Keeping the Hymns Close By

This Is My Father’s World

Author – Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858 – 1901
Composer – Franklin L. Sheppard, 1852 – 1930He loveth righteousness and judgment: The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Psalm 33:5

This hymn is taken from a sixteen-verse poem written by Maltbie D. Babcock and published posthumously in 1901. The first line of each of the sixteen stanzas begins with “This is my Father’s world.”
Maltbie Babcock was born in Syracuse, New York, 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, Maryland, he assumed the pastorate at Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City. He died just a few months shy 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. He was a great admirer of nature, as reflected in this text.
The 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, New York, Dr. Babcock was in the habit 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 close friends, Franklin L. Sheppard adapted an old English melody 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 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.”
In the hymn Babcock portrays the message of God’s Presence, God’s Personality, God’s Power, and God’s Purpose. He 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. He 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.”

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Used by permission from “History of Hymns” by Dr. C. Michael Hawn, Director of the Sacred Music Program and Distinguished Professor, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.
 

 

Maltbie Babcock – Photo by hymntime.com.