History of Hymns: English hymn rejoices in ‘Fruit of This Creation’

“For the Fruit of This Creation”
Fred Pratt Green
UM Hymnal
, No. 97

 For the fruit of this creation,
Thanks be to God;
For good gifts to every nation,
Thanks be to God;
For the plowing, sowing, reaping,
Silent growth while we are sleeping,
Future needs in earth’s safe-keeping,
Thanks be to God. *

Many fine hymns written during the past three centuries have kept Methodist song alive since the beginning of the movement. If there is anyone worthy to be called a successor to founding hymn writer Charles Wesley, it may be Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000).

An Englishman educated at Didsbury College in Manchester, Green was ordained in the Methodist ministry in 1928, serving circuits throughout the country between 1927 and 1969.

During his ministry he wrote plays and published three collections of his poems. But it was not until his retirement that Green’s hymn writing blossomed. He went on to create more than 300 hymns, received numerous honors, and is generally considered to be the leader of the “hymnic explosion” that began in the 1960s.

Fred Pratt Green

More of Green’s hymns appear in English-language hymnals published in North America since 1975, than those of any other 20th-century hymn writer. Hope Publishing Company has published three collections of his hymns. The UM Hymnal (1989) contains 15 original hymns and two translations by Green.

“For the Fruits of This Creation” is one of the hymns most often chosen by hymnal committees in the United States. Published as “Harvest Hymn” in the British Methodist Recorder in August 1970, this hymn combines our gratitude to God for the bounties of the earth with our responsibility to care for our neighbor through “the harvests we are sharing” (stanza 2). Green’s concern for justice and spreading a social gospel is almost always evident in his hymns.

The form of this hymn is a sung litany with a recurring response, “Thanks be to God” (stanzas 1 and 3) and “God’s will is done” (stanza 2). Each stanza alludes to our responsibility to care for all the earth and its people: Stanza one cites God’s “good gifts to every nation.” Stanza two mentions “our worldwide task of caring for the hungry and despairing.” Stanza three acknowledges “the good we all inherit.”

As a harvest hymn, this is appropriate because undoubtedly every table at Thanksgiving will reflect the bounty of several parts of the earth, not just local food. This also implies our ecological interdependence as we use the earth’s resources wisely, considering “future needs in earth’s safe-keeping.”

Though not stated explicitly, this hymn is shaped by a Trinitarian theology. Stanza one speaks to the God of creation; stanza two references Christ’s twin commandments in Matthew 22:38-39 including, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Stanza three mentions the “harvests of the Spirit”—a reference not only to the Holy Spirit but also to the Jewish season of Pentecost, the closing festival of the Paschal season and a time of harvest.

Perhaps the most stirring part of the hymn is the last half of the final stanza:

For the wonders that astound us,
For the truths that still confound us,
Most of all that love has found us,
Thanks be to God.

This amazing tercet (three successive poetic lines that rhyme) not only displays a poetic tour de force, but also, perhaps, a sort of homage to one of the great hymns by Charles Wesley. Note the transcendent mystery that characterizes both poets. Wesley concludes “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (UM Hymnal, No. 384) with these familiar lines:

Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Both poets display a Wesleyan wonder at the love of God manifest in creation (Pratt Green) and in the Incarnation of Christ (Charles Wesley) using a language that goes beyond the literal to the awe-inspiring.

Though “For the Fruit of This Creation” was written for the well-constructed tune EAST ACKLAM, composed in 1957 by British composer Francis Jackson (b. 1917) in the grand English cathedral style, this music may have somewhat inhibited the use of this beautifully conceived hymn by some in the United States. If this is the case, congregations might consider using the more familiar Welsh tune AR HYD Y NOS.

* © 1970 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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