Article

History of Hymns: “To God Be the Glory”

by C. Michael Hawn

"To God Be the Glory"
Fanny J. Crosby
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 98

Fanny J. Crosby

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father through Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he hath done.


How hymns travel throughout space and time is fascinating. “To God be the glory” was included in William Doane’s Songs of Devotion in 1870, indicating that it was written at least five years earlier than the 1875 date that is usually cited. 

Ira Sankey probably saw the hymn in Doane’s collection and incorporated it into the first edition of his Sacred Songs and Solos (1875). Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey helped to establish the hymn’s popularity during their revivals in Great Britain in the late 19th century. It also appeared in some British hymnals including the Methodist Hymn Book (1933). 

However, it was not until the 1954 Billy Graham Crusade in Nashville that Cliff Barrows introduced this song to congregations in the United States. Mr. Graham and Mr. Barrows had learned the song during the 1952 revivals they had conducted in Great Britain. 

A hymn's journey

Hymnologist William J. Reynolds, writing in his hymnal companion Hymns of Faith (1964), documented the return of this hymn to the USA: “It is most extraordinary that this long-forgotten American gospel song should have been imported from England and become immensely popular during the last decade.” 

Frances Jane Crosby’s hymns have historically been among the most popular songs sung by Methodists. Crosby (1820-1915), who became blind as an infant, was a lifelong Methodist. 

She began composing hymns at age 6, became a student at the New York Institute of the Blind at 15 and joined the faculty of the Institute at 22, teaching rhetoric and history. Her hymn texts were staples for the music of the most prominent gospel songwriters of her day. 

In this hymn, the primary focus of God’s actions is on the redemption of humanity through Jesus Christ. The second line of the first stanza, “So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,” echoes John 3:16. 

The second stanza, though referring to “the promise of God,” centers on Christ, the “perfect redemption, the purchase of blood.” In the third stanza, the pronoun “he” is somewhat vague in its reference: Is “he” referring to God or to Jesus? The focus is again on Christ who is “our wonder [and] our transport,” and the one that we long to see in glory. 

Blurred lines

Theologically, the author blurs the actions of the Father and the work of the Son. The concluding phrase of the refrain contributes to this: “O come to the Father through Jesus the Son, and give him the glory, great things he hath done.” 

Perhaps this may seem like a trivial point. But this is likely an indication of the supremacy of Christ in the theology of evangelicals in the late 19th and early 20th century—and indeed to this day. 

Few gospel songs express gratitude to God as creator of the universe or to God’s providence in our lives. For evangelicals, God’s primary role is often found in the gift of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of the world and God’s greatest gift to humanity—the thesis of John 3:16. 
 

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

Categories: History of Hymns