King of Glory, King of Peace
Source: Singing the Faith: 56
Words: George Herbert
Music: “Gwalchmai” by Joseph David Jones
Ideas for use
Like Herbert’s “Let all the world in every corner sing” (StF 57), there is an antiphonal quality to this hymn that lends itself to being divided up between groups of voices.
E.g. Verses 1 and 2: one group sings the opening four lines and one group sings the following four lines. This method emphasises the contrast between the promises of the singers and the actions of God. Everyone can unite in singing the final verse.
The hymn also works well as a spoken responsive prayer. E.g.:
Leader: “King of Glory, King of Peace”
All: “I will love thee”
Leader: “and that love may never cease”
All: “I will move thee” etc.
This pattern may run through the first two verses and the first half of verse 3, with everyone uniting for the concluding four lines of the hymn.
Like Herbert’s hymn “Let the world in every corner sing” (StF 57), “King of Glory, King of Peace”, is also a poem of contrasts, alternating in the first two verses between what “I”, the poet/singer, promises to do and what God has already done. Originally titled “Praise (II)”, the poem is taken from the posthumous collection of Herbert’s poetry, “The Temple”. It has been linked both to Psalm 116 and also to Psalm 70:4 – “Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’”.
The humility that is evident in much of Herbert’s poetry is seen in the penultimate couplet of this hymn: “Small it is, in this poor sort / to enrol thee”, meaning “it is a small thing to celebrate you in such an inadequate way”.
Commenting on the collection of poems that form “The Temple”, George Herbert’s editor, Constantinos Patrides, says that there is more than one way of interpreting the collection’s “structure”. The poems are placed into three groups: “The Church-Porch” (a single, long poem), “The Church” and “The Church Militant” (i.e. Christians alive on earth), again a single poem followed by a short valedictory verse, “L’Envoy”. There are also themes that run through the poems that suggest other kinds of structure – for example, the pilgrim’s progress under the care of the Church.
However, at the heart of Herbert’s writing (and seen in his frequent focus on the Eucharist – “the marrow of Herbert’s sensibility”) Patrides discovers an emphasis on God’s grace. Not only that: Herbert “would have added that Grace is above all ‘prevenient’” – anticipating our behaviour and offering us the possibility of a new way of life through the presence of Christ in history. This very Wesleyan perspective might be why John Wesley included some of Herbert’s poems in his early hymn books. A version of “King of Glory…” is included in Wesley’s first hymn book, the Charlestown “Collection of Psalms and Hymns” (1737), beginning with the adapted first verse:
“O King of glory, King of peace,
Thee only will I love,
Thee, that my love may never cease,
Incessant will I move.”
Like “Let all the world…”, the metrical pattern of this poem (74.74.D.) is very unusual, and unique in Singing the Faith. Herbert experimented with lots of poetic patterns, including those in which the lines were literally designed to reflect his topic. On the printed page, his poem “The Altar” is shaped like a solid stone church altar; “Easter wings” is shaped like two butterflies.
Interestingly, Herbert re-used the open line of this poem for the final “farewell” poem of his collection, headed “L’Envoy”. It begins:
“King of Glory, King of Peace,
With the one make war to cease;
With the other bless the sheep,
Thee to love, in thee to sleep.”
For more about George Herbert, see “Let all the world in every corner sing” (StF 57).
See George Herbert on CD for details of one recording of this hymn.