Hymn Guide: All Glory be to Christ

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What happens when you sing a new set of lyrics to a tune everybody knows? Either the new lyrics fall flat, and you want to go back to the original words. Or, on a rare occasion, the new lyrics create an added dimension of meaning, not erasing the original but adding something new. Then everyone joins in, the moment crystallizes, and magic hangs in the air.

I felt this magic when my church first sang “All Glory be to Christ,” a contemporary lyric set to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” The song was first written by Dustin Kensrue in 2012 and recorded by King’s Kaleidoscope in 2013, a group of musicians around Mars Hill Church outside Seattle. As scandal engulfed Mars Hill in 2014, leading to the church’s dissolution, these musicians left the church, which may explain why the song never fully took off. Since then it has been covered by a variety of artists, but it has not yet had a breakout performance and remains little known. In time, however, I believe this song will become a staple, both in church and at home.

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Verse by Verse

The song opens with with a double reference, combining the lament of “Auld Lang Syne” with the opening of Psalm 127.

Should nothing of our efforts stand, no legacy survive,
Unless the Lord does raise the house, in vain its builders strive.
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain, tell me, what is your life?
A mist, it vanishes at dawn, all glory be to Christ.

The forgetting of “old Acquaintance” becomes the ruin of “our efforts,” as we reflect on the necessity of the Lord’s involvement in any human work. Thus even when something is accomplished, there is no room for boasting, as Paul repeatedly insists (see Romans 2, 1 Corinthians 1, Ephesians 2). With James, we confess that our lives are but a mist, and instead give the glory to Christ (see James 4). This leads into the chorus:

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

The chorus glorifies Christ as King, celebrating his rule and his reign, joining a long history of Christian art commemorating the kingship of Christ (including the statuary at Salisbury Cathedral, photographed above). Thus the hymn is suitably sung not only in the new year, but also at the end of the liturgical year, especially Christ the King Sunday.

The second verse builds on the idea of Christ as King to a discussion of his kingdom:

His will be done, His kingdom come, on earth as is above
Who is Himself our daily bread, praise Him the Lord of love
Let living water satisfy the thirsty without price
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, all glory be to Christ!

As in the Lord’s prayer, the second verse connects Christ’s cosmic kingship to our hope that Christ’s reign would be received on earth. Sometimes we are skeptical of Christ’s kingship, because we have experienced the corruption and sinfulness of earthly kings. But Christ is the perfect King, who provides in himself our daily bread (John 6) and living water (John 4). Christ is able to offer us this “cup of kindness” because he already drank the cup of judgment on the cross. Thus we glorify him:

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

In the final verse we consider Christ’s ultimate restoration of sinners and all things:

When on the day the great I Am, the faithful and the true
The Lamb who was for sinners slain, is making all things new.
Behold our God shall live with us, and be our steadfast light
And we shall ere his people be, all glory be to Christ!

The language draws especially from Revelation, with the lamb who has been slain (Revelation 5) now making all things new (Revelation 21). Because God promises to dwell with his people, we shall no longer be separated from him, which means we will glorify him eternally.

When singing the final chorus, it is especially moving if the musicians cut out and allow the people to sing the ending a cappella.

All glory be to Christ our king!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing,
All glory be to Christ!

The power of “Auld Lang Syne” is that it evokes a nostalgic feeling of friendship, recognizing the value of “old acquaintance,” while wistfully recognizing that such acquaintance may “be forgot.” But when singing the same tune with the lyrics of “All Glory be to Christ,” the feeling of nostalgia is redirected to our ultimate home, in Christ. Though we do not yet live in that full experience of glory, in singing the hymn we sense a foretaste of our better hope.

On Video

The first version is a live performance by Kings Kaleidoscope, including brass alongside the modern instrumentation of guitar, piano, bass, and drums. The second is an a cappella version by the Petersens, a bluegrass family band. This version provides additional interest by singing a number of the verses in a minor key, while transitioning to a major key in the chorus.

Published on

January 14, 2023

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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