Lord of Glory
“Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us” This text was written by Eliza Anderson (1818-1889) and included in the first edition of that great monument to English Victorian hymnody—Hymns Ancient and Modern (1865). Anderson was married to an Anglican vicar, and her talents in writing and painting became evident early in life. One should note at this point the preponderance of women hymnwriters during the Victorian era both in the United States and England. Charlotte Elliott (“Just as I Am”), Frances Havergal (“Take My Life and Let it Be”) and Sarah Adams (“Nearer, My God, to Thee”) are but a few of the women hymn writers whose contributions have enriched Christian hymnody. There had been women hymn writers all the way back to the middle ages (Hildegard von Bingen in the Roman tradition) and German Lutheran hymnals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries exhibit the work of Lutheran women early in the Reformation. However, most women hymnwriters prior to the Victorian era were nobility. They were wives of aristocracy, if not just aristocracy in their own right. Poetry was considered an aristocratic skill to be cultivated, and it most certainly was. In the first three centuries of the Reformation one continually finds references to women hymn writers of the nobility. However, with the Victorian era was inaugurated a time of middle-class hymnists. Most hymn writers of the Victorian era were either country vicars or their wives. They were hardly poor, but they were certainly not royalty and, by the very nature of their job, they were exposed to the realities of the day-to-day living of their parishoners. It is perhaps this bourgious connection which ensured that their hymns were not only accepted but loved by generations of rich and poor alike.
This hymn text belies its provenance of nineteenth-century England. In the first stanza we sing of that great redemption being bought by Christ’s “lifeblood as the price, never grudging for the lost ones that tremendous sacrifice.” In other words, Christ counted it of no accord that He had to die for all of us—in the words of that other Victorian hymn, “Yet cheerful He, to suffering goes, that He His foes from death might free.” This redemption has resulted in our being given “Blessings countless as the sand. . .” Anderson then moves the second stanza to our response to this work of love, “And with that have freely given blessings countless as the sand to the unthankful and the evil with your own unsparing hand.” We do not do good deeds to earn our salvation. Our good deeds are done cheerfully in response to what Christ has first done for us. Anderson observes, “Yes, the sorrow and the sufferings which on ev’ry hand we view channels are for gifts and offering due by solemn right to you. . .” We can be led down dangerous theologizings when we try to ascertain why a “God of love would bring such devastation” on such-and-such a location; often, this thought is accompanied by either a denial of God’s existence or at least of His goodness. The writer of music notes cannot pretend to address why bad things happen on earth, since the genesis of it all is sin both of nature and of humanity. But this hymn helps us to move beyond the useless cliché variably stated as “God works everything for His purpose,” as that somehow is supposed to provide comfort to the distressed and grieving. In the words of this hymn, we know that these sorrows and sufferings provide opportunities (“channels”) for us to evangelize and to serve with our “gifts and offerings.” Maybe we exhibit this through giving much money—every church leader would like for us to think this! But maybe we demonstrate this through selfless service and personal sacrifice to the Church or to others. Some people are extroverts and enjoy evangelizing or being of service to others on a personal basis. Others are introverts, and seek to make their contribution in less tangible, but no less meaningful ways. However this service be expressed, we dare not think in the words of the fourth stanza, “Right of which we may not rob You, debt we may not choose but pay.” We owe to Christ more than we have the ability to pay back; our good deeds are predicated on the understanding of this redemption, Christ first loved us and redeemed us that we may love and serve others!