H101 - Be Thou My Vision
"Be Thou my Vision" is yet another popular hymn known by most Christians around the world. It has stood the test of time. It has crossed cultural boundaries previously thought to be unable to cross. It has brought hope to those lost, in despair, and broken. It brings wisdom and joy to those facing the unknown. When we trust in God to be our vision, what could go wrong? Things may seem to go wrong but God works all things for the good of those called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). God declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10) and He is only good (1 Chronicles 16:34, Mark 10:18, Psalm 25:8). Since this is the case then we who put our trust in Him have nothing to worry about (Matthew 6:25-26). We trust in a good, omniscient Father to be our vision when we can't see in our limited knowledge that which is to come. Let's have a look at the lyrics.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word; I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord; Thou my great Father, I Thy true son; Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine inheritance, now and always: Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won, May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun! Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
A lady by the name of Mary Byrne translated this ancient Irish poem into English in 1905. This poem is noticeably longer than the lyrics that we have come to know. That's because in 1912, Eleanor Hull set the poem to a melody, the same melody we know today. Over the last 100 years there have been variations of the original poem set to this familiar tune. If you want an expansive history of the hymn and to see the original translation check out here and here, respectively.
The first four words of the hymn are the title of the hymn. The writer decided to get right to the meat and potatoes. As stated above, all Christians should put their unwavering faith in the Lord to be their vision. Also present in the first line is the confession that Christ is the Lord of our hearts. When we are brought into saving faith, Christ becomes our Lord. We are brought into subjection of his Lordship. He reigns over us in all areas of our life. His words drive our every thought, word, and action. Christ does reign over all, and has eternal dominion over all, but most especially over the hearts of His elect people.
I take the second verse and translate it as such: "God, so long as you are my vision, my life, all else means nothing to me, and is nothing compared to you." This is built upon in the next two lines when we declare that our best thoughts consist of His glory, and that during all hours of the day His presence lights our path. We declare that without Him we would walk into every slough of despond that lines the roads of life. This brings to mind Deuteronomy 6. " And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." The Law of God is ever on our heart, so much so that it is on our mind when we sleep.
"For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; " (Proverbs 2:6) Anything we may consider human wisdom is mere folly compared to the wisdom of God. The Lord gives wisdom. It's been said that wisdom isn't simply having vast amounts of knowledge, it's knowing what to do with that knowledge. The Lord has unmeasurable wisdom and knowledge, and we would do well to allow him to be our vision (Romans 11:33). When we seek the wisdom of God through prayer and the reading of His Word, He is faithful to bestow it upon us. We will forever be growing in wisdom on this side of eternity.
"I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord." When we are saved, justified by the blood of Christ, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). When saved, we are adopted into the family of God (Romans 8:14-17). God becomes our Father, a perfectly righteous Father who works for only the good of His children. A righteous Father who will never give us up for adoption. A righteous Father who will never allow us to wander from His presence. When we are adopted into the family of God, we are brought into eternal fellowship with the triune God, and nothing will ever separate us from that.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 8:38-39
The true sons & daughters of God will understand the depth of this next verse. Though we are in a constant battle with the flesh and all that the world has to offer, we ultimately have no desire for what it has. We know that our supreme treasure lies in Christ. Man's praise is empty compared to the ultimate joy of hearing, "Well done my good and faithful servant." Those living a life in pursuit of hearing "Well done" by man are headed for a miry bog. At the end of time, it matters not what sons of men thought of you, but what the Son of Man did in you.
When we walk the Christian life we do so understanding that Christ is our treasure. We find him in an unlevel, overgrown field and go sell all that we have to acquire it. What greater treasure than the High King of Heaven?
“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. " -Daniel 7:13-14
"You have put all things in subjection under his feet. For in subjecting all things to him He left nothing that is not subject to him." -Hebrews 2:8
"For this reason, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." -Philippians 2:9-11
Here the hymn is not simply stating a fact that our victory is won. We have to understand this older style English. Allow me to translate: "High King of Heaven, you won my victory for me." I love Proverbs 21:31. "The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD." No matter what we do, or however much prep we make (or don't make), the victory belongs to the Lord. Reading through the Psalms you see that every affliction overcome, every battle won, is attributed to the Lord our God. There are several Psalms where David talks of his own contribution, but it's in the sense of him making ready the horse for battle. He knows His strength is from God. And when God is the owner of the victory, we can be assured that the reward, the spoil, will be wondrous. Christ won our battle. His victory was applied to us and our spoil is heaven.
This hymn is properly capped with the proclamation that no matter life nor death nor angels nor rulers nor thrones or dominions or sword or pestilence, whatever befalls us, we pray God remain our vision.
Keep us, Oh Lord. May we, by your mighty right hand, never squander this inheritance that your Son laid down His life to purchase.