This is a hymn we don’t often hear in church. I don’t think I’ve ever sung it in sacrament meeting, although it turns out that I have at least heard it once. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang this hymn during the April 2009 General Conference. WordPress doesn’t allow us to embed the video here, sadly, but you can view it here. You should, or at the very least, listen to the hymn via the link we’ve provided at the top.
Notice anything unusual about the hymn? The rhyme scheme is unique among the hymns we’ve talked about so far this year. While most LDS hymns follow an ABAB scheme, this hymn uses AAABCCCD. The fourth and eighth line of each verse don’t rhyme with anything else in the verse, causing them to stand out from the rest of the lyrics. Perhaps even more interesting is that the fourth lines of the first, second, and third verses all rhyme with each other, and they in turn rhyme with the last line of the fourth verse. It’s an unorthodox technique that serves to tie the verses together, while drawing attention to the non-rhyming lines within each verse.
So why those lines in particular? How do they tie this hymn together? Well, first we’ll have to start with understanding what this hymn is all about. The first two lines tell us that “now we’ll sing with one accord/for a prophet of the Lord,” and those attentive enough to review the topics found at the bottom of each hymn will see that the prophet in question is Joseph Smith. (Even if you hadn’t, you could be forgiven for assuming the hymn was about Joseph Smith; “the prophet” virtually always refers to Joseph Smith within LDS psalmody.) We sing about his role as restorer (“brought the priesthood back again”) and as translator (“for the Gentile and the Jew/he translated sacredly”). We sing boldly, as we do with many of the hymns of the restoration. The claim of a modern-day prophet is a bold one, as are the claims of continuing revelation and restored authority from on high, and the tone of the hymn reflects that boldness.
So we’re singing about the restoration and Joseph Smith; what about those four lines in each verse that tie the hymn together? Let’s take a look at them and see. In verse one, the line that sticks out is “cheers the Saints as anciently.” We receive revelation and guidance from the Lord as did His faithful in years past. That’s cause for cheer. It’s easy to feel adrift in a sea of conflicting messages. The clarity of the gospel message helps us to keep our bearings straight, and it brings us joy.
In the second verse, the special line is “in its ancient purity,” referring to the restored authority of the priesthood. It was restored through Joseph, yes, but the authority is the same as it ever was. It is the authority of God given to man to direct His work as though He were here. It was given to men in ancient times, and it is given to us today. The line in the third verse dovetails with that theme nicely: “He translated sacredly.” Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, a book of scripture that shows us that God spoke to more than one group of people. He translated the book not because of his expertise in Meso-American languages, or because of his mastery of ancient scripture, but because he received authority from God to do so. It’s the same authority held by ancient prophets like Moses and Abraham, and it’s the same authority held by modern prophets like Thomas S. Monson today.
The hymn concludes with the line “purer for eternity,” referring to Zion. It will spread throughout the earth during the Millennium as every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is the Christ. And again, it has little to do with our own efforts (though we do, and will, work toward building the kingdom) and instead much to do with the power of the Almighty. This is His work, and it will not fail. The gospel has been restored to Earth, never to be taken again.
We sing about Joseph Smith, but these lines that stick out in the middle of each verse remind us that when we sing about him, we sing about the power of God, restored through him. Joseph is no longer with us, gone nearly 170 years now, but the church thrives. We revere him, but we worship the God who made the restoration he accomplished possible. And so when we sing this hymn, we sing about a great man, but also about great men to come (“prudent in this world of woes/they will triumph o’er their foes”) as they are given inspiration, guidance, and authority from on high.