In keeping with a Christmas tradition of mine, I wanted to share one of my favorite hymns, sung at a recent church service I attended. I will also take the time to explain some of the lyrics.
The song I have chosen this year is “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” a solid performance of which can be found here. This song takes much of its imagery from Isaiah Chapter 6 and Revelation Chapter 5 and Chapter 19. The hymn was probably written in 275 A. D.
The first verse says:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.
These verses from John Chapter One come to mind:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. (John 1, ESV)
The Gospel of John was written in about 90 A. D., well within the generation of the earliest disciples of Christ. This imminently reliable gospel begins with the startling fact that Jesus was the Divine Son of God, the very Deity in human flesh. Jesus was what D. James Kennedy used to call “The Eternal God-Man,” a man distinct from God in person, yet one in essence with Him. How could we not be in awe of the fact that the glory of God was revealed in the Person of Christ?
Should we not say, with the prophet Habakkuk, ”But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him" (Habakkuk2:20, ESV)? Should we not shout from the roof tops, “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (Zechariah 2:13, ESV)?
King of kings, Yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, In human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful.
His own self for heavenly food.
Our Lord’s deity is again praised using phrases said of Jesus from Revelation 19:16: ”On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” The vision switches briefly from the lowly Christ, born in a manger, to the exhausted Christ coming to earth in his glory to judge the nations.
Christ’s words from Luke 22:19-20 are then referenced: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Christ gives his life as a perfect sacrifice for the sins of his people, and the “heavenly food” of The Lord’s Supper strengthens them for the long journey through this life to heaven to come.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.
In another allusion to Revelation Chapter 19, we hear of the risen and ascended Christ coming to earth to judge the world. As Christ himself said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27, ESV). This coming judgment should compel us to reach for God’s mercy to forgive our sins. This grace and mercy was bought by Christ for all of those who repent of their sins and place their trust in him.
At His feet the six-winged seraph,
Cherubim, With sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to His presence
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia! Lord Most High!
The imagery progresses to the heavenly vision seen by the prophet Isaiah in Chapter Six of the book that bears his name: “Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”” (Isaiah6:2-3, ESV). We are transported through the vision of the prophet into the very throne room of God Almighty to see Christ at his most glorious. We praise him with the seraphim, specially created angels of God who are specially equipped to fly in God’s direct presence. We sound our “Hallelujahs” to “The Lord Most High.” We praise him, not just for what he has done, but for who he is: the Lord God Almighty.
This humble blog post only begins to ‘scratch the surface’ of the wondrous message of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” May the God of all grace bend our knees and humble our hearts before the risen Christ this Christmas season.