Years ago – I mean, like, 50 years ago … before I left home to begin my own pastoring ministry – I was leading the worship in singing and music in the small church my Dad pastored in Winston-Salem NC. We committed as a church that we were going to learn and incorporate into our church’s worship services all the older hymns that were in our hymnal. These were hymns that dated back to the 1700-1800s and were written to extol the nature, character, attributes, and works of God. We called them the “anthem-y hymns” because so many of them were written and sung as anthems and expressions of formal worship.
We loved them and sang them often with great delight and they richly enhanced the expressions of our own worship to God.
One of those beloved hymns is this one: The God of Abraham Praise. Thomas Olivers originally wrote it in 12-13 stanzas. Our hymnal – and most hymnals – will include only 4-5 of his original stanzas.
I have included also after the hymn a couple background/historical links and articles that will give you a little fuller understanding of the history and context of this hymn. There is also a link to the congregational singing of the hymn by Grace Community Church, Sun Valley CA.
So, here for your worship, edification, and enjoyment…
The God of Abraham Praise | ~Thomas Olivers, 1772
1 – The God of Abraham praise,
Who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of everlasting days,
And God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM!
By earth and Heav’n confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred name
2 – The God of Abraham praise,
At whose supreme command
From earth I rise—and seek the joys
At His right hand;
I all on earth forsake,
Its wisdom, fame, and power;
And Him my only portion make,
My shield and tower.
3 – The God of Abraham praise,
Whose all sufficient grace
Shall guide me all my happy days,
In all my ways.
He calls a worm His friend,
He calls Himself my God!
And He shall save me to the end,
Thro’ Jesus’ blood.
4 – He by Himself has sworn;
I on His oath depend,
I shall, on eagle wings upborne,
To Heav’n ascend.
I shall behold His face;
I shall His power adore,
And sing the wonders of His grace
5 – Tho’ nature’s strength decay,
And earth and hell withstand,
To Canaan’s bounds I urge my way,
At His command.
The watery deep I pass,
With Jesus in my view;
And thro’ the howling wilderness
My way pursue.
6 – The goodly land I see,
With peace and plenty blessed;
A land of sacred liberty,
And endless rest.
There milk and honey flow,
And oil and wine abound,
And trees of life forever grow
With mercy crowned.
7 – There dwells the Lord our king,
The Lord our righteousness,
Triumphant o’er the world and sin
The Prince of peace;
On Sion’s sacred height
His kingdom still maintains,
And glorious with His saints in light
8 – He keeps His own secure,
He guards them by His side,
Arrays in garments, white and pure,
His spotless bride:
With streams of sacred bliss,
With groves of living joys—
With all the fruits of paradise
He still supplies.
9 – Before the great Three-One
They all exulting stand;
And tell the wonders He hath done,
Through all their land:
The listening spheres attend,
And swell the growing fame;
And sing, in songs which never end,
The wondrous name.
10 – The God who reigns on high
The great archangels sing,
And Holy, holy, holy! cry,
Who was, and is, the same,
And evermore shall be:
Jehovah—Father—great I AM,
We worship Thee!
11 – Before the Savior’s face
The ransomed nations bow;
O’erwhelmed at His almighty grace,
He shows His prints of love—
They kindle to a flame!
And sound thro’ all the worlds above
The slaughtered Lamb.
12 – The whole triumphant host
Give thanks to God on high;
Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
They ever cry.
Hail, Abraham’s God, and mine!
(I join the heav’nly lays)
All might and majesty are Thine,
And endless praise.
From: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_God_of_Abraham_Praise
The God of Abraham Praise is a Christian adaptation of the well known Jewish hymn “Yigdal“, loosely translated and Christianised by the evangelist Thomas Olivers after a visit to the Great Synagogue of London in 1770. It was first published in 1772. The title of the hymn was based on a verse in the Book of Exodus: “I am the God of thy Father, the God of Abraham”. (Exodus 3:6)
Olivers worked with John Wesley during the time that “The God of Abraham Praise” was written. During the time, he often met with members of London’s Jewish community. In 1772, Olivers was attending The Great Synagogue in London and heard Cantor Myer Lyon sing “Yigdal” in Hebrew during a service. Olivers then paraphrased and translated “Yigdal” into English and gave the hymn more of a Christian focus. He then asked Lyon if he could use the Jewish melody for the new hymn. Lyon gave him the music and Olivers named this hymn tune “Leoni” after Lyon. When he showed the new hymn to a friend, he annotated each line with scriptural references from The Bible.
“The God of Abraham Praise” was first published as a leaflet titled “A Hymn to the God of Abraham” in 1772. It was later published nationwide by Wesley in the Methodist hymnal “Sacred Harmony”. The hymn later made it to the United States after being published in Joshua Leavitt‘s “The Christian Lyre”. The hymn was composed by Olivers with thirteen verses however later reprints of the hymn omit a number of them with the majority of hymn books using four verses.
He was orphaned at age 4. After getting bounced from relative to relative for years, he was eventually apprenticed to a shoemaker. The shoemaker was a god-fearing man, but this young apprentice, he would have none of it. And eventually this young man lost his way.
As the decade of the 1740’s was coming to a close, he heard the great evangelist, George Whitefield, preach a sermon on Zechariah 3:2, “Is not this a brand, plucked from a fire?” And having heard that sermon, Thomas Olivers became a new creation. This orphan was now a child of God.
In a few years, Thomas Olivers teamed up with the brothers Wesley. And he had quite a ministry of his own. And while not nearly to the extent of John and Charles Wesley, Thomas Olivers also wrote hymns. While in London in 1770, Thomas Olivers went to hear a renown Jewish cantor by the name of Myer Lyon, at the Great Synagogue in London. This is a building that would later be destroyed by the Blitz in World War II. Myer Lyon also doubled as an opera singer under the name, Max Leoni. Olivers had likely heard Leoni sing opera at the Covent Garden Theatre, and now he wanted to hear him sing sacred music in the Synagogue.
That night, Lyon sang the Yigdal, a song dating back to the 1400’s. It prayerfully speaks of the majesty of God. So moved by the song, Olivers waited after the service to meet with Lyon. In the ensuing days Oliver said about transforming this Jewish prayer in Hebrew into a Christian hymn in English. He worked with Lyon on the tune. The collaboration resulted in a 12 stanza hymn we know as, “The God of Abraham Praise.” Olivers credited the tune to Lyon, entitling it “Leoni.” The first stanza rings out:
The God of Abraham praise, who reigns enthroned above;
Ancient of Everlasting Days, and God of Love;
Jehovah, great I AM! by earth and heaven confessed;
I bow and bless the sacred name forever blessed.
As the stanzas unfold, The God of Abraham Praise reminds us that God is a Trinitarian God. Part of the conversion of this piece from a Jewish liturgical prayer to a Christian hymn involved adding stanzas on Christ and the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the words of the ancient doxology remind us that when we say, “Praise God,” we are saying, “Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
This hymn by Thomas Olivers has another level of richness to it, and this richness lies in helping us think of something else. Now Abraham first appeared on the biblical scene in the closing words of Genesis 11. He then dominates the next several chapters until his death comes in Genesis 25. Now we do have the rest of the Bible to see God at work in the lives of His people, and at work in His world, and revealing to us His character.
But stop, and consider though what we learn about God from the span of Genesis 12-25.
We learn that God is the God most high—El Elyon in Hebrew. We learn that He is God Almighty—El Shaddai. We learn that He is Jehovah Jireh—the Lord who provides, told for us in that story in Genesis 22, and Abraham and Isaac. We learn that He is a promise making, covenant-keeping God. We learn that He will bring judgment on sinners, but we also learn that He is merciful and compassionate. And in the episode with Hagar in the desert we learn that God is the God who sees, and He is the God who hears. The God of Abraham praise.
As we think of these chapters, we find reason upon reason to praise God—Abraham’s God, and ours.