King of glory, King of peace
For over two months I’ve listened to and sung along with the old hymn below. I’m a teary person. It doesn’t take much to open the floodgates. Even so, I’m taken aback by how deeply this particular old hymn moves me.
Here are the lyrics. My comments follow.
King of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and, that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou has granted my request,
thou has heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me.
Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
thou didst clear me,
and alone, when they replied,
thou didst hear me.
Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enrol thee:
e’en eternity’s too short
to extol thee.
Herbert’s lyrics are packed with interesting turns of phrase, old English vocabulary, and multiple patterns of rhyming. However, I’ve chosen to focus on the drama. The drama, it seems, of George Herbert’s inner life.
There are several players—Herbert, God, and Herbert’s sins.
The opening lines don’t exhort us to bow down to this King of glory and peace. Instead, Herbert proclaims “I will love thee.” He then sets out to describe just how and why he’s compelled to do this.
For starters, he says he will ‘move’ God. What does this mean? He isn’t talking about persuading God, or literally moving God from here to there.
In the second stanza, Herbert explains. He’s going to ‘sing thee’ or serenade God. He determines to use his ‘utmost art,’ his very best artistic offering–the gift of song. He isn’t trying to persuade God to listen to him. Rather, he wants to ‘move’ God with his voice, one of God’s gifts to him.
Perhaps this is a way to deal with the clamor of accusatory voices in his head. He’s been cleared, spared, heard by God and fully accepted as he is. Still, in the second stanza the voices of his sins seem to want the last word. Perhaps they’re arguing with God about whether Herbert deserves to be heard, much less cleared of his sins. Surely God knows George Herbert better than to let him off the hook!
Yet the hymn is clear. God has indeed heard him, spared him, cleared him, granted his request. Thus Herbert now offers back to God ‘my utmost art,’ ‘the cream of all my heart.’ His best voice in song.
There are obstacles, of course. First, there’s only one Sabbath in the entire week, not nearly long enough for what Herbert has in mind. No problem! He declares he’ll spend every day of every week praising God.
Second, Herbert is on earth; God is in heaven. That doesn’t matter. He can still ‘raise’ or lift up God every day in his heart, right here on earth.
Finally, Herbert acknowledges this is a ‘small’ and ‘poor’ way to ‘enrol’ God—to record and celebrate what God has done for him. He acknowledges that even if he could do this through eternity, that wouldn’t be long enough to render to God the praise, honor and gratitude that fill Herbert’s heart.
A magnificent vision from a poetic heart. As I said, it moves me to tears. Surely it also moves God.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 October 2016
CD cover photo found at georgeherbert.org.uk