History of Hymns: 'Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service'
By Sarah Bilaye-Benibo
“Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service”
By Albert F. Bayly
The United Methodist Hymnal, 581
Lord, whose love through humble service
bore the weight of human need,
who upon the cross, forsaken,
offered mercy’s perfect deed:
we, your servants, bring the worship
not of voice alone, but hear,
consecrating to your purpose
every gift that you impart.*
* © 1961 Oxford University Press. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
On October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Market crashed, causing the most devastating economic downturn of the twentieth century. What is now known as the Great Depression describes a worldwide crisis that negatively affected trade, banking, politics, and employment. After years of anguish and uncertainty, this global calamity ended, but relief was short-lived and gave way to yet another international crisis – World War II.
Albert F. Bayly (1902-1984) lived through the Great Depression and both world wars. Thus, it is no wonder that he accepted the invitation from the Hymn Society of America (now The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada) to write a hymn to “express the interrelationship of worship and service” (Young, n.p.). As an Englishman, Bayly had witnessed the devastation of war. He could attest to the misery of poverty and economic distress. Though trained as a shipwright at the Royal Dockyard School in Portsmouth, he was an ardent pacifist and did not participate in the war. Following preparation for ministry at Mansfield College, Oxford (1925-1928), he was ordained in the Congregational Church (1929), where he was known as “a shy, hospitable, gracious, and humble man [who was] diligent in pastoral care and devoted to ecumenism” (Ruddle, n.p.). Though he may not have suffered personally from the aftermath of these global crises, his reputation as a pacifist as well as the text of this hymn proves he was aware of the condition of the world around him.
This hymn, his most published, first appeared in 1961 in Seven New Social Welfare Hymns. Bayly, who began writing hymns in 1945, was a forerunner in the hymn explosion that was to emerge in the United Kingdom within a decade of the publication of this hymn. His awareness of modern scientific language, response to current issues of need, and application of biblical understandings to the issues of his day paved the way for the hymns of Methodist minister Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), United Presbyterian pastor Brian Wren (b. 1936), ecumenist Fred Kaan (1929-2009), and Anglican Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) (Ruddle, n.p.). “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service” was preceded by another hymn by Bayly that also emphasizes justice, “What Does the Lord Require” (1949), based on Micah 6:8 (The United Methodist Hymnal, 441).
“Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service” consists of four stanzas that describe the servant leadership of Christ, while prayerfully encouraging others to follow his example. The first stanza focuses solely on the work of Christ who “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV). Humbly, Christ gave his life for our sake, so we, being indebted to him, should give our lives in return. The remaining three stanzas tell us how.
The second stanza paints the picture of who we’re called to serve by using a poetic device called anaphora, which is the repetition of a word at the beginning of successive sentences.
Still your children wander homeless;
still the hungry cry for bread;
still the captives long for freedom;
still in grief we mourn our dead.
By repeating the word “still,” Bayly emphasizes the present reality of marginalized people. He petitions the Holy Spirit to do the work of Christ and heal them; then he puts the onus on us.
The third stanza asks God to “grant us vision,” so that we’re able to see the burdens of the weak. This grippingly evokes Matthew 25, where Jesus explains why the righteous will inherit the Kingdom. He says, when he was hungry, they gave him food; when he was thirsty, they gave him something to drink; when he was a stranger, they welcomed him; when he was naked, they clothed him; when he was sick, they took care of him; and when he was imprisoned, they visited him. The righteous asks when they did these things, and Jesus says, “…just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, NRSV).
Bayly closes the fourth stanza by calling out the recipients of our service: “the child, the youth, [and] the aged.” He implies that the function of worship is an act that leads people out of the four walls of the church. Being the hands and feet of Jesus, we are all empowered and mandated to love, hope, restore to health, have goodwill, comfort, counsel, aid, and give peace. It is no coincidence that each of these characteristics is a direct result of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Although it was first set to the popular Welsh tune HYFRYDOL, “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service” is most associated with BEACH SPRING, attributed to the American composer and tune book compiler, B.F. White (1800 –1879), first appearing in his famous collection, The Sacred Harp (1844). HYFRYDOL (meaning “cheerful” or “melodious”), composed by Welshman Rowland Huw Prichard (1811-1877), is an uplifting tune set to a simple bar form (AAB) where the B section is twice the length of the A section. Its range of a sixth makes it easy to learn and sing. BEACH SPRING, on the other hand, is a stately pentatonic tune that uses a rounded bar form (AABA’) to build to a climax and recapitulate the familiar section. The tune was named after Beech Spring Baptist Church in Harris County, Georgia. Due to a spelling error in the original publication, the tune name we have is BEACH SPRING rather than BEECH SPRING (Daw, 681-682).
The combination of Bayly’s text and White’s tune provides both challenge and accessibility. The text challenges the church to be good stewards of the grace of God by using our gifts to serve (I Peter 4:10), while the tune is accessible to anyone who desires to sing along. Functioning as a hymn for ministry, Bayly calls the church to be like Jesus, not through worship, evangelism, education, or fellowship, but through service. The crux of it all, however, is found in the first stanza where Jesus not only served us in life, but also in death. His love, through humble service, is the only blueprint we need to live and die in the same manner.
Additional Reading and Sources
Carl P. Daw, Jr. Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016).
Valerie Ruddle. “Albert Bayly.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/a/albert-bayly.
Carlton R. Young, “Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service.” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, accessed May 14, 2019, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/l/lord,-whose-love-through-humble-service.
Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Sarah Bilaye-Benibo, a Dallas resident, is a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, where she studied hymnology with Dr. Marcell Steuernagel, director of the Sacred Music program.