History of Hymns: "Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose"
“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose”
UM Hymnal, No. 153
Thou hidden source of calm repose,
Thou all-sufficient love divine,
My help and refuge from my foes,
Secure I am if thou art mine;
And lo! From sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in thy name.
“Thou Hidden Source of Calm Repose” was introduced in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1749). Later, John Wesley reprinted it without any alteration to the text in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists (1780), in the section entitled “for believers rejoicing.”
In the 1808 supplement to the Methodist Pocket Hymn Book, the final phrase of the hymn was altered from the phrase “my heaven in hell” to a new phrase, “my all in all.” This alteration remained in all American Methodist hymnals until the original text was restored during the 20th century.
A final alteration to the text occurred in the 1935 Methodist Hymnal. A phrase in stanza three, “the med’cine to my broken heart,” was altered into a new phrase, “the healing of my broken heart.” In today’s United Methodist Hymnal, the phrase “the healing of my broken heart” is still used.
The tune ST. PETERSBURG, attributed to Dmitri Stepanovich Bortniansky (1752-1825), first appeared in Johann Heinrich Tscherlitzky’s Choral-buch (Moscow, 1825). The tune was originally used for a setting in Russian folk songs that were appropriate for January in St. Petersburg.
Charles Wesley expresses a deep and personal faith. The poetry is a testimony of his faith that he affirmed to the world. These words may reflect difficulties and trials that the Wesley brothers faced as they traveled to the developing Methodist societies and preached in hostile environments.
As a poet with deep theological understanding, Wesley incorporated his poetic skill into his theological thought through his hymns. The use of paradox in this hymn resonates with Christian joy in thanksgiving in any circumstances. Stanza four, for example, concludes the hymn with a tour de force of successive paradoxes:
In want my plentiful supply,
in weakness my almighty power,
in bonds my perfect liberty,
my light in Satan’s darkest hour,
in grief my joy unspeakable,
my life in death, my heaven in hell.
Paradox is not just a poetic device. It illustrates the depth of theology, which will always be contrary to the world: Jesus, who is God born as a human; the resurrection and victory over death; the light that was polluted by the darkness of sin; the high priest, yet the sacrificial lamb. All these opposing elements bring the understanding of our God and our need of salvation in Christ.
According to the Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, the opening phrase might have come from the first line of John Wesley’s translation of Johann Anastasius Freylinghausen’s “Wer ist wol, wie du” (“O Jesu, source of calm repose”), which was included in the 1737 Charlestown Collection, the first hymnal published in America.
The key word in the first stanza is “repose,” or “rest.” The idea of this “rest” may be a reference to Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” As people come to God with their different burdens and problems, Jesus extends the invitation to come to him for respite and relief.
This hymn celebrates the “redeeming name” of Jesus through biblical images reflecting his presence and power. Jesus is praised even in the face of grief and suffering. In the spirit of John 14:6, Charles perhaps wanted the people to be aware that only through Jesus’ name may we receive salvation and peace with God. All together, the first two stanzas state that the Lord is our resting place. The stanzas celebrate comfort, power, peace, joy and everlasting love; forgiveness, holiness and heaven, in which will result in the faith and assurance in God.
Overall, the emphasis of the hymn is all-sufficiency in Jesus. Jesus is the “hidden source of calm repose” even today—from the bustling of the world’s financial crisis and from the stress of daily life.