God, you look within the heart

*** This hymn elaborates the story of Samuel’s anointing of David to succeed Saul as king. It could also be read as a commentary on the Collect for Purity.


God, you look into the heart.midi


‘I was not the first choice for king,’ said David. ‘Nor the second, nor even the third, but the eighth! It wasn’t that the others weren’t up to the job, but that they weren’t chosen to do it. I was.’

The remarkable story of David’s anointing by the prophet Samuel sets the scene for this hymn. The hymn meditates on the theme of God’s good will worked out in precise historical circumstances and in the face of human movers and shakers who may envisage reality differently from what God reveals. Every kind of political and social convention is thereby subjected to the scrutiny of God’s mysterious wisdom.

There are two sources for this theme in the hymn. One is the word of the Lord to Samuel: Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature… for the Lord does not see as mortals see, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16.7). The other is Jesus’ proclamation that I have come into the world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind (John 9.39). These sources are acknowledged in the first and second stanzas.

These verses are built on thanksgiving for God’s sovereign grace, which determines ‘what is to be’ (v 1), which ‘is expressed’ (v 2), which enables people to serve God’s purposes (v 3). This thanksgiving is also a prayer that we may ‘choose what is to be, nor resist your grace, but see…’ Neither a fatalistic nor a quietist accommodation to the way things are, but a confident acceptance that all things work together for good for those that love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28)

The prayer in this hymn is what makes it a Christian hymn. In theory, anyone might pray for wisdom to discern what is to be and for grace to embrace it, perhaps as necessity; some people resignedly suggest that ‘we all have our cross to bear’. The hymn asks for a great deal more than this: that we may ‘see Christ-in-every-land-set-free’, and that in seeing we may ‘lift our lives in praise’. With God’s will everywhere revealed in the day-to-day political process, sectional interests, personal or corporate, are exposed as blind, of the darkness, whereas those who live as children of light…bear fruit in all that is good and right and true (Ephesians 5.8b-9).

The understanding of Christ that this hymn instils is of the divine influence fleshed out in every circumstance, whether or not people acknowledge Christ’s presence and sovereign authority. Christ is ‘of earth and heaven the zest’, the liveliness that speaks abundance and wholesomeness and joyful mutuality: signs of peace ruling in creation. It is ‘all the world’s good news’. It is Christ Jesus, ‘whose cross all duties pays’.

The hymn might be criticised for this reference to the cross, coming as it does, without specific warning, in the last line. Yet the significance of the cross is implied throughout, in praying to ‘choose what is to be’ (My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done. Matthew 26.42). Worshippers who face the implications of this hymn find themselves close to Jesus.

The hymn is organised in stanzas of seven lines, each divided into sections of three lines and four. The first section alludes to the biblical sources for the hymn’s meditating and praying; the second articulates the prayers. This is worked out musically by means of a simple first section in C major, in which each note proceeds by step from the one before. The section ends by modulating up a minor third to E flat major, where it begins a simple development of the opening theme. This is repeated in the next line, now in E minor. The musical figure is then further repeated, this time as a melodic sequence in E major that climbs to a modulating climax and brings the music back to its home key. It perhaps sounds impossibly complicated; but there are only three musical intervals in the whole piece, and each of them is either a major or a minor third. Everything else moves by step, making the hymn easy to sing.

The music was written on the Commemoration of Bernard Mizeki, Apostle of MaShona, Martyr.