Hymn for the day graphic

13 O father you are sovereign – Idle

Margaret Clarkson (1915–2008)

© 1967, 1987 Hope Publishing Company
Used by permission.

Christopher Idle

O Father, you are sovereign in all the worlds you made,
            your mighty Word was spoken and life and light obeyed.
Your voice commands the seasons and bounds the ocean’s shore,
            sets stars within their courses and stills the tempest’s roar.

O Father, you are sovereign in all affairs of man;
            no powers of death and darkness can thwart your perfect plan.
All chance and change transcending, supreme in time and space,
            you hold your trusting children secure in your embrace.

O Father, you are sovereign, the Lord of human pain,
            transmuting earthly sorrows to gold of heavenly gain.
All evil over-ruling, as none but Conqueror could,
            your love pursues its purpose – our souls’ eternal good.

O Father, you are sovereign! We see you dimly now,
            but soon before your triumph earth’s every knee shall bow.
With this glad hope before us, our faith springs up anew:
            our Sovereign Lord and Saviour, we trust and worship you!

7676D: suggested tunes: LANCASHIRE, WOLVERCOTE

Edith Margaret Clarkson (1915–2008) was a Canadian schoolteacher, always known as Margaret, whose first published hymn was written in 1946, and most of whose texts were collected in A Singing Heart (Hope Publishing, 1987). I nearly chose ‘Amid the fears that oppress our day’ (1963) sent to her publisher on the day President Kennedy was shot. That has a small catalogue of fears, clouds, wars, ills and wrongs… while its chorus asserts that ‘Our God is sovereign still’.

But my choice, from Toronto in 1981, also majors on the sovereignty of God (‘the all-too-neglected biblical teaching...this glorious doctrine’ – EMC) in a confident and comprehensive way. Margaret was well aware of the objections to ‘man’ in verse 2 (not to mention the whole doctrine!) but chose to stick with it. This remained one of its author’s personal favourites. At one time, as a woman on an otherwise all-male hymnal committee, she learned to fight her corner strongly.

A Presbyterian by upbringing and conviction, she treasured the catechisms and confessions of that tradition, but sometimes could be persuaded to rethink some classic expressions of her robust evangelical faith. She also knew that no one hymn can deal with all our questions.

Like the apostle who believed in One ‘who works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph 1:11), Margaret never let her trust in that sovereign God become an excuse for fatalism, laziness or apathy. Her hymns are vigorous in language and divine energy; the opening words here, ‘O Father’, repeat a title she treasured and would never bargain away. For her, that relationship rested on Christ the eternal Son; ‘We come O Christ, to thee’ was the text where as a student I first remember seeing her name. ‘Thou art the way to God, / thy blood our ransom paid; / in thee we face our Judge / and Maker unafraid’; yes, the pronouns changed with her approval to ‘you’ and ‘your’. If there are hints of Fanny Crosby (‘Let the earth hear his voice’) we can also sense the mood and skills of Frances Havergal in the goals of her life and writing.

Margaret never wrote lightly of the ‘powers of death and darkness’, even ‘the Lord of …pain’, suffering her own plagues of continual arthritis and migraine since childhood. These severely limited her mobility in later years. For her, the ‘heavenly gain’ included the hope of a pain-free ‘resurrection body’. She did not find singleness easy, and devoted one of her many books to the subject. When visiting London she came bearing gifts of news from Canada, new hymns, and delicious maple syrup. She valued the opportunity, not always available at home, of meeting fellow hymnwriters and comparing their joys and frustrations with her own. She longed to share with others her passion for global mission, often expressed in song.

The day I chose for pondering her words afresh, July 13th 2020, would have been a 57th wedding anniversary for myself and Marjorie (another keen HSGBI member) who died in 2003. Is God sovereign still? What had we done to deserve such a brutal separation? Or such a pandemic as still threatens? But what had any of us done to deserve so many happy, fruitful years, and such a Sovereign Lord and Saviour? Today let Margaret have the last word: ‘True hymnwriters have not sought primarily to write hymns, but to know God; knowing him, they could not help but sing’.

A prayer for today:
Our sovereign God and loving Father, as we look out on our world we confess that we are a large part of its problems. Grant us by your incomparable grace, we pray, to become at least a small part of the solution. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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