With fervent thanksgiving

*** This hymn gets to grips with the apostle Paul’s difficult argument in chapters nine to eleven of the Letter to the Romans.

The music is the first I wrote in the cottage – Y BWTHYN – that became our home in Wales.


With fervent thanksgiving.midi

It took me twelve years to bring this hymn to its present condition, and I’m not sure if it’s finished yet. In it singers take on the voice of Paul, a Jew , re-born as a Jewish Christian. At issue is how we understand us in Paul’s testimony I am convinced that … nothing in all creation will be able to separate us … (Romans 8.39). An earlier edition of this hymn-text prompted the commentary that follows; though the words are slightly different, the substance is the same.


There always has been, and there still is, an urgent need for Christians to stand in solidarity with their elder siblings, the Jews. The need has been all the more pressing because throughout history Christians have been the Jews’ chief adversaries.

There is arguably no better place to work – that is, pray – through the issues raised by Christian consciousness of their relationship with Jews than Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly 3.1-2 and chapters 9-11. There Paul, a Jew before he became a Jewish Christian and apostle to Gentiles, forthrightly asserted that the advantage of the Jews is that they were entrusted with the oracles of God[1] …’ These tokens, according to Paul, are eight-fold: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever.[2] But from the time of Marcion, who died around 160, through to the present, there has been vocal resistance to the implications of this: Christian heretics have repudiated the salvific significance of the Hebrew Scriptures, preferring to emphasise ‘a Gospel of Love to the absolute exclusion of the Law’[3]. Those who argue for ‘supersessionism’ – the assertion that Christians have supplanted Jews in God’s favour – find support for their case in Romans 9-11, in precisely those chapters where Paul argues for the indissoluble relatedness of Jews and Gentiles, Jews and Christians, within God’s loving purposes[4]

This hymn seeks to stand in Paul’s shoes and to argue as he did. Beginning at the end of Romans 8, the worshipper affirms that ‘God’s love in Christ Jesus in those who believe (is) the power of salvation, (and) is grace to receive’; and ‘no thing can drive us apart’. Like Paul, the hymn points to salvation conceived more generously than for Christians alone: his us in Romans 8.39, and the hymn’s ‘us’ in line four of the first stanza, are inclusive, not exclusive, pronouns.

The hymn’s second stanza, a paraphrase of Romans 9.1-3, makes it plain that, at the very least, ‘us’ includes Jews with Jewish and Gentile Christians. Singers are invited to feel with Paul the great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart, his wish that he himself were accursed and cut off from Christ – an extraordinarily powerful expression of feeling – for the sake of my own people.

The third stanza presumes to take further Paul’s concern for his own people, ‘to hold all God’s creatures whom sin drives apart’. (‘Creatures’ includes people, but people have obstinately refused to include all creatures.). Adopting Paul’s voice, the hymn’s singers undertake not to ‘desert them who scorn to receive (the grace which is power of salvation)’, but ‘in Christ’s name’ to ‘call them, this grace to believe’. Then, in the last stanza, using Paul’s imagery in their own voices, the worshippers effusively pray that all may ‘feast together, let grace quench our thirst’.

[1] Romans 3.1-2

[2] Romans 9.4-5

[3] Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church: Marcion

[4] One might seek to supplement Paul by speculating about the source and the strength of the animus which Christians have directed against Jews. ‘Yet each man kills the thing he loves’ wrote Oscar Wilde in The Ballad of Reading Gaol; it may be suspected that, in their collective struggle to survive under and relate to the oppressive powers of the state, Christians were and are only too ready to suppress and thence sacrifice that Jewish part of themselves which critiques all forms of idolatry, public as well as private.