December 14, 2017

Another Look at a Favorite Hymn

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 obvious message 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. One of my favorites as well. I remember the first time I heard it was when I was 12. My family had just moved to Bulawayo, in what is now Zimbabwe. Our public school had a morning assembly where hymns were sung (Old British type school system.) If the prefects (upper class school leaders) were not satisfied you were singing loud enough, you would have to come back at lunch to try again. It resulted in some rather lively hymn signing sessions. Imagine 600 boys, all singing as loud as they could! This was where I came to learn and appreciate the great hymns of the Anglican tradition.

  2. I know the escarpment – or as most folks today usually call it, the ridge – very well. It is indeed a wonder to behold the broad sweep of the basin below, and the outline of Toronto visible across the lake. It is a special treat now, with foliage in full splendor, and the cool fall air fresh from the many apple orchards and pumpkin fields. Its an area where – to use an archaic term – people “repair to” for the souls’ refreshment. In so many ways it is a testimony to God’s goodness to us in creating such idyllic settings, and allowing us to glimpse his own sense of beauty through it. I never knew the story behind this hymn (or is it a praise song?) but I see the strong connection now.

    • My little town of Dundas is surrounded by the escarpment on all three sides at the very western tip of Lake Ontario (We call it the escarpment up here, though the south side is misnamed Hamilton Mountain. Almost every day I go for a 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) hike in the escarpment area. I will post a link to some pictures at lunch.

      I never knew the connection to the hymn though, so kudos to Chaplain Mike for informing us of that.

    • Any of you have links to pictures of this area.

      • For waterfalls in my area (we have over 100!!!) check out cityofwaterfalls.ca

        Also, the Bruce Trail runs along the entire length of the Ontario portion of the escarpment. For an interactive map check out brucetrail.org/places

        Copy and paste the links into your browser. (Trying to escape moderation.)

      • Or do a google image search for “Niagara escarpment”

        • Paul Wiersma says:

          I have many fond memories of spending summers with my grandparents in West Flamborough. Hikes to Dundas Peak and playing behind Webster’s Falls was always a treat. I find it beautiful that the inspiration of this hymn came from the escarpment.

          • I can see the Escarpment from my window as I type this sentence. Niagara Falls exists because Lake Erie is higher than Lake Ontario–Erie is on top of the Escaprment, Lake Ontario is down here. It’s all about retreating glaciers, if I remember correctly. So Niagara Peninsula (Lake Ontario on your north, Lake Erie on your south side, the Niagara River on your east side) to Hamilton, to Dundas, to Guelph…has some incredible topography. The Escaprment termintates several hundred kilometres north of here at Tobermory, on Manitoulin Island.

          • It’s great how Webster’s Falls has that ‘shelf’ sticking out halfway down, so the water falls, and splashes off it and outward, before hitting the river. Next door to it is of course Tew’s Falls, which has much lesser volume of water, but the water falls from a much greater height, straight down, very impressive. And that waterfall is a very sharply defined half circle, you can’t help thinking it looks like it was carefully sculpted, can’t help thinking God had fun when he was doing it. It’s always a shock to see it, every time…

          • Webster’s Falls, Tews Falls, and the Dundas Peak are all walking distance from my house. On Saturday, my son was home from University for his 18th birthday, so we decided to hike from Tew’s falls to Dundas peak. But, my youngest stubbed her toe by Tew’s falls. So we dropped her back home, and started hiking into the bottom of Tew’s falls instead. Water in the creek made it a little tricky, so we back tracked and hiked into the base of Webster’s. On our way out we did a detour, and climbed up the escarpment to the west of Dundas Peak. Quite a pleasant way to spend a Saturday Afternoon.

        • in response to your 12 09 comment:
          Fantastic. I’ve never hiked the bottom of tew’s, how do you get there?
          And it connects to the bottom of Webster’s?
          If you are not familiar, this weekend you should drive 50 mins to Beamer falls conservation area in Grimsby. Turn right on Christie st. exit of QEW, follow it straight up the Esparpment, turn right…that place is fantastic. THAT waterfall totally has ‘steps’ built into it all the way down, getting wider towards the bottom, standing in the bottom really feels like your in an ampitheatre. There’s so little water flowing over it this year you can actually walk UP it. Really great spot. It’s also a big meeting area for migratory hawks…fun to watch them glide, just floating, not moving, for minutes at a time…

          • There is a hike into the base of Webster’s from highway 8, where the train tracks go over the highway. Park on the side of the road to the west of the old District school. Walk east on the path by the train tracks towards Dundas Peak. Just before the base of the peak you will see a path going in to your left.

            This path takes you towards the base of Webster’s falls. Note: They have closed off the stairs up to top of Webster’s falls a couple weeks ago, so you can hike to the base, but can’t get up to the top anymore. As you are hiking towards Websters, there are two paths down to the creek. The second path down leads to where the water from Webster’s and Tew’s meet. Cross the creek using the stepping stones and follow the creek to the base of Tew’s falls. It is not far, but it is tricky. Quite difficult if there has been a recent rain. The vista at the bottom of Tew’s is quite stunning.

            I have just posted a slideshow at eclecticchristian.com of my hike in at the end of August. Almost no water over Tew’s falls. Look for the my son at the base of the falls to get a sense of the scale.

            As for Beamer. I have been there twice, but not in a number of years. Also to Ball’s fall in that area too. Both lovely.

          • Correction – My facebook page says the hike was July 8.

  3. A beautiful hymn of common grace. “For the Beauty of the Earth” is another favorite in the same vein.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    Thanks so much for writing about this hymn and what it means to us as followers of Christ. It’s one of my favorites also, and can remember singing it in the Methodist Church where I grew up. Hymns have always been so important to me, and this one takes on special meanng everytime I go out to take a walk. There’s an environmental preservation center a few miles from home that’s owned by Goshen College (Mennonite). I go there a lot to walk and also attempt some photographs. After church yesterday I went there to walk and see the Autumn color. This hymn immediately came to mind.

    N. T Wright rings so true for me these days. This old world is in God’s hands. Some day it will return to a perfection and splendor that we cannot even begin to imagine.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    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.

    So this hymn (from the end of the Post-Mil Victorian era) can serve as a direct counter to today’s Pre-Mil/Pre-Trib “It’s All Gonna Burn.” Its more liturgical tradition of the Cosmos renewed as a counter to today’s Fluffy Cloud Heaven/Beam Me Up Jesus. (Because if It’s All Gonna Burn, why bother? op cit urban legend version of James Watt before Congress.)

    • David Cornwell says:

      From what I’m readng in comments by some of the rapture theology (?) folks in recent days concerning Israel and Iran, one could come away with the impression that they are ready for the mushroom clouds as a prelude to Jesus in the clouds to lift us all (or some of us) away.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Tell me about it. I’m a veteran of the Gospel According to Hal Lindsay back in the Seventies. Back when the Bible had only 3 1/2 books: Daniel, Revelation, the “Nuclear War Chapter” of Ezekiel (the 1/2) and Late Great Planet Earth.

        i.e. Christians For Nuclear War.

    • An example of experience impacting theology. Two world wars and a depression can make you think that the world is not going to get better all the time.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        And flip you into the polar opposite — Grimdark, Crapsack, It’s All Over But The Screaming.

  6. Speaking of hymms…”It is Well with My Soul” has a fascinating story. I’d love to see a Chaplin Mike post epxloring and discussing that! 🙂

  7. Knitting Jenny says:

    Thank you for giving me this lovely gift this morning, Chaplain Mike. This hymn is among the first I taught my children when they were very small, and thinking of it now brings back sweet memories of their little voices praising God for His creation.

    PS — I had to change my moniker because it seems I’m not the only Jenny reading IM!

  8. Quite the shame that the Ontarians have the edge on their part of this shared natural treasure. And they have Laura Secord, the Canadian version of Paul Revere. And she made lovely chocolates. Pierre Burton writes so convincingly of that era. But on the US side, we have Capt. William Morgan, who was murdered for blabbing Lodge secrets – his wife eventually married Joseph Smith – do we see a connection here? I’m sorry, this is so WAY off topic. I still think This Is My Father’s World is more a spiritually reflective piece akin to Jerusalem, than technically a hymn. And I predict, remembering CM’s son graduated from North Park, that we will soon be hearing about Tryggare kan ingen vara – my absolute favorite hymn of all time.

  9. If I wanted to read from N T Wright, where would be a good place to start?

    • Well, Surprised by Hope is a good place to start. I think his new book, How God Became King would also be a good place to start, too. Really, though, to be honest, I’ve not read anything by him that I wouldn’t recommend. His academic books (like Jesus and the Victory of God may be a bit much for people who aren’t used to reading really dense theological works, though.

      • As much as people rave about Surprised by Hope, both my Dad and I found it a very hard book to get into. And are both of us would typically find that kind of book very interesting to read.

    • I’d recommend ‘Luke For Everyone’ but I’m a big Luke fan…

    • David Morris says:

      The Challenge of Easter is very short, but deals with the resurrection and what that means. I think that would be a good place to start 🙂

  10. Dana Ames says:

    Pat,
    if you’re up for it, the “big books” (“Christian Origins” series):

    The New Testament and the People of God
    Jesus and the Victory of God
    The Resurrection of the Son of God

    Even though he’s known for his work on Paul, the key to everything he has written is his understanding of Jesus. If someone is serious about understanding Wright, the big books are essential. Maybe you can borrow them through interlibrary loan, if you don’t want to buy.

    That said, if you want “quick and dirty” I recommend “Following Jesus” (a collection of sermons he gave in the ’90s as Dean of Lichfield Cathedral) and “Simply Jesus”, read together or sequentially.

    There’s also a bunch of articles you can access for free at the NTWrightpage website, but again, do start with Jesus. Resist the urge to go to the Paul material first.

    Dana

    • Dana Ames says:

      “How God Became King” could be read in place of “Simply Jesus” – Good suggestion by Phil M.

      Dana

    • I will begin at the beginning then. Nothing could be denser than the Death of Death. I will look for the “big books.” I hope there is something for kindle so I can at least have giant print.
      Thanks!

      • Unless you’re used to reading 600-page academic tomes with heavy footnotes, I wouldn’t reccommend starting with the big books. Even his popular works such as Surprised by Hope are more complex and dense than your typical popular-level Christian book…

    • David Cornwell says:

      Many of his lectures can also be found on the internet. He gave one series at Asbury Seminary back in about 1997 which is available (the video quality isn’t quite up to current standards). Others can also be found.

  11. This has been my favorite hymn for the past several years as well. Was listening to in on a Fernando Ortega album and the 3rd verse in particular blew me away. The world I live in is His – not mine, not anyone elses, and Jesus will not be satisfied until….