O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Bow down before him, his glory proclaim;
With gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness,
Kneel and adore him, the Lord is his name.

This Epiphany hymn was written by John Samuel Bewley Monsell (1811-1875) for his Hymns of Love and Praise (1863). In some hymnals it begins "Worship the Lord..." The first line is taken from 1 Chronicles 16:29 and from the Psalms (29:2 and 96:9). The remainder of the first verse tells of the Wise Men worshipping the infant Jesus (Matthew 2). The metre is not altogether comfortable. For example, verse 1 has holiness and lowliness at the end of lines 1 and 3. In verse 2 the metre forces carefulness and prayerfulness, and so on. The Psalms are referenced in verse 2 (55:2), verse 3 (96:8) and verse 4 (30:5). The first verse is usually repeated at the end.

Monsell was the son of an Archdeacon of Londonderry, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and ordained in 1834. In 1853 he came to England and was Vicar of Egham, Surrey (-1870) and Rector of St Nicholas', Guildford (1870-1875). He was accidentally killed by a stone which fell off the roof during the rebuilding of his church. He published eleven volumes of poetry, including nearly 300 hymns.

Tune - Was Lebet

The tune Was Lebet comes from a German manuscript of 1754, Choral-Buch vor Johann Heinrich Reinhardt, where it accompanies the song Was Lebet, was Schwebet. The manuscript contains many tunes not found elsewhere, and they are possibly arrangements of traditional songs. The association of this hymn with the tune dates from The English Hymnal, 1906. There is a second version of the tune (known as Draper) which is used for the hymn "In our day of thanksgiving..." (Hymns Ancient and Modern Standard, 1916, no. 746). This has been described as the "plagal" form; the existence of these two forms of a hymn tune is unique in hymnody. Both are excellent tunes, but is it the original which has become better known.

Nigel Day

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997