Hymn text by Eliza R. Snow, 1804-1887. View the full text of this hymn.

Great Is the Lord was one of the hymns written by Eliza R. Snow for the original LDS hymnbook in 1835. Its lyrics praise the Lord for the restoration of the Gospel and its attendant blessings.

The four verses found in our modern hymnbook are just a portion of the original eight. Take a moment to read it, straight from the 1835 LDS hymnbook (hymn #70):

1 Great is the Lord: ’tis good to praise His high and holy name:
Well may the saints in latter days His wondrous love proclaim.

2 To praise him let us all engage, That unto us is giv’n:
To live in this momentous age, And share the light of heav’n.

3 We’ll praise him for our happy lot, On this much favored land;
Where truth, and righteousness are taught, By his divine command.

4 We’ll praise him for more glorious things, Than language can express,
The “everlasting gospel” brings, The humble souls to bless.

5 The Comforter is sent again, His pow’r the church attends;
And with the faithful will remain Till Jesus Christ descends.

6 We’ll praise him for a prophet’s voice, His people’s steps to guide:
In this, we do and will rejoice, Tho’ all the world deride.

7 Praise him, the time, the chosen time, To favor Zion’s come:
And all the saints, from ev’ry clime, Will soon be gather’d home.

8 The op’ning seals announce the day, By prophets long declar’d;
When all, in one triumphant lay, Will join to praise the Lord.

If I had to pick only four verses to keep, I’d likely choose the same ones we have in the current hymnbook (v. 1, 2, 5, 6), but it’s enlightening to read them in their original context. The saints were excited to live “in this momentous age”, an age when the everlasting gospel was restored, when priesthood power existed to confer the Gift of the Holy Ghost, when a prophet’s voice again spoke His word! They looked forward to the restoration of the ancient City of Zion and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

In short, they praised God because they saw the power of God acting around them. They were part of the nascent “marvelous work and a wonder,” bringing the restored Gospel again to the world. They believed in a living, active God, not one trapped in an ancient book.

Do you have that same faith? Do you believe in a God who “speaks, not spake”? Certainly, the doctrinal revelations announced by the prophet today today are not of the magnitude or frequency that they were in Joseph Smith’s day. We rejoice that God has sent prophets, of course, and are eager to hear their words. But what happened to the frequent doctrinal revelations of the early years of the Restoration?

I believe that God does still speak, in glory and magnitude and frequency. His goal, though, is not simply to build a kingdom of prophet-followers, but rather a kingdom of spiritual adults, saints who can have learned to recognize the voice of the Spirit and to hear to the words of God. He wants all of us to come unto him, not just unto his prophets. He wants us all to receive revelation.

This message is repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. Nephi asked his brothers why they had not asked God for understanding of their father’s visions. Alma the Younger’s life was changed forever when he learned for himself of the power of Christ’s Atonement. Shortly before the birth of Christ, the prophets Nephi and Lehi recorded that there were many who received “many revelations daily.”

The message of the restored Gospel is not simply that we should Follow the Prophet. That is a foundation—a good first step, and an important one—but if we stop there we have missed the point. If all we needed were a prophet, we would not need the Gift of the Holy Ghost, nor scriptures nor prayer. We could just let the prophet receive all the revelation.

But that’s not what God wants. He is a god who speaks, who speaks to all who will listen, all who are capable of hearing. We determine that capacity by our willingness to follow his laws. So when we sing “Great Is the Lord,” we praise a God who still acts, who still guides this marvelous work and wonder. We praise a God guides his prophets but also guides his people. We praise a God who has gathered and is gathering Zion throughout the world. We praise a God who is preparing the world for the Second Coming of his son Jesus Christ.

There is one change in this hymn from the 1835 original that I find enlightening:

To praise him let us all engage, That For unto us is giv’n:
To live in this momentous age, And share the light of heav’n.

To praise him, let us all engage. Praise is not merely a matter of words and song, but of action and participation. Unto us it has been given to live in this momentous age, and to share the light of heaven. Let us not merely drift by, waiting for leaders to guide and instruct us. Let us instead actively seek revelation, actively repent and improve and more closely emulate Jesus Christ. Let us be a part of this work.

Let us engage.

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