Hymn of the Month

This is My Father’s World

By A.C. Bridges (Originally printed in The ARP Magazine November 1977)

The Psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” And our hymn-of-the-month. opens with the line, “This is my Father’s world,” found as No. 101 in THE HYMNBOOK and as No. 109 in the TRINITY HYMNAL and No. 51 in SONGS FOR CHRISTIAN WORSHIP. It is said that the author of the hymn. a great lover of nature, would often go out in the early morning to the top of a hill north of Lockport. New York, his first parish, in order to get the full benefit of the fine view of Lake Ontario and the country round about and would say. “I am going out to see my Father’s world.”

Jesus taught His disciples to call God “Our Father,” and each of the sixteen stanzas of the author’s original hymn begins with, “This is my Father’s world.” Surely the emphasis in the hymn is on the Fatherhood of God and on His marvelous creation. Throughout the hymn one sees the creative hand of God at work. What a pity that the world today is too busy to see and hear such marvels as the raising of the birds’ carols, ‘the morning light,’ the lily white,’ and ‘the rustling grass!’

The Psalmist has said that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shewth His handiwork.” but only one here and there sees His handiwork, but the author has seen the finger of God as He looks about. And he is convinced that ‘though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.’ Thus in this hymn we have the Providence of God too.

In the last stanza the author seems to see the final triumph when the battle is done and “Jesus Who died” is satisfied. One writer says that the author in this hymn brings us the message of God’s presence, His personality, His power, and His purpose.

The three stanzas of this hymn are from a poem of sixteen stanzas first published in “THOUGHTS FOR EVERYDAY LIVING” in 1901. One part of the poem which is omitted reads thusly:

“This is my Father’s world.
A wanderer I may roam,
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.”

Of all the author’s hymns this is the best-known and the most widely-used. In an older Presbyterian hymnal will be found another with this first line: “Be strong! We are not here to play, to dream, to drift.” Though our hymn-of-the-month was published in 1901, the year of the author’s death, it may have been written much earlier.

The author of the hymn, Maltbie Davenport Babcock, was an outstanding Presbyterian minister who was born in Syracuse, New York, August 3. 1858. He was from a socially prominent family and was educated at Syracuse University and Auburn Theological Seminary. As a student he was an outstanding athlete, a leader of the glee club and orchestra, a member of the dramatics club, and an earnest worker in the religious activities. It is said that he was full of fun and mischief, but his fellow-students knew his convictions too. The story is told that once when an older fellow was bullying a younger student and indulging in some unbecoming language Babcock quietly seized him by the nape of the neck and seat of the trousers and without a word pitched him over the fence.

The author was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry and became Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Lockport, New York. He served as Pastor of the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore for fourteen years and while there began a work among the students of Johns Hopkins University. His work was considered so valuable there that a room was set aside for his use in student conferences.

In 1899 he was called to succeed Dr. Henry Van Dyke at the Brick Presbyterian Church of New York City, but he served this church only eighteen months when he died during a trip to the Holy Land at Naples, Italy. In reporting his death to the Presbyterian General Assembly in Philadelphia, The Rev. Edwin C. Ray spoke thus of him: “…that honored and beloved brother, who was a David for sweet song; a Paul for fiery zeal; an Apollo for eloquence; a Jonathan for friendship; and a John for heavenly spirit…whose sainted spirit went home the other day from Naples…”

He wrote some hymns for THE SCHOOL HYMNAL, 1899, composing tunes for these texts.

The composer of the tune which is sometimes called “Terra Beata” (‘happy or blessed earth’) and sometimes called “Terra Patris” (‘the Father’s earth’) was Franklin Lawrence Sheppard (1852-1930) of Philadelphia. He graduated at the head of his class in 1872 from the University of Pennsylvania and worked hard for his father’s firm, a stove and heater manufacturer. Being confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1864, he became a vestryman in 1874 and was an active Churchman.

Later he became a member of the Second Presbyterian Church of Baltimore and was music director, an active Sunday School worker, and a ruling elder in that church. He served as a delegate to the General Assembly on more than one occasion, and was a member and later became President of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and had much to do with the erection of the Witherspoon Building, the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

He was deeply interested in the music of the Sunday School and edited ALLELUIA, (1915) a Sunday School hymnal which had a sale of a half million copies. He served on the editorial committee also for the Presbyterian HYMNAL which was published in 1911. This man of many talents died in Germantown. Pennsylvania in 1930.

The tune. “Terra Patris.” first appeared in his ALLELUIA (1915), but because he thought it to have been a tune he had unconsciously carried over from his childhood he designated it as an “English melody.” However, it is commonly accepted now as his original tune. A son of the composer, a lawyer and Presbyterian elder, believed that the tune was original with his father and that it came to him as an inspiration.

The arrangement of the tune in some books is by Edward Shippen Barnes, 1926. Barnes. an American composer, was born in New Jersey September 14, 1887 and served large churches as organist and choirmaster. He was one of the contributors to the HANDBOOK TO THE HYMNAL OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 1935. His harmonization of the tune may be a bit more difficult to sing in parts, but many musicians would doubtless feel that it is ‘more interesting than the original by Sheppard.’

The author, Maltbie Babcock, and the composer, Franklin L. Sheppard, were close friends for many years, and from this friendship came this well-known text and tune.

I used to think that this was primarily a hymn for children, but am delighted to see it in the main body of our hymnals and to know that it is sung by congregations which include all ages. After all, why should hymns concerning God as Creator and hymns which tell us of the love of Jesus like those familiar to very small children be confined to the children of the Church? Do we not all need to know that “This is my Father’s world,” and that “Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so?” Yea, verily!

Click here for the music tune and words.

(This Hymn can now be found in the Trinity (Revised) #111 and The Hymbook #101.)

2 thoughts on “Hymn of the Month”

  1. This article brings back many memories of growing up under the guidance of A. C. Bridges at the old Parkwood Ave Church and the many Saturday mornings with Junior Choir practice and Catechism class. I am so thankful for the Christian love and lessons that were a great foundation for my faith.

  2. Thanks so much for reprinting this and other Hymn of the Month articles. The fantastic words and singable tunes of these hymns are needed today.

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