Home History of Hymns: "Filled with the Spirit’s Power"

History of Hymns: "Filled with the Spirit’s Power"

"Filled with the Spirit’s Power"
by John R. Peacey
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 537

John R. Peacey

Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
the infant church confessed its risen Lord.
O Holy Spirit, in the church today
no less your power of fellowship display*

This hymn reflects a vision for the church that is inclusive, vibrant, and ecumenical. "Filled with the Spirit’s power" was written in 1969 near the end of the author’s life, a life full of service to the church and experience in the world.

John Raphael Peacey (1896-1971) was born in Brighton, Sussex, England. After his basic education at St. Edmund’s School in Canterbury, Peacey served in France from 1915-1918 during World War I as a lieutenant in the Sussex Royal Garrison Artillery, receiving the Military Cross.

Peacey’s service to the church was varied and full. Following military service, he went to seminary at Selwyn College, Cambridge, graduating with First Class Honors (B.A., 1922; M.A., 1926). He served there after his ordination as deacon in 1922 and priest in 1923. After teaching for a year at Wellington College, he returned to his alma mater, Selwyn College, as dean, precentor, and fellow from 1923-1927.

Peacey was then appointed headmaster at Bishop Cotton School in Simla, India (1927-1935), and then became Principal of Bishop’s College, Calcutta (1935-1945).

He returned to England after World War II, serving as Canon at Bristol Cathedral, where he was director of ordinands for the diocese. Upon his retirement to Sussex in 1966, Peacey assumed the position of acting Rural Dean of Hurst.

Out of his experience in India, Peacey published The Flute of Jesus: the Life of N.K. Biswas, Bishop of Assam, 1946-1948 (1949). In his last years, Peacey wrote hymn texts. His texts were first published in 100 Hymns for Today (1969), a hymnbook produced by the Hymns Ancient and Modern committee, a collection focusing primarily on recent hymns, containing no fewer than 60 hymn texts and 30 tunes by living authors. "Filled with the Spirit’s power" was one of five of Peacey’s hymns published in this collection. From there it was included in the British Methodist collection Hymns and Psalms (1983) and the Anglican Common Praise (2000).

In correspondence with the Rev. Carlton Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), the author’s widow, Mildred Peacey, provides insight into Canon Peacey’s ministry: "[She wrote] of her husband’s activity in the cause of the union between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. In an August 1988 letter granting permission for this hymn to be included in this hymnal, she told this writer that its inclusion 'would certainly have pleased my husband. He was so keen on reunion.'"

This correspondence adds insight into the text that draws images from Acts 2. For example, the first line includes "with one accord," specifying the unity of the nascent church. For Peacey, this may be a retelling of the biblical account of the event: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place" (KJV). It may also be a prayer for the future unity of the church. This is verified in the second half of the first stanza, where the author invokes the Holy Spirit to manifest its "power of fellowship" in the "church today."

The second line of stanza one, "the infant church confessed its risen Lord," calls to mind the succinct creedal statement of the early church, "Jesus is Lord," found throughout the Pauline epistles in I Corinthians 12:3 and Romans 10:9, and at the conclusion of the longer Kenosis (self-emptying) hymn (Philippians 2:5-11): "that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (v. 11, KJV).

Indeed, the beginning of stanza two alludes to the famous Kenosis hymn: "Now with the mind of Christ . . .." Compare with Philippians 2:5, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (KJV). Borrowing the image of fire from Acts 2:3, the author prays "that unity may be our great desire." The petition for unity is certainly in keeping with the post-World War II ecumenical spirit of the church, especially in the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The unity of the church would be found in the "readiness in each to work for all."

The petition of the opening line of the third stanza reveals once again the sense of "one accord" that was at the heart of the author’s understanding of Pentecost:

Widen our love, good Spirit, to embrace
in your strong care all those of every race.

A good hymn often displays the characteristic of introducing and developing a theme throughout. The author does this beautifully from the first line – "with one accord" – to the last: "we are known as Christ’s, and Christians prove." For Peacey, Pentecost is a time to recall and then reclaim the unity of the church throughout the world.

* © 1969 Mildred E. Peacey. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.