- The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning
"The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning" (also "The Spirit of God" or "Hosanna to God and the Lamb") is a
hymnof the Latter Day Saint movement. It was written by W. W. Phelps, one of the most prolific hymnwriters of early Mormonism.
The hymn was sung for the dedication of
Kirtland Temple, 27 March 1836. The song continues to be sung throughout the various Latter Day Sainttraditions, including sacrament meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is sung with a special arrangement including a hymn known as the Hosanna Anthem for the dedication of all LDS temples.
Early printings of the hymn contain text only, although tune names were given twice in the church newspaper, the "Messenger and Advocate". The January 1836 issue of the "Messenger and Advocate" specifies the tune "American Star".ref|Messenger-Jan1836 On the other hand, the March 1836 issue specifies the tune "Hosanna" when it was sung for the dedication service of the
Kirtland Temple.ref|Messenger-Mar1836 At least four tunes were associated with the hymn since it was written. While these tunes were likely familiar to many of the members of the church at the time, there is some ambiguity today as to how these tunes were sung.
J. C. Little and G. B. Gardner published an unofficial hymnal 1844 in
Bellows Falls, Vermont, which is the first Latter Day Saint hymnal to include any music. "The Spirit of God," is included as the very first hymn and it is set to the tune "Hosanna", which is the same tune used today—although the modern edition has changes in the notes of the chorus, and contains all four parts instead of merely the soprano and bass parts found in the 1844 hymnal.
Lyrics and commentary
The hymn was a last minute addition to the first church hymnal, "Collection of Sacred Hymns" published in
Kirtland, Ohio, 1835 or 1836.ref|hymnal-info It appears as the last song (hymn 90) and in a different typeset than the rest of the hymnal. This original version had six stanzas.ref|Kirtland-hymnal In some cases the lyrics borrow from the words of its original tune, "The American Star."ref|PoeticBorrowing
The Spirit of God like a fire is burning; The latter day glory begins to come ; The visions and blessings of old are returning; The angels are coming to visit the earth.
The words of the first stanza capture the millennialist spirit of the early
Latter Day Saint movement. Phelps supposedly wrote the words following a meeting during which the leaders of the church were overcome by the Spirit. Joseph Smith, Jr.speaks of the meeting in his diary, 17 January 1836:
"The Lord poured out his spirit upon us and the brethren began to confess their faults one to the other. The congregation was soon overwhelmed in tears and some of our hearts were too big for utterance. [Glossolalia|The gift of [tongues] come upon us also like the rushing of a mighty wind and my soul was filled with the glory of God."ref|JosephDiary-17Jan1836
The first words come from "The American Star" which begins, "The spirits of Washington, Warren, Montgomery" and "then goes on to praise these
heroes of the Revolution who yet watch over nineteenth-century patriots."ref|PoeticBorrowing-firstLine
We'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven: Hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb! Let glory to them in the highest be given, and forever:
The chorus is sung as above after each stanza. However the first line becomes "We'll sing and we'll shout with "His" armies of heaven" for the last chorus in the original printing.
The use of the phrase "armies of heaven" in first line is used to mean a "great multitude of angels," but also reflects the imagery of the original song, "The American Star." Musicologist, Michael Hicks, points out, "The choruses to both use military images. One speaks of the U.S. militia ('let millions invade us, we'll meet them undaunted'), the other of heaven ('we'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven')."ref|PoeticBorrowing-chorus
More recently, Andrew Bolton and Randall Pratt authored a revised or alternative version of "The Spirit of God" in 2003. This version, sometimes used in
Community of Christ, offers the less militaristic wording, "angels of heaven," over "armies of heaven."
The Lord is extending the saints' understanding— Restoring their judges and all as at first; The knowledge and power of God are expanding The vail the earth is beginning to burst.
The word "vail" is the (now archaic) spelling of "veil" as found in the original 1830 hymnal. The
King James Version of the Bibleuses both spellings of the word interchangeably.
We call in our solemn assemblies, in spirit, To spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad, That we through our faith may begin to inherit The visions, and blessings, and glories of God.
Further parallels between patriotic "American Star" and "The Spirit of God" are found in stanza three.
:The patriotic song declares that "to us the high has been granted." Phelps elaborates on this: "We...begin to inherit the visions and blessings and glories of God." "The American Star" urges all "to spread the glad tidings of liberty far." Phelps urges the Saints "to spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad."ref|PoeticBorrowing-stanza3
We’ll wash and be wash’d, and with oil be anointed not omitting the washing of feet: For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed, Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.
This stanza is rarely sung today as most hymnals have omitted stanzas four and five.
The first two lines of this stanza refer to ordinances of
washing and anointing(which continues today in LDS temple ordinances), and the washing of feet.
The phrase "PENNY appointed" is a reference to the parable of the laborer in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). In this parable, laborers who start working during the eleventh hour receive the same reward of a penny as do the laborers who have been working from the very beginning.
Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom, Must come with the cloud and the pillar, : A Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him, And feed him on manna from heaven again.
This stanza is rarely sung today as most hymnals have omitted stanzas four and five.
How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion Shall lie down together without any ; And Ephraim be crown'd with his blessing in Zion, As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!
Stanzas 1,2,3, and 6 appear in the LDS Church's hymnal as hymn verses 1 to 4. However, "
Hymns of the Saints", the main Community of Christhymnal, does not include the sixth stanza. A recent supplemental hymnal of the Community of Christ uses the Bolton–Pratt revision, which includes an adapted version of the sixth stanza.
The first two lines are a reference to Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." (
#Note|Messenger-Jan1836 "Messenger and Advocate" 2 (January 1836): 256. [http://www.centerplace.org/history/ma/v2n04.htm Online version at centerplace.org]
#Note|Messenger-Mar1836 "Messenger and Advocate" 2 (March 1836): 280. [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Messenger_and_Advocate_%28March_1836%29:280#Hymn:_The_Spirit_of_God_Like_a_Fire_is_Burning Online version at wikisource.org]
#Note|hymnal-info [http://www.kirtlandtemple.org/hymns/hymnal1835.htm "Emma's 1835 Hymnal"]
#Note|Kirtland-hymnal "Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints" (Kirtland, Ohio: F. G. Williams & co., 1835; reprint, Independence, Missouri: Herald Heritage, 1973), hymn 90.
#Note|PoeticBorrowing Michael Hicks, "Poetic Borrowing in Early Mormonism," "" 18 (Spring 1985): 134-135.
#Note|JosephDiary-17Jan1836 "Sketch Book for the use of Joseph Smith, Jr." (22 September to 3 April 1836), 126; Scott H. Faulring, ed., "An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith" (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 111-112. [http://www.kirtlandtemple.org/hymns/18360117.htm Joseph's diary account]
#Note|PoeticBorrowing-firstLine Hicks, "Poetic Borrowing," 134.
#Note|PoeticBorrowing-chorus Ibid., 135.
#Note|PoeticBorrowing-stanza3 Ibid., 135.
* Account of Kirtland temple dedication in March issue of church newspaper, "Messenger and Advocate". "The Spirit of God" is the final hymn and directly follows the dedicatory prayer
* [http://www.mutopiaproject.org/cgibin/piece-info.cgi?id=593 "The Spirit of God" - First printing with music and words] Music from 1844 Bellow Falls unofficial hymnal. Similar to tune used today. Hosted by
* [http://www.pratt.lib.md.us/exhibits/mdbv/docs/mdbv102.html "The American Star" - four stanzas] The third stanza of this printing that starts "The spirits of Washington, Warren, Montgomery..." It appears to be the most popular stanza, often by itself in other printings.
* [http://www.lds.org/churchmusic/detailmusicPlayer/index.html?searchlanguage=1&searchcollection=1&searchseqstart=2&searchsubseqstart=%20&searchseqend=2&searchsubseqend=ZZZ The Spirit of God] current words and music from LDS hymnal and [http://www.lds.org/cm/catalogalphamp3/1,18331,4768-1,00.html?reportStart=60&reportEnd=60&searchPhrase=T MP3 download]
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