For Martin Draper, the Kingdom of God is a powerful theme for hymns
Just as the first edition of the English Hymnal in 1906 showed itself to be rooted in the natural world, long before ‘environmentalism’ and ‘climate change’ were part of our vocabulary, so also the injustices of our world and the innate corruption with which fallen human beings are tainted featured in several of its hymns. Many were included in the ‘National’ section of the hymn book, a heading which disappears in the Revised English Hymnal, though all the items in it in the New English Hymnal have been retained. Others were to be found among the general hymns.
The English Hymnal was the first collection to remove the verse in ‘All things bright and beautiful’ which claimed that the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate were part of God’s design for human society. New compositions by Henry Scott Holland (‘Judge eternal, throned in splendour’) and G.K. Chesterton (‘O God of earth and altar’) still speak to our condition, and although Chesterton’s ‘prince and priest and thrall’ has a ring of medieval feudalism about it, we need to remember that the feast of Christ the King was introduced to remind us that secularism is ‘rule’ without God and bound to fail.
In 1986, the New English Hymnal placed many such hymns in a new section called ‘The Kingdom of God’ and this has been continued in the latest revision. The editors consider this the best context for them, and have avoided the entirely secular term, ‘social justice.’ True to the book’s tradition they also believe, together with many ancient hymns, that we should address our needs to God himself.
‘Stretch forth thine hand to heal our sore/And make us rise to fall no more;
Once more upon thy people shine/And fill the world with love divine.’ (NEH 12)
Such lines have directness and power lacking in hymns and prayers which begin ‘we pray that….’ or ‘help us to…’ as if the Kingdom of God were something we could build ourselves. The roots of justice and righteousness lie at the heart of the Church’s daily prayer: ‘Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ The feast of Christ the King crowns the Church’s year, before it begins once again with the season of Advent.
O CHRIST the Lord, O Christ the King,
Who wide the gates of death didst fling,
Whose place upon creation’s throne
By Easter triumph was made known,
Rule now on earth from realms above,
Subdue the nations by thy love.
2 Lord, vindicate against man’s greed
The weak, whose tears thy justice plead;
Thy pity, Lord, on those who lie
Broken by war and tyranny;
Show them the Cross which thou didst bear,
Give them the power that conquered there;
3 Let those whose power usurps thy throne
Acknowledge thou art Lord alone;
Cause those whose lust torments mankind
Thy wrath to know, thy mercy find;
Make all the rebel world proclaim
The mighty power of thy blest name.
4 So shall creation’s bondage cease,
Its pangs of woe give birth to peace;
And all the earth, redeemed by thee,
Shall know a glorious liberty:
O haste the time, make short the days
Till all our cries dissolve in praise.
- T. Brooks, 1918-85
© Hope Publishing Company, www.hopepublishing.com
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The hymn begins with the Lordship and Kingship of Christ in his work of redemption on the cross, vindicated by his resurrection from the dead. It was this work that made known to his creatures on earth his universal and eternal Kingship. So, the author appeals to Christ in the final lines of the verse and throughout the rest of his text to rule on earth and to subdue ‘the nations’ not by force, but by love.
And the love of Christ is not weak or sentimental as verse 2 proclaims, with a similar directness to Scott Holland’s and Chesterton’s texts. The writer asks Christ to vindicate the weak and those who are victims of war and tyranny against the human greed which breeds such evil and injustice. He asks him to empower the weak and the broken by showing them Christ enthroned on the Cross, where he is both Christus Rex and Christus Victor.
It is the same love which alone can turn the hearts of those whose power usurps that of Christ the King, so that they may acknowledge him as the only Lord. In strongly worded lines, Christ is asked to ‘cause’ or make those whose ‘lust torments mankind’ see God’s anger and find his mercy. And this applies to all of us: the whole ‘rebel’ world is to proclaim the mighty power of Christ’s blessèd name.
For, in the final verse, based on St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 8.19-23, it isn’t just a question of the wicked getting their comeuppance, because the whole creation is in the ‘travail’ of rebirth. Perfect freedom is to be found in the service of God, through which we experience a ‘glorious’ liberty.
The hymn concludes with a heartfelt plea – ‘O haste the time’ – timelessly appropriate for our world in every age. It leads us into Advent and reminds us of the urgency of the first thing we ask of ‘Our Father’, whose name is holy, every day of our lives: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’
The hymn could be sung on the feast of Christ the King, but it also fits the words of the Common Worship Collect for the Third Sunday before Advent (which may also be used on Remembrance Sunday), a text which seems closer to the Collect provided for the feast in the Roman Missal. It can be sung to Melita, but the tune set is magnificent, easily learned and may be sung in unison.