Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round

There’s a hymn — sadly missing in the 1993 Singing the Living Tradition but present in the 1937 Hymns of the Spirit we use at Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington; you can also read the full text at CyberHymnal, even though I prefer it matched to the tune Stockport (Yorkshire)‘ — that informs my ministry and faith, and is probably my favorite: “Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round.” The last verse is my favorite, particularly when things get hairy at church.

O clothe us with thy heavenly armor, Lord,
Thy trusty shield, thy sword of love divine;
Our inspiration be thy constant Word;
We ask no victories that are not thine;
Give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be,
Enough to know that we are serving thee.

The hymn survives, if not in today’s Unitarian Universalist hymnals, than in
ecumenical hymnody. If nothing else, it makes a rousing sing, like
“Rank by Rank, Again We Stand.”

But what is this business about heavenly armor? A reference to Ephesians, I reckon, where Paul exhorts his hearers to “put on the whole armor of God” (6:11) Then the next verse (NRSV):

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Charismatics I have known — and others — stand on guard against spiritual forces of evil, and more often than not pitch battle with Satan in prayer. Liberals, in turn, more often than not treat these “prayer warriors” as cranks or fools, and little wonder with this generation of liberals’ ambivalence towards military force and religious observance.

John Chadwick, the hymn’s author, seems to add constancy and abiding faith to the arsenal, assumes that life (and in particular the work of the ministry) is, in part, a struggle with forces over which we have no control. To my mind, that has a greater grounding in pastoral theology than the new songs written for General Assembly worship that usually can be filed under “Big Happy Family.”

Chadwick, like other Harvard Divinity students of his day wrote this hymns, and this one was for his class of 1864. Long gone are the days that Unitarian ministers were likely to be reasonably accomplished hymn-writers (the Universalists wrote a lot of hymns, but few were worth singing then, much less now) but, then again, I live in hope for better, richer, and deeper things to sing.

Philocrites, though unordained, is a hymn-writer, and I believe a graduate of a certain divinity school on the north shore of the Charles. He and Mrs. Philocrites (a divinity student in her own right, though I’m sure it is a different school north of the Charles) seem to have returned to Massachusetts after their honeymoon. Blessings to both.

Categorized as Hymns

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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