A while back I found an old hymnal from the early 1900’s that had a number of songs I had never seen in any modern hymnal. I’ve been working on new melodies for a few of them, and Beulah Land by Edgar Stites (1876) is one of them. My wife made the comment that she liked this one because of its warmth and homey-ness, not because of some great theological depth that we often think of hymns providing. But if thoughts of Heaven make us warm and feel at home, then Amen. That’s good theology right there.
Here’s a demo of the first verse I made using my new fancy Garageband app on my phone (so pardon the quality).
Tonight we go WAY back, to one of the earliest recorded Christian poems on record. Aurelius Clemens Prudentius was a Roman Christian who lived from 348-413 AD in/around what is now present-day Spain. He was the first Christian poet we know of, and wrote many poems defending the faith from heresies and encouraging the Church to persevere. The hymn Of The Father’s Love Begotten is based on Prudentius’ Hymn For All Hours, hymn IX in his collection Liber Cathemerinon, “Hymns for the Christian’s Day.”
The full collection of Prudentius hymns and a short biography can be found here, thanks to Project Gutenberg. It’s definitely worth a read, especially hymn IX above and hymn XI, “Hymn For Christmas Day.” Below is Of The Father’s Love Begotten, based on a translation of hymn IX from the Latin by John Neale and Henry Baker in the late 1800’s (tune here). May these ancient words encourage you this Advent as they have the Church for nearly two thousand years.
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be, He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He, Of the things that are, that have been, And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done: Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one; All that grows beneath the shining Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know, That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe, May not henceforth die and perish In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace, By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race; And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer, First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord; Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word; Now He shines, the long expected, Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing; Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King! Let no tongue on earth be silent, Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!
Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live, On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive; Who at last in vengeance coming Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!
Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing; Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering: Let their guileless songs re-echo, And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!
Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee, Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be: Honor, glory, and dominion, And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
Edit: Kevin DeYoung gives a fuller treatment here.