Reginald Heber was born April 21, 1783, to a minister and his wife in an English village. After a happy childhood and a good education in the village school, he enrolled at Oxford where he excelled in poetry and became fast friends with Sir Walter Scott. Following graduation, he succeeded his father as vicar in his family’s parish, and for sixteen years he faithfully served his flock. His bent toward poetry naturally gave him a keen and growing interest in hymnody. He sought to lift the literary quality of hymns, and he also dreamed of publishing a collection of high-caliber hymns corresponding to the church year for use by liturgical churches. But the Bishop of London wouldn’t go along with it, and Heber’s plans were disappointed. He continued writing hymns for his own church, however, and it was during the sixteen years in the obscure parish of Hodnet that Heber wrote all 57 of his hymns. It was after his death that his widow, finding his 57 hymns in a trunk, succeeded in publishing his Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Church Year. In this volume was the great Trinitarian hymn based on Revelation 4: 8-11. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”
Vivid imagery, poetic language, and elegant style make this a most unusual hymn. Here are majesty, beauty, wonder, and glory. Here are reverence, assurance, and joyful praise. Robert Grant wrote the hymn in 1833. It is based on Psalm 104.
Grant’s hymn comes into clearer focus if one reads Psalm 104 and compares the psalm with the hymn. The hymn reflects the spirit of the psalmist as he is caught up in the wonder and beauty of God’s magnificent creation. Seven names for God are found in the hymn - King, Shield, Defender, Ancient of Days, Maker, Redeemer, and Friend.
Of Scottish ancestry, Grant was born in Bengal, India, where his father was a director in the East India Company. While still a child he returned with his family to Scotland, was educated at Cambridge, and then was admitted to the bar. His election to Parliament began his career of distinction. Sent to India as governor of Bombay in 1834, Grant was knighted by King William IV before he left India. Grant wrote more than a dozen hymns, most of which have been forgotten. His name, however, will long remain in our hymnals because of the great expression of God’s praise that begins “O worship the King, all glorious above.”