Home History of Hymns: "Of All the Spirit's Gifts to Me"

History of Hymns: "Of All the Spirit's Gifts to Me"

"Of All the Spirit's Gifts to Me"
Fred Pratt Green
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 336

Fred Pratt Green

Of all the Spirit's gifts to me,
I pray that I may never cease
to take and treasure most these three:
love, joy, and peace.*

No discussion of English language hymns in the last 30 years of the 20th century is complete without extensive reference to the hymns of Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000).

A British Methodist minister, Green was born in Liverpool. Though he lived a long life, he did not begin writing hymns until his retirement from active ministry at age 65. Since he lived on for more than 30 years, he was able to make a profound impact on congregational song. The UM Hymnal includes 18 of his hymns, more that any other 20th-century hymn writer.

Often listed as one of the foremost participants in the "hymnic explosion" that began in England in the last 35 years of the 20th century -- a kind of hymn Renaissance, Green has provided the church with artistic and articulate texts that relate the current issues of the church to Scripture and liturgy. Eminent English hymnologist Erik Routley described Green as Charles Wesley's successor.

"Of All the Spirit's Gifts to Me" is characteristic of many of Green's hymns -- its language is clear, it is rooted in Scripture and it is theologically sound. According to Bernard Bailey, a British hymn scholar, the hymn was written for a United Women's Rally in Croydon, London [in May 1975], and sung during the session on The Fruits of the Spirit.

The hymn's scriptural context is Galatians 5:22-23: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."

Like many fine hymns, this text is a poetic reflection, almost a sermon in song, on this Scripture. The work of the Spirit permeates each stanza. Stanza two begins, "The Spirit shows me love's the root..." Stanza three starts similarly, "The Spirit shows if I possess a love no evil can destroy... this is joy." In the fourth stanza, the writer states, "the Spirit says to me, 'Go forth in peace!'" The final stanza provides an ethical imperative sending the congregation out in peace to the "needy world" to "share love, joy and peace."

The clarity of language and cogent presentation of ideas are characteristic of Green's hymns. Every word counts and fits naturally and beautifully. Nothing is contrived.

The poet had a distinguished career in the Methodist Church in England. He considered the Anglican Church, but chose the Methodist Church because of its open welcome to Holy Communion.

Green received many honors during the last years of his life. He was one of a very few English hymn writers to be honored as a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1982.

In 1977, one of Green's hymns was sung in the official order of service for the nationwide celebrations of the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. He was again honored after turning 90, when he attained the rare tribute of being honored by the queen for his services to hymn writing.

Hymns from his collections provide a substantial body of work that appears in countries around the world in a wide variety of faith traditions. Hope Publishing Co. has published three volumes of his hymns: The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (1982), Later Hymns and Ballads and Fifty Poems (1989), and The Last Lap: A Sequence of Verse on the Theme of Old Age (1991).

Green's obituary on Oct. 24, 2000, quoted him on the subject of hymn singing: "It's such a dangerous activity... you get this glow which you can mistake for religious experience."

Dr. Hawn is director of the sacred music program at Perkins School of Theology.

*(c)1979 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.