Hymnody: “This is My Father’s World”

“He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” (Psalm 33:5).

Maltbie Davenport Babcock was an American Presbyterian clergyman and hymn writer in the 19th century. He was born on 3 August 1858 and died on 18 May 1901. In 1882, having studied theology at Auburn Theological Seminary, he was ordained to the pastorate of a church in Lockport, New York. From 1887 to 1900 he was the senior minister at Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland. Just one year prior to his death, he was called to minister at the Brick Church of New York City. He fell ill while travelling with his wife to Egypt and Palestine, and was taken to Naples, Italy, where he died.

A 1910 biography described Babcock as “preeminently a preacher” and noted that “it was owing to his unselfish devotion to the great work of uplifting mankind that he literally wore himself out and died at the early age of forty-two.”1 Another source notes, “It has been said that a manlier man never stood in a Christian pulpit.”2, 270.] He has been described as “one who possessed the sweet singing soul of David, the fiery zeal of the apostle Paul, the eloquence of Apollos, the capacity for friendship of Jonathan, and the heavenly spirit of St. John.”3, 22.]

Babcock was a skilled musician, who played the organ, piano and violin. He also wrote a number of poems, many of which were collected and published posthumously by his wife in 1902.

During his years in Lockport, Babcock was known to take frequent walks along the Niagara Escarpment. It is said that, whenever he would leave for one of these scenic walks, he would tell his wife that he was “going out to see the Father’s world.” One of the poem’s published posthumously by Babcock’s wife was titled, “This is My Father’s World.” The poem, in its entirety, reads thus:

This is my Father’s world.
On the day of its wondrous birth
The stars of light in phalanx bright
Sang out in Heavenly mirth.

 

This is my Father’s world.
E’en yet to my listening ears
All nature sings, and around me rings
The music of the spheres.

 

This is my Father’s world.
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas,
His hand the wonders wrought.

 

This is my Father’s world.
The birds that their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white.
Declare their Maker’s praise.

 

This is my Father’s world.
He shines in all that’s fair.
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

 

This is my Father’s world.
From His eternal throne,
He watch doth keep when I’m asleep,
And I am not alone.

 

This is my Father’s world.
Dreaming, I see His face.
I ope’ my eyes, and in glad surprise
Cry, “The Lord is in this place.”

 

This is my Father’s world.
I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
God makes His glory known.

 

This is my Father’s world.
Among the mountains drear,
‘Mid rending rocks and earthquake shocks,
The still, small voice I hear.

 

This is my Father’s world.
From the shining courts above
The Beloved One, His only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

 

This is my Father’s world.
Now closer to Heaven bound.
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod,
No place but is holy ground.

 

This is my Father’s world.
His love has filled my breast,
I am reconciled, I am His child,
My soul has found His rest.

 

This is my Father’s world.
A wanderer I may roam.
Whatever my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

 

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
That tho’ the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

 

This is my Father’s world.
The battle is not done.
Jesus who died shall be satisfied.
And earth and Heaven be one.

 

This is my Father’s world.
Should my heart be ever sad?
The Lord is King—let the Heavens ring
God reigns—let the earth be glad.

The poem reflects Babcock’s great admiration of God’s creation. Babcock himself said,

This world is the best for one who is called according to God’s  purpose. . . . How long we are to suffer or to serve is for God to say. Let us not look too much out of the schoolroom windows, or too impatiently at the clock. Until God’s time comes for us, this world is best for us, and we must make the most of it and do our best for it.4

One writer has noted, however, the poem (and the hymn that it eventually became) “is more than a mere outburst of song about nature, but rather a seasoned appreciation, beautifully worded, of unfailing trust in the ways and judgments of God. In the hymn Babcock portrays the message of God’s Presence, God’s Personality, God’s Power, God’s Purpose.”5

Babcock’s poem was later set to music by Franklin L. Sheppard, who, not wanting to call attention to himself, rearranged his initials and signed the music “S. F. L.” Sheppard evidently adapted the music from a traditional English melody.

When sung as a hymn, Babcock’s poem is traditionally shortened to three to six verses, each verse corresponding to two stanzas of the poem. The version with which I am personally most familiar, and which is most frequently sung in our own church, comprises three verses:

1 This is my Father’s world, and to my list’ning ears
all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world! I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—his hand the wonders wrought.

 

2 This is my Father’s world—the birds their carols raise;
the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world! He shines in all that’s fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass—he speaks to me everywhere.

 

3 This is my Father’s world—O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world! The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav’n be one.

The song clearly reflects the truth that the world was created and belongs to God, and that he has revealed himself to his creatures in the beauty and majesty of creation. It reflects David’s inspired words in Psalm 19:1-6, which attest to the truth of what theologians call “general revelation.” (“General revelation” refers to God’s revelation of himself available to all humanity in the testimony of creation [Acts 14:17; Romans 1:20], and includes the human conscience [Romans 2:12-16]. “Special revelation,” by contrast, refers to God’s revelation of himself in the Scriptures, and is also referred to by David in Psalm 19 [vv. 7-14].) Though it is insufficient to save, general revelation (creation and conscience) attests to the existence of God and to the sin problem that exists between man and God, so that no human being will stand before God one day with an excuse for their sin. General revelation is designed by God to point us to the need for a Saviour, who is revealed to us in the special revelation of God’s word.

Babcock’s hymn clearly reflects the beauty of God’s creation as he witnessed during those long walks along the escarpment. One of the elements of the hymn that I particularly appreciate is the closing words (at least in the version with which I am familiar): “Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav’n be one.” This reflects what appears to be the teaching of Scripture that Earth is in fact humanity’s permanent home. To be sure, heaven is home for the intermediary state (the time between a Christian’s death and Christ’s physical return to Earth), but ultimately, when God lifts the curse and restores this world to what he intended it to be, we will live forever on the restored Earth.

  1. “Maltbie Davenport Babcock,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Supplement I (New York: James T. White, 1910).
  2. Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories: Inspiring, Factual Backgrounds and Experiences that Prompted the Writing of 101 Favorite Hymns (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1982
  3. Guye Johnson, Treasury of Great Hymns and Their Stories (Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1986
  4. Johnson, Treasury of Great Hymns and Their Stories, 23.
  5. Osbeck, 101 Hymn Stories, 271.

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