Keeping the Hymns Close By

Holy, Holy, Holy

Author – Reginald Heber, 1783 – 1826
Composer – John B. Dykes, 1823 – 1876
Published in 1827, tune composed for these words in 1861

And day and night they do not cease to say, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS AND WHO IS AND WHO IS TO COME.” Revelation 4:8 (NASB)

Reginald Heber was born in the area of Cheshire, England, on April 21, 1783. At the age of seventeen he entered Oxford University where he excelled in poetry. Following his ordination to the ministry, he served for the next sixteen years at an obscure parish church in the little village of Hodnet in western England.

His bent for poetry naturally gave him a keen and growing interest in hymnody. He sought to lift the literary quality of hymns, and he also dreamed of publishing a collection of high-caliber hymns corresponding to the church year for use by liturgical churches. The Bishop of London wouldn’t go along with it, which was a disappointment.

He continued writing hymns for his own church and it was during these sixteen years in Hodnet that Heber wrote all 57 of his hymns, including the great missionary hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains,” which exhorted missionaries to take the gospel to faraway places like “Greenland’s icy mountains” and “India’s coral strand.” Reginald felt God calling him as a missionary to “India’s coral strand.” His desire was fulfilled in 1822, when, at age 40, he was appointed to oversee the Church of England’s ministries in India.

Arriving in Calcutta, he set out on a 16 month tour of his dioceses, visiting mission stations across India. In February of 1826, he left for another tour. While in the village of Trichinopoly on April 3, 1826, he preached to a large crowd in the hot sun, and afterward plunged into a pool of cool water. He suffered a stroke and drowned.
It was after his death that his widow, finding his 57 hymns in a trunk, succeeded in publishing his Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Service of the Church Year.
“Holy, Holy, Holy” was written specifically for its liturgical use one Trinity Sunday, which occurs eight weeks after Easter. Though the word “trinity” is not found in the Scriptures, yet the truth of three Persons, equal and eternal with each other, is clearly taught throughout God’s Word.

The tune for this text has been named “Nicaea.” It was named after the Council of Nicaea held in Asia Minor in 325 A.D., when the doctrine of the Trinity was examined and held to be a true and essential doctrine of the Christian faith. In 1861 this tune was composed specifically for these words by one of England’s leading church musicians of the nineteenth century, Dr. John Bacchus Dykes. This popular composer has contributed more than 300 hymn tunes; most of them are still in use today. Other hymns by John B. Dykes include “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”, “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” and “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”.

Taken from Then Sings My Soul Book 2 by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2004 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson
Used by permission from “History of Hymns” by Dean McIntyre, Director of Music Resources at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, TN.
Reginald Heber

Reginald Heber