Article

History of Hymns: “Now Praise the Hidden God of Love”

by Guest Writer Alissa Davis

"Now Praise the Hidden God of Love"
Fred Pratt Green
The Faith We Sing, No. 2027

Fred Pratt Green

Now praise the hidden God of Love,
In whom we all must live and move,
Who shepherds us, at every stage,
Through youth, maturity, and age.
*

The Rev. Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000) took up hymn writing following his retirement in 1969 as an ordained Methodist minister in Great Britain. By consulting with the committee compiling the hymnal supplement Hymns and Songs (1969), Green launched his career as a leader in the so-called “hymn explosion” in Great Britain in the 1970s. In this hymnbook and many subsequent collections, the Rev. Green was able to contribute new and meaningful material for specific topics and occasions that had been previously neglected. “Now praise the hidden God of love” (1975) is one such composition because it addresses the role of faithful people throughout life.

“Now praise the hidden God of love,” like many of Dr. Green’s hymns, was a result of his response to a competition in 1975 sponsored by the Hymn Society of America (now the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada).

In the first stanza cited above, the beloved texts of Psalm 23 and John 19 provide a basis for the shepherding metaphor in the third line, establishing a chronology of the three stages of life, “youth, maturity, and age.” For the entire text, see http://digitalhymnal.org/dhymn.cfm?hymnNumber=548

In the second stanza we are reminded of the youthful prophetic Christ,

Who challenged us, when we were young
To storm the citadels of wrong. . .

The Rev. Green uses the energetic verbs “challenged” and “storm” in the first two lines of the second stanza to depict the stage of “youth” referenced in the last line of the first stanza. In contrast, the third and fourth lines offer the more nurturing verbs “care” and “grow,” which remind us of tending a garden for the stage of “maturity” presented in the first stanza.

The third and fourth stanzas focus on the final stage of “age” by reflecting on the text of John 9:4-5: “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day: the night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (NKJV) These words of Christ relate to his humanity, conveying a message that is central to Dr. Green’s theology.

The third stanza seems to be prescient of the Rev. Green’s long life. The hymn was written in 1975 when he was 72 years old, but the Rev. Green lived another 25 years until 2000. Throughout his long life of 97 years, he demonstrated tremendous energy as alluded to in the following lines:

Who bids us never lose our zest,
Though age is urging us to rest,
But proves to us that we have still
A work to do, a place to fill.

The final stanza is essentially eschatological, pointing to the end of earthly life – “Content to sleep, when day is done” – and then to the life beyond death – “And rise refreshed, and travel on.” By connecting the chronology of “youth, maturity, and age” in the first stanza to “Godward look and upward climb” in the final stanza, the Rev. Green relates our natural life to climbing a mountain. As long as we are able to sing this hymn, we have not yet reached our destination.

Fred Pratt Green received a number of honors for his contribution to congregational song, including being recognized as a Fellow of the Hymn Society of America in 1982 as well as being awarded the Doctorate of Humane Letters honoris causa by Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He was also recognized with the MBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his hymns. Because of his emphasis on the life and death of Jesus, hymns on Communion, and other common theological themes, parallels have been drawn between Fred Pratt Green and Charles Wesley. Some have labeled him the Methodist successor to Wesley, much to his chagrin.

Hymnologist Maureen Harris describes Dr. Green’s perspective in hymnwriting as “a quiet acceptance, and a breadth of vision and perception that comes from a compassionate awareness of the world around us . . ..” He was adept at writing poetry that depicts a theology of God’s community, connecting across generational, denominational, and national lines. It is evident in his hymns that he aimed to blur these boundaries and reach God’s people in a language that is common, yet rich.

Though this is one of his earlier hymns and not among the best known, “Now praise the hidden God of love” stills bears the hallmarks of the Rev. Green’s hymns: a strong scriptural foundation, theological depth, skillful poetic craftsmanship, and powerful metaphors that engage the singer.

 

*© 1982 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Alissa Davis is a Master of Sacred Music student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She studies hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

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

Categories: History of Hymns