After spending some time with this hymn, I think it’s a pity that it isn’t sung more often. It’s of a handful that takes up less than a page in the hymnbook, but it contains a profound lesson about God’s process of turning ordinary people like you and me into celestial beings.
The hymn begins with an image of God’s strength:
God of power, God of right,
Guide us with thy priesthood’s might.
Forge our souls in living fire;
Shape them to thy great desire.
It’s not difficult to picture the Creator of all things sweating and pounding diligently to produce something useful and worthwhile out of raw material. Great effort, constant vigilance, and perfect timing are vital to this process; one misstep and the metal can be ruined. Lucky for us, the One forging our souls is a master blacksmith.
Likening souls to metal naturally brings to mind the ubiquitous metaphor of the refiner’s fire. I especially like this verse in Proverbs: “Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer” (25:4). Once the impurities are removed, the precious metal is not just left as a shiny lump, but it is shaped into a vessel–through “priesthood might”, as the verse says–to be filled as its Maker sees fit.
And with what does He fill us? With knowledge.
God of wisdom, God of truth,
Take us in our eager youth;
Lift us step by step to thee
Thru an endless ministry.
When we are ready and willing, He will teach us what we need to know to be like Him. We learn from the scriptures, the words of living prophets, our patriarchal blessings, instruction in the temple, Sunday School classes, personal revelation…as I’ve mentioned before, this is a gospel of learning. And, as the goal is to progress eternally, it will be an eternal process for us to gain the wisdom our Father has.
With all that earlier talk of power and might, though, it would be easy to see this as a forceful process. Fortunately for us this is not the case. God does not pound us into shape and cram us full of whatever is necessary for us to be saved. He doesn’t work like that, as the third verse reminds us.
God of mercy, God of love,
Let thy Spirit, like the dove,
Touch and humble, teach and bless,
As we serve in holiness.
His mercy and love are the reason He blessed us with the ability to choose for ourselves. If we will accept His mercy and allow the Holy Ghost to “touch and humble, teach and bless” us, we can be “shape[d] to [His] great desire”.
God is omnipotent; He can perfect even the most flawed among us. God is omniscient; He knows exactly what we need to be sanctified. God loves us; He lets us choose whether or not to let Him make us something great. It is our decisions that will ultimately determine our destiny (see this talk by President Monson).
Notice that the hymn is written as a prayer, though. We are acknowledging His attributes and asking Him to use them to guide us and lift us. We’ve already made our choice: to “serve in holiness.”