Holy, Holy, Holy - Reginald Heber

Reginald Heber, the author of this hymn, was born into a cultured, wealthy British family in 1783. He was an eloquent preacher as well as a gifted writer of poems and hymns. He was also well-known among England’s literary giants.

After his ordination in 1807, he served sixteen years in the little village of Hodnet, England.  Understanding the power of good congregational singing, he had the desire to improve the lifeless, formal singing in the Church of England. Instead of singing the metrical Psalms, he introduced hymns from Newton's and Cowper’s “Olney Hymns,” which contained “Amazing Grace.” He also wrote hymns of his own to encourage more enthusiastic singing. When he presented to the Bishop of London a collection of hymns that he thought were more singable by the people, the bishop didn’t approve. He told Heber, “the time is not ripe for such a book of worship.”

Heber was also interested in foreign missions, as expressed in his hymn titled “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.” His hymnbook was probably forgotten when he became the Bishop of Calcutta in 1823. The area of his pastoral care was expansive; it covered most of the South Pacific, including India, Ceylon, and Australia. This strenuous responsibility and the climate contributed to his untimely death in 1826. After preaching to a large crowd, Heber went to the home where he was staying to cool off in the swimming pool and was later found drowned, probably the result of a stroke.

Reginald Heber’s hymnbook was discovered and published by his widow and friends a year after his death. Of the fifty-seven hymns in that collection, “Holy, Holy, Holy” is the most remembered. The word “Trinity” is not used in Scripture, but the Bible often refers to the three distinct Persons who exist as one God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In the record of Isaiah’s vision of God, the Triune God is suggested when the angels repeat “Holy, Holy, Holy” three times. In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:1-3). This phrase is also repeated three times in John’s vision recorded in Revelation: And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8).

Reginald Heber stressed the holiness of God, while in his ministry, he was surrounded by people worshiping false gods. His mastery of poetry emphasized the idea of the Trinity by using three words about God in each stanza. The first stanza mentions three attributes of God: He is “Holy, Merciful, and Mighty!” Stanza two expresses that God is eternal: “Which wert and art and evermore shall be.” The third stanza explains that since God is perfect, His glory may not be seen because of the darkness of man’s sin. God is praised for being “Perfect in power, in love, and purity.” There is reference again to John’s vision: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). All creation praises Him “in earth and sky and sea.”

“Holy, Holy, Holy” is truly a majestic hymn of the faith. The tune was composed in 1861 by John B. Dykes, one of England’s leading church musicians of that day. Many scholars claim it to be the greatest hymn of all time.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Holy, holy, holy! all the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubims and seraphims falling down before thee,
Which wert and art and evermore shalt be!
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity!
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! merciful and mighty!
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!


All rights reserved. Without the express written permission of the publisher, this publication may not be reproduced or transmitted, whether in whole or in part, in any form or by any means - electronic, mechanical, photocopy, storage retrieval system, recording, or any other.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.