Judge Eternal, Throned In Splendour


DURING this series I have come across some astonishingly prolific hymnwriters, such as Fanny Crosby, who wrote so many that her publishers assigned her 200 pseudonyms, and Charles Wesley, with around 9,000 to his name. By contrast this was the writer’s only hymn.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was born at Ledbury, Herefordshire, to a wealthy family of landed gentry. He was educated at Eton and sat the entrance exam for Balliol College, Oxford, but failed. He tried again and this time he was successful, ultimately taking a first-class degree in classics, known at Oxford as ‘Greats’.

He was elected a fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, and was ordained in 1872. Twelve years later he was appointed canon at St Paul’s Cathedral.

He was deeply concerned about conditions of poverty and was an avid campaigner for social justice and reform throughout his life. He co-founded the Christian Social Union and edited its magazine, Commonwealth. His only hymn reflected his concerns and calls on God (the ‘Judge eternal’, ‘Lord of Lords, and King of Kings’) to bring an end to injustice and ‘bitter things’. It appeared in Commonwealth in July 1902 under the title ‘Prayer for the Nation’ and was subsequently included in the 1906 English Hymnal, paired with Rhuddlan, a traditional Welsh tune named after the historic village in northern Wales. It was first published in 1800 in the musical edition of Edward Jones’s Musical and Poetical Relicks of the Welsh Bards. It was harmonised for the English Hymnal but I cannot find out by whom.

These are the words:

Judge eternal, throned in splendour,
Lord of lords and King of kings,
with thy living fire of judgment
purge this land of bitter things;
solace all its wide dominion
with the healing of thy wings.

Still the weary folk are pining
for the hour that brings release,
and the city’s crowded clangour
cries aloud for sin to cease;
and the homesteads and the woodlands
plead in silence for their peace.

Crown, O God, thine own endeavour;
cleave our darkness with thy sword;
feed all those who do not know thee
with the richness of thy word;
cleanse the body of this nation
through the glory of the Lord.

Here it is sung by the choir of St Edmundsbury Cathedral:

In May 1910, following the death of King Edward VII, Holland delivered a sermon at St Paul’s titled Death the King of Terrors, in which he explored responses to death: the fear of the unexplained and the belief in continuity. His best-known writing, Death is Nothing at All, is drawn from the part of the sermon about the latter.

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

In 1910, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University, a post he held until his death in 1918 at the age of 71. His Timesobituary mentions his ‘merry, boisterous, ebullient disposition’ and adds: ‘There was some surprise when, in 1910, Mr Asquith appointed the Canon of St Paul’s to the Regius Professorship of Divinity at Oxford in succession to Dr Ince, but a little consideration served to account for the Prime Minister’s choice. The theological teaching at Oxford needed the encouragement of a vigorous man of wide sympathies who could work well with various groups in the theological faculty. The new professor, in spite of his years, retained his youthfulness, and young men of the most varied character were attracted by his abounding enthusiasm. His grasp of modern theological thought was unmistakable, and few men could expound so attractively the Christian faith in the light of modern philosophy and criticism. He and his fellow-professors fought vigorously for reform in the conditions for the BD and DD degrees, but they were defeated largely by the country parsons, and if he did not accomplish as much as he wished and many expected, it must be borne in mind that his tenure of office coincided latterly with the war and its paralysing effect on the University.’


Our loyal reader Audre Myers has sent me this article highlighting the difficulties facing church choirs which include children. It says the ban on choral singing as part of the response to coronavirus is ‘nothing short of catastrophic’ for such choirs, which are in a constant state of development as children mature, their musical understanding increases and their voices change. It predicts the loss of a generation of young choristers, yet the risks to children from the illness are minute. It’s well worth reading, if only to see the concerned response of government.

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