Music for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 22 2022

Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken – Text: John Newton (1725-1807) / Music: Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)


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Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, this Sunday’s final hymn in church, is probably the finest hymn that prolific hymn-writer John Newton (1725-1807) ever wrote. The son of a captain in the merchant navy, Newton was greatly influenced as a young man by the reading of Thomas à Kempis. The boundless joy expressed in this hymn is a characteristic notably lacking in many of his other hymns, but here it serves to complement the sure confidence in the sacredness of the City of God, an alternative title supplied by the author. Newton himself cites Isaiah 33:20-21 as the basis for the hymn; it resounds with biblical metaphor.

The tune Austria, to which this hymn is most often sung, was composed by Franz Joseph Haydn, although for an entirely different purpose. Following one of his visits to England, Haydn expressed regret that Austria did not have a national anthem. This came to the ears of the chancellor, who commissioned the poet Leopold Haschka to write a national hymn. Haydn’s tune, inspired by a Croatian folksong, was completed in time for the national anthem to be sung on February 12, 1797, the birthday of the emperor, Franz II. It has since been used in countless hymnals as the setting for Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, among others.

Glorious things of thee are spoken,
Sion, city of our God;
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for his own abode:
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake thy sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.

See, the streams of living waters,
Springing from eternal love,
Well supply thy sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove:
Who can faint, while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage?
Grace, which like the Lord the giver,
Never fails from age to age.

Saviour, if of Sion’s city
I through grace a member am,
Let the world deride or pity,
I will glory in thy name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Sion’s children know.

Gerald Harder