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History of Hymns: “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”

"Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne"
Emily Elliott
The Faith We Sing, No. 2100

Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown,
when thou camest to earth for me;
but in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
for thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
there is room in my heart for thee.

Like many Victorian churchwomen, Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott (1836-1897) was involved in philanthropy to rescue missions and Sunday school work, the latter as an evangelical program to reach children. She was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and the niece to Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871), the author of the famous hymn, “Just as I am.” 

Emily Elliott edited The Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor for six years and published a collection of 48 of her hymns entitled Under the Pillow, especially for use of those who were sick in either hospitals, infirmaries or at home. 

“Thou didst leave thy throne” was separately printed, however, for the children and the choir in her father’s parish, St. Mark’s in Brighton, England. Like Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), who wrote her famous hymn “Once in royal David’s city” to explain the significance of the incarnation to children, Elliott wrote her hymn to clarify meaning of Advent and Nativity to children. 

The text takes its theme from Luke 2:7, “but there was no room for them in the inn.” The first four stanzas employ the technique of antithesis—placing the poverty of Jesus’s birth in contrast to the splendor of heaven. 

Elliott achieves this contrast by beginning in heaven with the first two lines of each stanza, and then hinging on “but,” contrasts Christ’s lowly estate during his life on earth. In heaven Christ had a “kingly crown,” but on earth “no room” in stanza one. While the “angels sang” in heaven, Christ was born in “great humility” in stanza two. 

While the animals all had homes, Christ wandered the “deserts of Galilee” in stanza three—a reference to Matthew 8:20. In stanza four, Christ came as the “living word” but was offered “mocking scorn” and a “crown of thorn” instead. The fifth stanza adds an eschatological tone, calling us to look to heaven where Christ will say, “There is room at my side for thee.” 

The brief refrain includes a clever play on words. While there was no room for the Holy Family at the inn, the refrain invites Christ into the heart of the singer:

O come to my heart, Lord Jesus„
There is room in my heart for Thee!


The final refrain follows the logic that because we make room for Christ in our hearts while we are on Earth, there will be room for us in heaven:

My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me!


Because the text by Elliott is irregular (that is, does not have the same number of syllables for each stanza), a special tune was needed. The music MARGARET by Timothy Richard Matthews (1836-1897) was composed especially for this text. Matthews was an English clergyman who composed more than 100 hymn tunes and was recognized as one of the leading organists of his day. 

“Thou didst leave thy throne” accomplishes many things for children who sing it. First, the text places the Nativity event within the broader narrative of Christ’s life. Second, like many hymns of the season, the first coming of Christ points to the Second Coming—a hallmark of the Advent season. Third, the author uses the refrain to pull the singer into the narrative, making this a hymn of personal commitment.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.

Categories: History of Hymns