Edited from the files of the late Grace W. Haight
O worship the King, all·glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of days,
Pavilioned in splendor, 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.
The earth, with its stores of wonders untold,
Almighty, Thy power hath founded of old,
Hath ‘stablished it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.
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!
— Sir Robert Grant, 1785-1838
Neither in its writing nor in its use is there connected with this hymn the dramatic element found in such hymns as Amazing Grace and It Is Well. But in view of its high spiritual tone and the surpassing beauty of its imagery, this hymn is considered one of the finest examples of adoration and praise in the English language. Some hymnologists have labeled it “the model hymn of worship.”
Certainly this hymn inspires worship. Based on Psalm 104, it has caused the hearts of Christians beyond number to soar to lofty heights in spiritual desires and in thanksgiving to “Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!” With the psalmist our hearts would exclaim, “O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty … I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being … Bless thou the Lord, O my soul.”
Many of our hymns were penned by clergymen. This hymn was written by a layman in whose personal life and heritage politics and business were intermingled with deep piety. In Harvey’s BEST-LOVED HYMN STORY an interesting anecdote is given with regard to this composer’s grandfather. In effect, Mr. Harvey states: “On April 16, 1746, at Culloden Moor, the last hope of ‘the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie,’ was shattered when the English Army under the Duke of Cumberland cut to pieces the members of his loyal Highlands Clan. Among the fallen was Alexander Grant. And on the very day that Alexander Grant was killed, his wife bore him a son. She called his name Charles in honor of the young prince for whom her husband had given his life.
Charles Grant was an intelligent man. In young manhood he went to India where he became prominent in business circles. At least two sons were born into his family in India. To the elder son was given the name Charles, for his father, (later this son was known as Baron Glenelg); and to the younger son (our hymn-writer) was given the Scottish name, Robert.
Some authorities date the younger son’s year of birth as 1779. Others insist that it was 1785. Whatever the year of his birth, we know that when Robert was five years of age, his father took him and the rest of the family back to Scotland.
In Scotland, the father, Charles Grant, became a Member of Parliament for the county of Inverness. But his chief interest continued in the direction of India. Sir Charles, as he was known, became a close friend of William Wilberforce of the Church of England, and he contributed generously to the missionary causes which Wilberforce espoused. It is said that Sir Charles made “straight paths for his feet,” and that he inspired others to do the same.
With the heritage of a grandfather who gave his life for his country and of a father who had an outstanding testimony in religious circles as well as in political and business affairs of the places he loved, it is small wonder that Robert Grant reached great heights in these areas. Even though he did not live to a ripe old age (he died at the age of 53), he made every year count heavily for his country and for his Lord.
At the age of 21 Robert Grant was graduated from Magdalen College, Cambridge. The following year he was called to the bar. For 19 years he practiced law, and for 5 years he was a Member of Parliament. In Parliament he introduced a bill to grant various rights to Jews. It was in favor of this bill that Thomas Babington Macaulay, the noted historian and essayist, made his first speech.
In 1834, Sir Robert (by this time a director in the East India Company) was appointed Governor of Bombay. In this office he displayed outstanding administrative ability and also showed astounding literary talent. The fascinating but perplexing country of India — the land he loved so well — became the subject of at least two treatises, and he authored several books on the work of the East India Company.
The high regard in which Sir Robert was held by the people of Bombay is evidenced in the fact that a medical college (built with subscriptions which Robert Grant solicited from rich and poor alike) was named for Sir Robert as a lasting memorial.
Sir Robert died in Dapoorie, India, in 1838. A year later his brother, Baron Glenelg, published 12 of Sir Robert’s beautiful hymns in a small volume which he entitled SACRED POEMS. These were reprinted in 1844 and again in 1866. One hymn — “The Litany” — is a paraphrase of the ancient “Litany,” part of which dates back to 300 A.D. Two stanzas of this hymn read:
Saviour, when in dust to Thee
Low we bow the adoring knee;
When, repentant, to the skies,
Scarce we lift our weeping eyes;
O by all Thy pains and woe
Suffered once for man below,
Bending from Thy Throne on High,
Hear our solemn litany!
By Thy helpless infant years,
By Thy life of want and tears;
By Thy days of sore distress
In the savage wilderness;
By the dread mysterious hour
Of the insulting tempter’s power;
Turn, O turn a favoring eye,
Hear our solemn litany!
Another popular hymn of this gifted writer is “When Gathering Clouds Around I View.” Written in the time of illness and deep affliction, this hymn reflects the simple trust which Sir Robert himself had in the Almighty and which he hoped to inspire in others. Dr. C. S. Robinson says of this hymn: “The simplicity of sentiment embodied in these familiar stanzas and the smoothness of the poetical rhythm are what have rendered this piece so popular. The troubled soul finds its relief in the sense of the Saviour’s presence.”
In connection with the first two stanzas and the last stanza of this hymn, which we quote below, it would be helpful to read Psalms 27, 46, and 91, and verses 1-6 of the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John. Also, the next time you sing this hymn in your church, think of this hymn writer, who practiced the idea, “Life is not divided between the secular and the sacred: to the Christian all things are sacred-all ground is holy ground, and every bush is a burning bush.”
When gathering clouds around I view,
And days are dark, and friends are few,
On Him I lean Who not in vain
Experienced every human pain;
He sees my wants, allays my fears,
And counts and treasures up my tears.
If aught should tempt my soul to stray
From heavenly wisdom’s narrow way,
To fly the good I would pursue,
Or do the sin I would not do,
Still He, Who felt temptation’s power
Shall guard me in that dangerous hour.
And O, when I have safely passed
Through every conflict but the last,
Still, still unchanging, watch beside
My painful bed, for Thou hast died;
Then point to realms of cloudless day
And wipe the latest tear away.
This article first appeared in Faith for the Family, July/August 1973. It is reproduced here by permission.