All Things are Thine
John Greenleaf Whittier
I’m quite fond of the gentle and sweetly patriotic New England Quaker, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier. You might almost say that there’s a complete separation between a people who honored Whittier, with his clean heart, his simple verse, his childlike vision, and his moral probity, and a people who honor – well, the foul, angry, and nasty entertainers we honor now. It’s a mark of his breadth of mind and feeling that his poems can grace hymnals of many denominations, without falling afoul of anyone’s theology, because his fundamental faith was profoundly personal, and not an intellectual game. Whittier lay all his trust in the Fatherhood of God, and he saw the utter poverty of man without the Father’s grace.
Our hymn here is a case in point. “All things are thine,” he says – and be sure that it’s thine in your hymnal, because if it’s yours, the editors have mangled the poem and left it a bloody mess. Because all things come from God and belong to him, we have nothing of our own to offer him, except his own gifts to us in return – unless we say that the one thing that does belong to us is gratitude. So when we consecrate a church to God – that’s what the hymn has been sung for – it is our gratitude that speaks, and no matter how high we build the structure, it is “in weakness and in want we call / On thee to whom the heavens are small.” But God has deigned to approach us in our smallness, for humility – not pride! – is what enlarges the heart.
I’ve seen the hymn set to the melody GARDINER, named for the composer, William Gardiner, from his book Sacred Melodies (1815). It’s an excellent melody, but if you really want something rousing and unusual, try the melody CANDLER, that Scottish tune to which the men of the Highlands sang of their homely banks an’ braes, in “Bonnie Doon.”
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