A few years ago, I was asked to teach a singing class for a semester at a local Christian school. The class consisted of 8-10 students. One of the things we did each day in the class was sing a hymn. My purpose in doing this was to expose the students to excellent hymns, both new and old, that may have been unfamiliar to them. What surprised me was how often those hymns proved to be an encouragement to me. One of those hymns was From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.
It has been described as one of the greatest Missionary hymns ever written. Some of the language can be difficult to understand at first glance, but it is well worth the effort to think through the text. The text was written by Reginald Heber (also authored Holy, Holy, Holy, etc.) in 1819 and the tune, MISSIONARY HYMN, was the first published hymn tune written by Lowell Mason, the father of American Music Education. Sadly, I have no recollection of ever singing this song in a corporate worship service. It is too good a hymn for us to allow to pass into obscurity.
From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.
What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s (Sri Lanka) isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.
Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted (plunged into darkness) the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.
Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.
Consider stanza 3 again. Shall we deny “the lamp of life” to those whose souls are plunged into darkness? No. We must proclaim, “Salvation! O salvation.” We must press on “till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.”