Thinking through the Hymns

Thinking through the Hymns

It is critically important to sing Christian songs and hymns that are consistent with Christian theology and worldview overall. Yet the only way to know if the song or hymn is compatible with the faith is to think carefully about the words and meanings it mentions.

For example, if you’ve ever attended a liturgical Christian church then you’ve likely heard and even sang the popular hymn “Glory Be to the Father,” known in Latin as the Gloria Patri. When I attended the Roman Catholic Church as a youth we also called it the “Glory Be.” (It is often the case in Christian history that document and song titles are taken from the very first words to appear on the page.)

The Gloria Patri serves as a doxology (short hymn of praise) to the eternal Triune God. Here is the English version that we sing at every service at the Reformed church that I attend:

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.

A friend of mine, who grew up reciting the Gloria Patri while attending a Presbyterian church, asked me about a specific phrase that appears in the doxological hymn. Here’s his question:

The last stanza of the hymn seems to conflict with what I understand about Scripture, and also with RTB teaching: ‘…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Scripture clearly teaches that the universe is in a state of decay (entropy) since the Fall (thus not the same now as in the beginning); and will one day be burned up at the Final Judgment, replaced with a New Creation (thus the current world will one day end).

This is a good question; however, we need not worry that the Gloria Patri violates scriptural teaching. The unusual English expression “world without end” refers not to the physical cosmos we are presently in, but to the eternal glory of the Trinity that endures throughout the ages (beginning, now, evermore). “World without end” is another way of saying “forever and ever” or “ages upon ages” and it applies to the appropriate glory of the Trinity. It is not a reference to the present created order enduring forever. Thus, we can go on reciting the Gloria Patri without fear of false doctrine.

Since the Gloria Patri is a wonderful historical and doxological hymn to sing in praise of the Triune God, let me also recommend a book that I recently reviewed. Delighting in the Trinity by theologian Michael Reeves is one of the very best books that I have read on the Trinity. He does a great job of explaining the importance of the Trinity for Christian belief and life and why only the Triune God can be love and offer loving forgiveness to repentant sinners.