Touch, Worship

Trinitarian hymns in the Wesleyan tradition

The bedrock of Christian faith is our belief in the triune God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as revealed in Scripture and in the Incarnation. This is the God we worship, the One God in Three Persons, whose actions lead to our redemption and hope for eternal life.

Our Trinitarian faith is enshrined in our historical creeds. The wonderful Trinitarian passage in Ephesians 1:3-14 is, in the opinion of many biblical scholars, an ancient doxology used in the worship of the early church. It is evidence that in the New Testament church, God was already worshipped as a triune Being. Other passages such as Philippians 2:5-11 and 1 Timothy 3:16 are also examples of the earliest songs in praise of the triune God.

Following the baptismal formula that the Lord Jesus included as part of his Great Commission to his disciples, the church has baptised people in the single name of the three Persons of the Trinity. In the earliest post-New Testament writings such as the Didache (Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) and The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, instructions can be found regarding baptism. Baptismal candidates are to be asked three main questions related to each Person of the Trinity. They are to be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is still the basic structure of our baptismal rituals today.

In addition, we use in our worship services the biblical benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 that brings the blessings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to God’s people. In the historical liturgical tradition, Christians have also regularly sung the Gloria Patri, again reminding us of the heart of our faith.

There are, in the treasure chest of the church, many Trinitarian hymns, most of which have been largely forgotten. There is a need to sing more songs in our worship of the triune God. Many Methodists and even non-Methodists may know that the Methodist revival in the 18th century was “born in song” and sustained and propagated by song.

The first hymnal published by John and Charles Wesley, Gloria Patri… or Hymns on the Trinity in 1746 contained 24 hymns. Subsequently, they published another hymnal, Hymns on the Trinity in 1767 containing another 188 Trinitarian hymns. These hymns were published as an intentional rebuttal against Unitarianism (which rejects the doctrine of the Trinity, claiming that God is one Person) and also as a didactic tool to teach Nicene Trinitarianism and metrical theology to the Methodist societies. Obviously, the Wesley brothers recognised the dangers of doctrinal confusion, and considered the doctrine of the Trinity as forming the core of Christian belief and life. Their solution was to put theology into song and ensure that worship reflected biblical truth and doctrinal soundness.

In concluding a historical study of Trinitarian language in Christian hymnody, liturgical theologian and hymn writer Ruth Duck concludes that “when Christians sing about the Trinity, they often do so in formulaic ways that do not inspire feeling, imagination, or reflection.” There is obviously a need for new Trinitarian hymns for the present generation, written by those who have thought deeply about the Trinity and experienced the reality of the Trinity in their lives.

Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:3-14 provide a model for how we should sing in praise of the triune God. There is specific reference to each Person of the Trinity and how they work together and relate with us to save us. Each section concludes with the phrase “to the praise of his glory” or “glorious grace” (vv. 6, 12, 14), suggesting how we should praise and worship the triune God.

Using this model, I have written a hymn, “Triune God, We Worship You”! I wrote the words some years ago and found some gifted music composers (Justin Yeo and Leong Shengyu) from Queenstown Chinese Methodist Church. They not only put music to the words but also, with their group, recorded a video of the hymn, with the hope that it will be used in our Methodist churches. Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

To listen to the hymn, scan the QR code

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Bishop Emeritus Dr Robert Solomon served as Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 2000-2012.