PODCAST: This Is My Father’s World (History Behind the Hymns #5 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #5

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Psalm 19:1-3 which reads: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Martin Luther. He said: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Anne Frank. She said: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be.”

Our hymn for today is “This Is My Father’s World” by Maltbie D. Babcock. It reads:

This is my Father’s world,
And to my list’ning ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world:
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world:
He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world:
Oh, let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done:
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world,
Dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise
Cry, The Lord is in this place.
This is my Father’s world,
From the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world,
Should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring.
God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world.
Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world.
I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world,
A wanderer I may roam;
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “This Is My Father’s World”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

What congregation had two successive ministers who wrote hymns that are contained in most North American hymnals? The answer: Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City.

One of the leading Presbyterian ministers of his generation, Maltbie Davenport Babcock penned a hymn with such concrete language that even children can understand its message at a basic level. He followed Dr. Henry Van Dyke, author of the hymn “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” as the minister of Brick Presbyterian Church.

Babcock was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and was a graduate of Syracuse University. He continued his education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. After serving two congregations at Lockport near Lake Ontario and Baltimore, he assumed the pastorate at Brick Church. He died just a few months short of his 42nd birthday in a hospital in Naples, Italy, following a trip to the Holy Land.

Babcock was known both as a skilled amateur musician, playing the organ, piano and violin, and recognized as a university sportsman with achievements in swimming and baseball. He was an outdoorsman with broad shoulders and a muscular build. One of his poems gives insight into his approach to life:

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift,
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift,
Shun not the struggle; face it;
’Tis God’s gift.

Our hymn was published posthumously in Babcock’s Thoughts for Every-Day Living (1901) though it had probably been written much earlier. While a pastor in Lockport, N.Y., near Lake Ontario, hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck noted Babcock’s practice of “taking morning walks to the top of a hill north of town where he had a full view of Lake Ontario and the surrounding country.” It was said that he had a frequent expression before leaving for these walks, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”

The original poem was composed in 16 four-line stanzas, each beginning with “This is my Father’s world.” One of Babcock’s friends, Franklin Shepherd adapted an English folk song inserting portions of Babcock’s text into three, eight-line stanzas. The hymn in this form first appeared in the composer’s hymnal Alleluia, a Presbyterian Sunday school book published in 1915. The tune name, TERRA BEATA (terra be-ah-ta), means “blessed earth” in Latin.

The first two stanzas are unusually concrete in their references to nature—“rocks and trees, of skies and seas”; “birds…, the morning light, the lily white… rustling grass.” For Babcock, nature was not only a visual spectacle, but an aural experience. Perhaps the author’s skill as a musician contributed to the many auditory images: “listening ears” and “nature sings” and “birds their carols raise” and “rustling grass.”

The “music of the spheres” mentioned in the first stanza is a concept borrowed from Greek philosophy. This is the idea that the most perfect sounds cannot be heard by human ears. They take place in the orderly movements of planets and stars. The actual sounds that we hear on earth are but a weak imitation.

The author shifts his focus in the final stanza from describing the visual and aural beauty of nature to the reality that all is not right with the world. With a strong sense of Presbyterian providence, Babcock observes “that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” The closing couplet, posing and answering a question, offers hope: “Why should my heart be sad?… God reigns, let the earth be glad.”

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “God Will Take Care of You” by Civilla D. Martin.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.