History of Hymns: All My Hope -- declares an abiding trust in God
“All My Hope is Firmly Grounded”
Joachim Neander, translated by Fred Pratt Green
UM Hymnal, No. 132
All my hope is firmly grounded
in the great and living Lord;
who, whenever I most need him,
never fails to keep his word.
God I must wholly trust,
God the ever good and just. *
This hymn was written in 1680 by Joachim Neander (1650-1680), author of the famous “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (UM Hymnal, No. 139) and translated into English in 1986 by Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000).
Green was born at Roby, near Liverpool, England, and was ordained as a British Methodist minister in 1928. He began writing hymns only in 1969 after retiring from active parish ministry. Despite this late start, he is known as one of the greatest hymn writers of the 20th century. In fact, in the foreword to the first compilation of his hymns in 1982, he was acclaimed as the greatest Methodist hymn writer since Charles Wesley by eminent hymnologist Erik Routley.
It is likely that his success in hymn writing was built upon his experience as a poet throughout his career. Green once compared the two activities to being both “a statesman and a leader.”
British musician and hymn tune writer John Wilson requested that Green retranslate this hymn from the original German. Green originally wondered what was wrong with Robert Bridges’ 1899 version, “All My Hope on God is Founded,” but then discovered that it was not a true translation, but only inspired by the original text. Green noted that the “original text is not dealing with the theme of salvation but with the generous provision God makes for all his creation.”
Green decided not to follow Bridges’ example and instead introduced his own imagery, attempting a faithful translation of Neander’s ideas. He collaborated with Wilson, who suggested condensing verses three and four.
Green chose a different title than Bridges’ translation, in part to signal readers that this was a different hymn. A continuity remains between the two, however, in that the choice of hymn tune for the UM Hymnal is the same as the one usually paired with the Bridges translation, Herbert Howells’ MICHAEL.
Some changes have been made in the text between the original version written by Green and the text as it is found in the UM Hymnal. The first change is in the second line of the first stanza where “our great and living Lord” becomes “the great and living Lord.” Most of the other changes simply replace male designations such as “Him” with “God” and “His” with “God’s” or “the.” Another change in stanza four replaces “strong the deed” with “strong in deed.”
This hymn isn’t a perfect example of Green’s style, because it is a relatively faithful translation of another’s poetry, but it does demonstrate many aspects of his style and theology. The language is simple, with only a few three-syllable words and one four-syllable word (“forevermore”). The most advanced language is possibly the words “insecure” and “abundant.” The hymn does include his trademark rhetorical questions:
Tell me, who can trust our nature,
human, weak, and insecure?
Which of all the airy castles
can the hurricane endure?
The language of the first stanza, with its references to nature’s “time and season,” “whole creation,” and “earth and air” are typical of Green’s style and his theological emphasis upon the stewardship of the earth.
This is a beautiful hymn for communion, framing our human frailty with trust in God’s providence. The hymn touches lightly on the imagery of Genesis with “God sustains his whole creation” and the allusion to the feeding miracles and the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread . . .,” with the final phrase, “He shall all his people feed.”
The theology of this hymn is particularly meaningful in the context of Green’s life, a life spent mostly as an itinerant minister, requiring him to constantly lean on God and the Methodist Church for sustenance. This hymn was written only a few years before he and his wife moved into a Methodist retirement home. The trust in God that they displayed as they struggled with this decision nourished the companionship they found once there. In some ways, then, this hymn is semi-autobiographical.