so, therefore, even though I have no idea what Fosdick really meant, he must have meant what I take him to mean. And since I believe it’s bad, it should be banned. That’s really not fair at all, is it? The logic is a combination of begging the question and straw man. Have you ever considered that he may have been critiquing the wealth of the Rockefellers, indicating that they were seeking glory from wealth? That may not have been his meaning either, but it’s just as plausible. But, if I may say so, more charitable.

  10. LWesterlund says:

    I’m with you on this one, and thank you for this blog. Why not thoughtfully sing the best, deeply Biblical theology? I have the same problem with the much-loved “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee,” to Beethoven’s 9th. The words by Henry J. van Dyke depict a rosy humanism.

  11. Paul Reed says:

    I’m worried about dismissing the work of a preacher or composer because they had some bad ideas. Let’s not forget that John Calvin helped have an acquaintance burned alive. This to some might seem a little worse than having bad theology.

  12. John K says:

    I would say that beyond the fact of what the words of the hymn might say, that the fact that it is from Harry Emerson Fosdick is enough in itself. He wasn’t just a liberal, but he was a particularly hostile one toward the historic Christian faith. And I’m not sure that the hymn contributes anything special that can’t be gotten from other hymns/songs.

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  14. Melody says:

    Doesn’t it matter what your heart puts in the meaning more than what the original author might have intended?

    We are constantly finding Christ figures in movies and books that the author has no familiarity with. How would this be any different?

    For me, I don’t know the difference from a Fanny hymn or this guy’s.If I can make sense out of the wording then the Spirit pulls out bible verses that I think on while singing. The songs that have the sentencing all inside out like Yoda was speaking are more disturbing. I stand there singing something that makes absolutely no sense and my mind wonders to what should I make for lunch or who said what yesterday. The fact that some people worship the song for whatever obscure reason (makes them feel holy?) just makes it an irritant. Then the line “evils we deplore” seems fitting because I hate when I feel irritated at church.

    I think for you this song would be wrong to sing because you know too much about the author. It will always color how you see the lines and wouldn’t be beneficial. It’s like the old Boy George or George Michael songs, now that I know they are gay kind of ruined the love songs for me.

  15. P. J. says:

    As a worship leader I get to pick the hymns sung in worship. I never pick this one.

  16. Eric Rasmusen says:

    A post like this needs to quote the words. Here are the first stanzas. I’ve dropped the bad last one.

    God of grace and God of glory,
    On Thy people pour Thy power.
    Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
    Bring her bud to glorious flower.
    Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    For the facing of this hour,
    For the facing of this hour.

    Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
    Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
    From the fears that long have bound us,
    Free our hearts to faith and praise.
    Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    For the living of these days,
    For the living of these days.

    Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
    Bend our pride to Thy control.
    Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
    Rich in things and poor in soul.
    Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
    Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

    Set our feet on lofty places,
    Gird our lives that they may be,
    Armored with all Christ-like graces,
    In the fight to set men free.
    Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
    That we fail not man nor Thee,
    That we fail not man nor Thee.

  17. Jeff says:

    Seriously? Can’t believe I read to the end of this blog when I could have used the time to send $10 to Africa to buy netting and save a child from malaria.

  18. Dave says:

    In worship, we are singing from the heart. God wants our heart in any worship. let’s not get side-tracked in supposed meanings of the author. God knew Fosdick’s heart when he wrote it. Get out of God’s business! Come on, I know scores of hymns I could nit pick. Let’s continue to worship Him in spirit and in truth.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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