Holy, Holy, Holy
Holy, Holy, Holy - The History
Holy, Holy, Holy has been sung in Christian churches since the 1800s. Over the centuries, this hymn has blessed people throughout the world. Its inspiring words are the work of Reginald Heber (1783–1826), the Anglican Bishop of Calcutta. Heber was an esteemed scholar who delivered the Oxford’s Bampton lectures for 1815, emphasizing the deity of the Holy Spirit. In celebration of Trinity Sunday (1861), the clergyman, John Baccchus Dykes (1823-1876) wrote the hymn tune, Nicaea, commonly sung to the words “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty.” In this hymn, Heber’s most enduring gift to the church echoes the worship by heavenly beings. Holy, Holy, Holy offers a melodic revelation of eternal principles of Christianity:
- God is three in One,
- God is the Most Holy, and
- God’s Creation reflects His glory.
Holy, Holy, Holy - The Theology
“Holy, Holy, Holy...Blessed Trinity” is used to summarize the teaching of Scripture that God is three persons -- yet one God. In Genesis 1:26, 3:22, and 11:7, there is an indication of a plurality of persons in God Himself. In reference to the Messiah (Matthew 22:41–45), the Old Testament speaks of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. “The Lord says to my Lord; ‘Sit at my right hand...’” (Psalm 110:1). Notice the combination of singular and plural in the same sentence, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). In Isaiah 63:10, God’s people “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit,” suggesting that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God Himself, and that the Holy Spirit possesses emotional capabilities characteristic of a separate person. “God in Three Persons” -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- and each person is fully God, and there is one God.
Holy, Holy, Holy - The Meaning
Our mouths have probably repeated the lyrics “Holy, Holy, Holy” so frequently that we no longer respond with deep emotion. What exactly does “holy” mean? Why is “holy” repeated three times? Isaiah 6 begins with the prophet’s vision of God. Three things struck Isaiah about God: He was “seated on a throne, [He was] high and exalted, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). The seraphs [or seraphim] cried out to one another that the Lord Almighty is “holy.” Repeating a word three times for emphasis was common in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 22:29, Ezekiel 21:27). As in Isaiah 6:3, John’s glimpse of eternity describes a “sea of glass” with angelic beings surrounding God’s throne. Day and night the seraphim and cherubim give the Lord God Almighty glory, honor, and praise with just one phrase, “Holy, holy, holy...” (Revelation 4:6, 8). This is praise at its highest level.
The holiness of God is indescribable in human language; therefore, the heavenly proclamations provide revelation of the eternal. God is holy, deserving of reverence and respect. He is separate as the transcendent Creator above and apart from a sinful world. And yet, God created us for His own glory. “Bring my sons from afar and a daughters from the ends of the earth -- everyone who is called by my name, who I created for my glory, who I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6-7). Ephesians 1:12 reminds us that by God’s will and for a purpose, He chose us “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
For those whose hope rests in Jesus Christ, the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” allows us to elevate our minds to hear the words of angels as recorded in God’s Word. Its verses inspire us to surrender our hearts to experience God’s mercy and love. And it enables our voices to proclaim God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to the world.
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