“For All the Saints”

Happy All Saints’ Day!  All Christians are saints–sinners, but also saints–and this is a day to celebrate the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints,  as it extends through time and space, in this moment and in eternity.  This includes your loved ones who died in the Christian faith and who now exult in Heaven.

Sometimes I find that when I sing a hymn, I rush past all of the poetry.  So let’s contemplate the lyrics from this classic hymn by William W. How (1823-1897):

1. For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

4. O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

5. And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

6. But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

7. From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Alleluia! Alleluia!

8. The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

via “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest”.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Mary

    I can not sing this hymn with out tears. He paints such a vivid, glorious picture of heaven. I think of my dear family members who have preceded me and are singing at the Throne. His imagery of battle and warriors seems more and more fitting as my life gets longer. This life sometimes is such a struggle, so I cling to the promise of “Sweet is the calm of Paradise the Blest”

  • Mary

    I can not sing this hymn with out tears. He paints such a vivid, glorious picture of heaven. I think of my dear family members who have preceded me and are singing at the Throne. His imagery of battle and warriors seems more and more fitting as my life gets longer. This life sometimes is such a struggle, so I cling to the promise of “Sweet is the calm of Paradise the Blest”

  • Sharon Philp

    I also have trouble getting through this hymn without tears. I am reminded of those loved one’s now gone before, but the hardest part to get past is the feebly struggling, knowing the yet more glorious day is awaiting.
    The golden evening always invokes images of when I was growing up in the central valley of California. The sunsets may not have been spectacular, cloud-laden events, but the late day sun casting its soft rays on golden hills was serenely beautiful.
    I appreciate the hymnal committee’s decision back when Lutheran Worship was published to move verse eight to verse six and move the last two to seven and eight. This was done to better reflect the theology of the final resurrection–the sun setting on this life and the dawn of that last day. Bonus: with verse seven ending up as verse eight, there is the added benefit of a Doxological verse.

  • Sharon Philp

    I also have trouble getting through this hymn without tears. I am reminded of those loved one’s now gone before, but the hardest part to get past is the feebly struggling, knowing the yet more glorious day is awaiting.
    The golden evening always invokes images of when I was growing up in the central valley of California. The sunsets may not have been spectacular, cloud-laden events, but the late day sun casting its soft rays on golden hills was serenely beautiful.
    I appreciate the hymnal committee’s decision back when Lutheran Worship was published to move verse eight to verse six and move the last two to seven and eight. This was done to better reflect the theology of the final resurrection–the sun setting on this life and the dawn of that last day. Bonus: with verse seven ending up as verse eight, there is the added benefit of a Doxological verse.

  • helen

    I am reminded of M. M. Kaye’s novel, The Far Pavilions, part of which deals with the Second Afghan War, as the British called it. One of the historical characters in the novel, patterned on her grandfather who died at Kabul, was fond of singing “For all the saints…”. Kaye pictures him going out to battle for the last encounter singing the closing verses (8,6,7, if I remember correctly).

    The whole book makes me wonder why we think we could do what the British (and the Russians) could not do! Democracy, when it comes, comes from the bottom up, not from the top down [It does not serve the 1%!] and certainly not imposed by foreign governments!

  • helen

    I am reminded of M. M. Kaye’s novel, The Far Pavilions, part of which deals with the Second Afghan War, as the British called it. One of the historical characters in the novel, patterned on her grandfather who died at Kabul, was fond of singing “For all the saints…”. Kaye pictures him going out to battle for the last encounter singing the closing verses (8,6,7, if I remember correctly).

    The whole book makes me wonder why we think we could do what the British (and the Russians) could not do! Democracy, when it comes, comes from the bottom up, not from the top down [It does not serve the 1%!] and certainly not imposed by foreign governments!

  • kerner

    Yet another non-Lutheran (in this case, Anglican) hymn in our hymnal. But, this time anyway, I’m all for it.

  • kerner

    Yet another non-Lutheran (in this case, Anglican) hymn in our hymnal. But, this time anyway, I’m all for it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. I dunno, Kerner (@4), I’m not crazy about it. The first thing that struck me as a bit odd was the past tense description of Jesus: “Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might”. Yes, but he also is those things, no?

    But, as usual, it’s the position that Christ has in the song that makes me a little uneasy. The words tend more towards a picture of Jesus as leader/teacher (think: New Moses) than Savior.

    It’s not that one can’t read Jesus as Savior into the hymn — it doesn’t deny it. I just find that theme lacking in the text itself.

    And, you know, that’s how the saints became saints — through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice — so I guess I find it especially lacking. The saints don’t rest from their labors merely because they’re dead, they rest from their labors because Jesus is our Rest (cf. Hebrews 4)! And this is as true for the saints still living as it is those who have died.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Hmm. I dunno, Kerner (@4), I’m not crazy about it. The first thing that struck me as a bit odd was the past tense description of Jesus: “Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might”. Yes, but he also is those things, no?

    But, as usual, it’s the position that Christ has in the song that makes me a little uneasy. The words tend more towards a picture of Jesus as leader/teacher (think: New Moses) than Savior.

    It’s not that one can’t read Jesus as Savior into the hymn — it doesn’t deny it. I just find that theme lacking in the text itself.

    And, you know, that’s how the saints became saints — through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice — so I guess I find it especially lacking. The saints don’t rest from their labors merely because they’re dead, they rest from their labors because Jesus is our Rest (cf. Hebrews 4)! And this is as true for the saints still living as it is those who have died.

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