This hymn, particularly appropriate for the end of the service, although categorized within the Holy Eucharist section of The Hymnal 1982, was written by John Ellerton (1826-1893), an Anglican priest. Born in Clerkenwell, London, Ellerton suffered from health problems his entire life and had to retire to Switzerland and Italy before his eventual death due to paralysis. He began hymn writing at age 33 and continued publishing hymns and various ministry manuals through the famous Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, an organization founded in 1698 to further missions and evangelism. (This writer has often visited their antiquarian bookshop in London and encourages the gentle reader of music notes to consider the literature and resources offered on www.spck.co.uk.) This particular hymn was written in 1866 for a choral festival.
The composer of the tune, Edward John Hopkins (1818-1901), was a boy chorister at the Chapel Royal and at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. It was said his entire Sunday was spent being shuffled back and forth to sing services! Apparently, choristers of his time were ill-treated and malnourished. Nonetheless, he eventually became one of the most noted organists in England.
This text is a prayer. The Gospel is not explicit in the hymn; however, the first stanza is clear to address the “Savior,” and the ensuing stanzas continue with petitions beginning with “Grant us.” This hymn was meant to be used at the end of worship in which the Law and Gospel have been proclaimed, in which the Sacrament has been administered, and where God’s Word has elsewhere been proclaimed through reading, preaching and music. This hymn presupposes the aforementioned has been accomplished; as such, its theology is not complete by itself. It is not evangelistic, and underscores the fact that the biblical concepts of “worship” and “evangelism” are not interchangeable.
The first stanza states that “Once more we bless You ere [before] our worship cease.” Taken by itself, this statement may be misleading, for we know that Christian worship should not end with the formal worship services on Sunday morning. Rather, we know that our life should be lived as a “sacrifice” (something “made sacred”) for God at all times. The first stanza, then, is referring to a specific worship time in which the congregation gathers which has a definite beginning and end. The following stanzas describe a life lived in Christian “peace.” The first stanza states that “With You began, with You shall end the day.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer has always contained prayers for all occasions and all times of the day in order to fulfil the command of I Thess. 5: 17, “Pray without ceasing.” The writers of the prayer book intended for all Christians to begin and end their day in prayer, in essence to begin and end “with God.”
The third stanza asks for preservation and safety through the night. Whilst this may be taken as the literal night, the fourth stanza expands the conception of “light” and “dark” to the theological and spiritual. The fourth stanza implores to “Grant us
Your peace throughout our earthly life, Our balm in sorrow and our stay in strife. . .” Our earthly life, characterized by “sorrow” and “strife” is viewed metaphorically as a “night” in comparison to the joys of heaven, only to be found when the Lord “Calls. . . to eternal peace.”