October 21, 2014

A Favorite Hymn: “This Is My Father’s World”

By Chaplain Mike

Ever since I was a child, one of my favorite hymns has been, “This Is My Father’s World“, by Rev. Maltbie D. Babcock. I’m sure what first caught my attention was its lovely melody, which is said to have been adapted from an English folk tune by Franklin L. Sheppard.

This hymn (or poem as it was at the time) was not published until after Babcock’s death in 1901. Shortly after he died, his wife put together a book of his poems and this one, “My Father’s World,” which originally had sixteen stanzas, was included.

Babcock was a pastor in upstate New York. The story is told that he loved to go hiking in an area known as “the escarpment,” where there was a breathtaking vista of farms and orchards, with Lake Ontario about fifteen miles in the distance. It is said that upon leaving for these walks, he would tell his wife, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”

One of the obvious messages of this hymn is acknowledgment of the goodness and beauty of God’s creation. Ken Burns recognized this and used an instrumental version of the hymn as music for his recent documentary series on America’s national parks. Babcock’s experience of God “speaking to him everywhere” through his general revelation reflects the divine testimony in Psalm 19:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

In our day, “This Is My Father’s World” reminds us of our responsibility, as God’s stewards, to care for the world that he has given us. It is not our world; it is our Father’s world. According to Genesis 1, he has entrusted its care and keeping to us. Human sin has affected not only our relationship to God, but also our life in and relationship to the natural world. It is obvious that we have abused creation many ways. Environmental responsibility is ultimately a Christian duty, because we believe in the One who created our home and entrusted it to us.

Perhaps the strongest stanza of the hymn is this one:

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

In recent days, this lyric has become more recognizable because of reference to it by N.T. Wright in his teaching on eschatology. God’s plan will culminate, not in some ethereal heaven away from earth, but rather in heaven coming down to earth and utterly transforming it and all the universe into a new creation. Whereas much gospel hymnology has stressed leaving the world for heaven, the fact is that the future Christian hope is utterly terrestrial. Earth and heaven shall be one. God shall take up his throne here, and all will be made new.

This is why Jesus died:

With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:8b-10, NRSV)

God’s redemption of individuals through Jesus’ death and resurrection is but one part of a plan that includes all creation. Earth and heaven shall be one. He will be our God, we will be his people, and he will dwell among us. And we will sing, “This Is My Father’s World.”

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

Comments

  1. Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    Listen to the music in the hobbit scenes on Lord of the Rings. That melody really reminds me of the melody of this hymn.

    • Finally! I thought I was the ONLY one to notice that!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I’m sure what first caught my attention was its lovely melody, which is said to have been adapted from an English folk tune by Franklin L. Sheppard.

        English Folk Tune.

        Remember the Shire was Prof Tolkien’s stylized childhood memories of the best of the English countryside, and the Hobbits were stylized idealized English country folk.

        So it seems obvious that the Shire would be scored reminiscent of English folk music.

  2. Buford Hollis says:

    I had to look up what denomination he was: Presbyterian.

  3. I LOVE Fernando Ortega’s version. This version on YouTube paired with stunning photos is one of my favorites.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byIpfEVxhs4

  4. This just activated my annual itch-to-see-mountains. Thanks for this post…

  5. I like your selection of the strongest stanza. It immediately reminded me of my favorite section of “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”:

    3. And in despair I bowed my head
    ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
    ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.’

    4. Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
    With peace on earth, good will to men.’

  6. Still one of my favourite hymns, and for exactly the same reasons.

  7. This made me think of one of my favorite places on earth – a cabin my wife’s parents have in Pennsylvania. To me, that is “my Father’s world.” Thank you.

  8. “Environmental responsibility is ultimately a Christian duty, because we believe in the One who created our home and entrusted it to us.”

    Although I’m a pretty reliable conservative on most issues, I’d have to say I’m a staunch environmentalist for reasons like that above. I think my perspective is colored by growing up in Florida where it seemed every year a huge new stretch of land was cleared in order to put up yet another strip mall, while the one from the previous year was abandoned and just left to rot. To me, it was senseless destruction, not much different from the section in Lewis’ Perelandra where the bad guy mutilates the little frog like creatures all over the place just because he can.

    I never really framed my perspective in postmillenial terms, but I did enjoy reading Paradise Restored by Chilton and thought it was a good introduction to the subject. I’d be curious if others of that persuasion have comments on that subject (assuming it’s inline with the point of the post).

  9. One of my favorites, too, and another reason I y lament the absence of hymns where we are now.

    There are some who still consider this earth “disposable” and de-emphasize creation care and stewardship (yet they still hold retreats and conferences in some of the most beautiful places), but I think they are fewer than in the past. It’s encouraging to see the church starting to reawaken to the idea of stewardship. Not only is it good in and of itself on theological grounds, it should open new avenues for the kingdom to grow.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    There are some who still consider this earth “disposable” and de-emphasize creation care and stewardship…

    Fluffy Cloud Heaven, Christ Is Coming Soon (yesterday at the latest) to Beam Us Up, and It’s All Gonna Burn. Spiritual Good, Physical Baaaaaaaaad.

  11. When I was in high school in the 60’s, our youth group was leading worship one particular Sunday and I was preaching. We had to submit the service for approval by the pastor. We had chosen the hymns, Morning Has Broken, which was popular back then, and This Is My Father’s World. The pastor rejected both of them, saying Morning Has Broken had no Christian content and My Father’s World was pantheistic. The pastor also rejected my sermon, which included a mildly positive statement about environmental stewardship. That event and all the judgementally charged rejection that went with it, was probably the beginning of my long journey away from fundamentalist Christianity.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “Morning Has Broken” as in “The Shield of St Patrick”, THE 5TH/6TH-CENTURY IRISH HYMN CREDITED TO ST PATRICK HIMSELF?

      St Patrick? You know, FIRST CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY TO THE CELTS OF HIBERNIA?

  12. I signed onto the computer just now having come straight from choosing the prelude music for this Sunday. I had decided to play “This Is My Father’s World.”

  13. This hymn (or poem as it was at the time) was not published until after Babcock’s death in 1901. Shortly after he died, his wife put together a book of his poems…

    I read his wife as my wife and went “Whaaat, Chaplain Mike’s wife must be ancient.” Goes to show you the danger of reading something too quickly!

  14. Rick Bayley says:

    This has been one of my favorite hymns for years. It’s really formed my view of the world we live in – it is HIS, not ours. Your favorite verse is the one that jumped out and grabbed me (from listening t0 Fernando Ortega’s version of it). Every thing is different when I live into the reality that I’m living in His world, not my own. What a gift.

  15. It always bothered me why Christians are so uncomfortable living as physical beings in a physical universe. Whatever will be our state in heaven, it too will be temporal until Christ raises us from the dead and once again unites spirit with body.

    I think reality is like a Jay Ward “Fractured Fairytale”. This reality is fractured, broken by sin. We feel uncomfortable here, because we dare not see those same fractures inside ourselves. If we can accept the world as it is – a paradox of brokenness and redemption – I think we would have a greater appreciation for creation and more patience with ourselves.

  16. I was thinking of another hymn this morning.

    It was written by Cleland B. McAfee (at the time, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Chicago) after hearing that his two nieces had died of diptheria.

    On the day of the double funeral, he stood outside of his brother’s quarantined house house and sang these words to the remaining family:

    There is a place of comfort sweet,
    Near to the heart of God.
    A place where we our Savior meet,
    Near to the heart of God.

    O, Jesus, blest Redeemer,
    Sent from the heart of God,
    Hold us who wait before Thee,
    Near to the heart of God

    A great statement of incredible faith at a very challenging time.

  17. Always been my favorite hymn as well! If you want a great arrangement, Mars Hill recorded one years ago that you can listen to online. For the full impact, start at “The Dead End of Cynicism” and go from there…it’s an amazing movement!

    http://www.musicatmars.com/