Our voices raised, with all who follow You

* This hymn for All Saints tide celebrates saints, living and departed, including those ‘who bear the cross, for truth and goodness bleed’, who may not have confessed the faith of Christ.


Our voices raised, with all who follow You.midi


This hymn paraphrases and expounds Revelation 7.9-17. It highlights the reciprocal relationship between the Lamb (who) is at the centre of the throne …their shepherd and those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. In Isaac Watts’ words, ‘they…ascribe their conquest to the Lamb, their triumph to his death’, while in this hymn the Sovereign Lamb marks them with love’s seal’.

‘Love’s seal’ compresses two themes. The ‘love’ is the reward which love gives to its faithful witnesses (for love is as love does): They will hunger no more, and thirst no more …the Lamb …will guide them to springs of the water of life … The ‘seal’ alludes to verses 4-8 preceding today’s reading: the rehearsing of the one hundred and forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel. Nowadays the list of the tribes and those sealed is not always read in public worship, and it may be that the seer’s vision of fullness is thereby emasculated. Whether or not it is thought to work, ‘love’s seal’ is therefore intended as affirmative speech, pointing to God’s radical inclusion: people, no matter how heroic, whom the church may treat as insignificant, are given their place ‘before the heavenly throne’.

The hymn does more than summarise what the seer recorded when he looked[1]. It is in the nature of a celebration, rather like people who have seen active service marching past the saluting base of their supreme commander. Set to fine music, ENGELBERG by Charles Villiers Stanford[2], the hymn sits somewhere between the pedagogically devotional tones of Watts’ ‘Give us the wings of faith to rise’ (usually sung to Orlando Gibbons’[3] reflective SONG 67) and W.Walsham How’s[4] rousing ‘For all the saints’ (inseparably linked to Ralph Vaughan Williams’[5] SINE NOMINE). It invokes the extremes neither of pious passivity nor of patriotic fervour, yet it aims to instil in its singers zeal to emulate the saints as martyrs, believers in life. The hymn is pregnant with joy-in-hoping: it is a prayer that ‘all creation, past and yet to be’ may ‘grow great with praise, and own your victory’.

[1] The seer’s ‘look’ should not be thought of as indicating curiosity, but ‘receptive seeing’ (Daniel Price in The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings 2001 p 606)

[2] 1852-1924. ENGELBERG was composed for ‘For all the saints’, but was relatively unpopular for a long time after being displaced by SINE NOMINE.

[3] 1583-1625. Gibbons’ melody and bass are from E.Prys’s Llyfr y Psalmodau 1621

[4] 1823-1897

[5] 1872-1958