O Worship the King – Text: Robert Grant (1779-1838) / Music: William Croft (1678-1727)
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This Sunday’s offertory hymn in church, O worship the King, all glorious above, is to be found in more than eighty hymnals published in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Few hymns have achieved such popularity in the Christian church. Written by Robert Grant (1779-1838), and based on a paraphrase of Psalm 104 by William Kethe, it first appeared in Edward Bickersteth’s Christian Psalmody 1833.
There has been considerable debate as to the identity of the composer of Hannover, the tune to which this hymn is invariably sung. For some time it was attributed to George Frederick Handel. The name of the tune is likely due to its early association with Handel, who was appointed court conductor at Hannover in 1710. By the middle of the 19th century it was determined somewhat conclusively that the tune was written by William Croft (1678-1727). An important characteristic of the tune is its triple rhythm. Apart from Tallis and Gibbons, this rhythm is rare in church song prior to 1700. If the tune is indeed by Croft, it marks an important point in the development of a freer style in church music.
O worship the King, all glorious above;
O gratefully sing his power and his love;
our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
pavilioned in splendour and girded with praise.
O tell of his might, O sing of his grace,
whose robe is the light, whose canopy space;
his chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.
Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air; it shines in the light;
it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
and sweetly distils in the dew and the rain.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
in thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
our maker, defender, redeemer, and friend.
O measureless Might, ineffable Love,
while angels delight to hymn thee above,
the humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
with true adoration shall sing to thy praise.