Today is the 201st birthday of Horatius Bonar, the most well-known of Scottish hymnwriters. He was born in Edinburgh, where he lived much of his life and died in 1889. Though he was ordained in the state Church of Scotland 1n 1838, five years later he left with a number of other pastors who formed the Free Church of Scotland, a new denomination.
He wrote and published articles in church journals, books of theology, and approximately 600 hymns. Ironically, for many years the Free Church of Scotland only authorized the singing of psalm paraphrases in worship, so other churches sang his hymns long before he and his own congregation.
Like Cecil Frances Alexander in Ireland, he began writing hymns for children to explain theology in a simple way, but not expecting them to be used in formal services. His own hymns were published in several volumes, and he also compiled The Bible Hymn-Book (1845) from many writers. He also was a great admirer of the gospel songs used by Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey in their evangelical crusade meetings, and wrote some for their use.
Some of his hymns are still known and sung in different denominations, and have been presented here. This particular one, first published in his collection Hymns of Faith and Hope (1866) is not widely known, but I think deserves to be. The tune I've chosen may be one I've dismissed on occasion, but it suits these joyful words.
Fill thou my life, O Living God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and thy ways.
Not for the joy of praise alone,
Nor e’en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part!
Praise in the common words I speak,
Life’s common looks and tones,
In fellowship in hearth and home
With my belovèd ones;
Not in the temple crowd alone
Where holy voices chime,
But in the silent paths of earth,
The quiet rooms of time.
Fill every part of me with praise;
Let all my being speak
Of thee and of thy love, O God,
Poor though I be, and weak.
So shalt thou, God, from me, e’en me,
Receive the glory due;
And so shall I begin on earth
The song forever new.
So shall each fear, each fret, each care
Be turned into a song,
And every winding of the way
The echo shall prolong;
So shall no part of day or night
From sacredness be free;
But all my life, in every step
Be harmony with thee.
Horatius Bonar, 1866, alt.
Tune: ELLACOMBE (C.M.D.)
Württemberg Gesangbuch, 1774;
adapt. William H. Monk, 1868
Much later in life, Bonar changed his opinion on singing hymns in church and allowed some of his texts to be sung by his congregation. This was still a controversial decision; two elders of his church reportedly walked out when they were sung, and he was also sharply criticized in The Signal, a Free Church journal.
Bonar's wife, Jane Lundie Bonar, also wrote some hymns, but only one of them (Fade, fade, each earthly joy) was much known and sung.