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– Text Background –

Often coupled with the Feast of the Ascension, this hymn by the seemingly inexhaustible hymnographer Thomas Kelly (1796-1855)[1] finds its inspiration not only from the words of Holy Scripture, primarily Hebrews 2:10, but from another work inspired by the Holy Scriptures, the lengthy poem by John Bunyan entitled One Thing is Needful, or Serious Meditations Upon the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell published in 1664.[2] In fact, the first stanza of the hymn is nearly identical to the 39th quatrain of the third grouping entitled “Heaven” which reads:

That head that once was crown’d with thorns,
Shall now with glory shine;
That heart that broken was with scorns,
Shall flow with life divine;[3]

Because Kelly was most fond of writing hymns that utilized more progressive styles of meter, the tune given by Jeremiah Clark served as a suitable carriage.[4]

First titled and subsequently published as “Christ Perfect through Suffering” in the fifth edition of a collection of Kelly’s works entitled Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture,[5] it appears the hymn has kept its original wording since, although it was translated into Latin and included in the volume Songs of the Christian Creed and Life by H. M. Macgill.[6]

– Text Discussion –

Kelly successfully weaves all six stanzas together to provide a vivid unpacking of Hebrews 2:10.

Perhaps it was that Kelly recognized the tenor of suffering and confident expectation of faith’s fulfillment expressed by Bunyan in his poem of great hope in the Savior. As previously mentioned, stanza one echoes Bunyan’s words. Like Bunyan, Kelly offers the visual detail of the crown of thorns recorded in the Gospel accounts (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:17) and contrasts it with the images provided in Holy Scripture of Christ’s victory over suffering and death, ultimately detailing his present reign (Revelation 5:11-13; 6:2). Stanza two continues to unpack the images given in the Revelation to Saint John (11:15; 7:14; 19:11-16; 21:23-24).

In stanza three, the hymn transitions from Gospel fact to application and we see that the reader has been prepared for understanding the relation of Christ’s suffering and victory as it applies to both those who have died in faith and those who remain in waiting here on earth.

Stanza four highlights the believer as one receiving suffering in this world in light of the cross (John 12:32; Galatians 2:20), not finding hope in the comforts and luring of this world (Luke 10:17-20; Isaiah 56:5) to which they are now dead by faith (Galatians 6:14), but to the eternal hope given by faith in Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 4:13, 16).

Stanzas five and six further the rhythm of this theme, now focusing the reader on the knowledge that Christ’s victory is also the victory for those who believe in Him (Philippians 3:7-10; 2 Corinthians 1:5) once again orienting the eyes heavenward to the eternal joys of paradise (Revelation 20:6; 22:5).

Reverend Christopher I. Thoma +

Bibliography

Aufdemberge, 250-51; Bradley, Hymns, 407-409; Glover, 910-11; Julian, 1152; Stulken-LBW, 172, 614.

Abrams, M. H., gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 7th Edition, Volume 1. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2000, 2132.

Offor, George. The Whole Works of John Bunyan. London: Blackie and Son, 1862, 732.


[1] Julian notes that Kelly wrote 765 hymns (p. 614).

[2] Charles Doe, a contemporary biographer, attributes to Bunyan the small tract (1692) entitled The Struggler for the Preservation of Mr. John Bunyan’s Labours (1692) which speaks of this particular poem being written in 1664 while Bunyan was imprisoned. Perhaps Kelly recognized the tenor of suffering and faithful expectation in Bunyan’s life expressed in his poem of great hope in the crucified, risen, and ascended Christ.

[3] Offor, 792.

[4] Stulken records that Robert Bridges considered Jeremiah Clarke to be the “inventor of the modern English hymntune” (p. 172).

[5] Aufdemberge, 250.

[6] Julian, 1152.