Holy, Holy, Holy!


"Day and night they never cease to say, '
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was, and is, and is to come!'"

Revelation 4:8

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy!  All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
who wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy!  Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee
perfect in pow'r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

- Reginald Heber, 1826


One of the great trinitarian hymns, "Holy, Holy, Holy!" is as popular today as ever.  Reginald Heber wrote the hymn in the early 1800s during his time as vicar of the village of Hodnet in England.  During this time, he wrote prolifically and composed over 100 hymns, many of which survive to this day.  But he yearned to go to India, and when he received the opportunity, he did not hesitate.  He left his homeland to travel throughout India and to serve as Bishop of Calcutta for three years before he passed on into glory.  

The lyrics to "Holy, Holy, Holy!" were discovered by his widow after his death and published posthumously, but it wasn't until the grand tune NICAEA was composed for his words that the hymn soared to its place among the great hymns.


This hymn was written specifically to celebrate and worship the Trinity.  Both the first and final stanzas close with "God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!", so we cannot miss the hymnwriter's intent!  This song is brimming with images of worship of the Triune God.  

The first stanza opens with praise to the thrice holy God Almighty early in the morning.  It's as if at the dawn of each new day, our first and best thought will be of worship of the Almighty God.  There is a hope and brightness here that grows in brilliance throughout the stanzas.

Our opening strains in the first stanza are magnified by the saints in heaven in the second stanza.  They join together in adoring the Majesty in heaven, "casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea."  This paints a beautiful picture of the 24 elders of Revelation casting their crowns before the throne of God and of all the saints and all their works culminating in the worship of God on high.

The third stanza breaks for a moment to consider some of the attributes of God.  Despite that sinful man may not fully see His glory, this stanza proclaims that there is none beside Him, and that He is "perfect in pow'r, in love, and purity."

The building of worship finally overflows in the fourth stanza as the fullness of God's creation - "earth and sky and sea" - well up in praise together, all singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy!  Merciful and mighty!  God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!"


The tune NICAEA was written by John B. Dykes in 1861 as a setting for Heber's original lyrics, which were never set to music.  The lyrics and music have rarely been divorced since.  The tune is named NICAEA for the Nicene Creed which first really defined the nature of the Trinity (and Christ as both fully human and fully divine).  

NICAEA is a majestic anthem with a beautiful stately melody.  Lovely countermelodies move delightfully among the powerful chords, and one cannot help but think of the hymnwriter's repeated refrain "merciful and mighty," as the gentle moving notes seem to sound His mercy even as the powerful chords sound His might.