We Episcopalians are a cerebral lot, by and large. This week’s Gospel Hymn, We Limit Not the Truth of God, is the fight song of all those who seek out a new awareness of the love of God and a new grasp of the sacred mysteries that permeate every particle of the vast expanse of creation, of all those who boldly go where those of a similarly curious cognitive bent have gone before. Clumsy Star Trek allusion notwithstanding, please turn to number 629 in The Hymnal 1982 and give the text a quick perusal, and you’ll see what all the excitement is about. (Or just click here.) Wow! Note in particular the powerful refrain, sung at the climax of each verse, the text all the more effective as it is paired in our hymnal with a martial, majestic tune by none other than George Frideric Handel: “The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from his word.” Really, we should all pause to high five after singing that.
But wait… there’s more! The author of the text, 19th Century English hymnist George Rawson, referenced in the refrain a sermon given centuries before Rawson’s time by Pastor John Robinson, spiritual leader of the group of pilgrims who boarded the Mayflower in July of 1620. Yes, the plot thickens, my friends: What appears to be a simple text written 150 years ago, give or take, has revealed itself to have roots that go back almost 400 years, all the way to the Mayflower! As the story goes, because a number of Pastor Robinson’s flock had chosen to stay behind in the Netherlands, Robinson reluctantly declined to join those sailing for the new world. One of those departing pilgrims recorded Robinson’s farewell sermon to his friends and family that fateful summer day, a speech that began as follows:
“We are now ere long to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether ever he should live to see our faces again. But whether the Lord had appointed it or not, he charged us before God and his blessed angels, to follow him no further than he followed Christ; and if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it as ever we were to receive any truth by his ministry; for he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word. He took occasion also miserably to bewail the state and condition of the Reformed Churches, who were come to a period in religion, and would go no further than the instruments of their Reformation. As, for example, the Lutherans, they could not be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; for whatever part of God’s will he had further imparted and revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. And so also, saith he, you see the Calvinists, they stick where he left them; a misery much to be lamented; for though they were precious shining lights in their times, yet God had not revealed his whole will to them; and were they now living, saith he, they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received. Here also he put us in mind of our church covenant, at least that part of it whereby we promise and covenant with God and one with another, to receive whatsoever light or truth shall be made known to us from his written word…” (Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA)
Enough said. Hope you all enjoy the hymn!
~Krista Mays, Director of Music and Liturgical Arts