All Authority and Power

Christopher Idle, 1973
Text © 1973, Hope Publishing Co.
Based on Matthew 28:18–20
Addressed to one another, then (briefly) to God
All authority and power,Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:21
   ev’ry · · · · · · · · · ·
now · · · · · · · · · ·
   our · · · · · · · · · ·
angels, · · · · · · · · · ·Ps. 72:8–11; 110:1; Dan. 7:13–14; Col. 1:16
   over · · · · · · · · · ·
All the nations owe him worship,
   ev’ry · · · · · · · · · ·Isa. 45:23; Phil. 2:11
how · · · · · · · · · ·Rom. 10:14
   if · · · · · · · · · ·
Therefore · · · · · · · · · ·Matt. 28:19
   preach · · · · · · · · · ·
All the clear commands of JesusMatt. 28:20a; John 14:15–16
   must · · · · · · · · · ·
full · · · · · · · · · ·Mark 6:34; 2 Tim. 3:17
   in · · · · · · · · · ·
in · · · · · · · · · ·
   saving · · · · · · · · · ·
All the time he will be with us,Matt. 28:20b
   always, · · · · · · · · · ·
with · · · · · · · · · ·
   who · · · · · · · · · ·John 14:23; 15:10
God · · · · · · · · · ·
   bless · · · · · · · · · ·

As we have argued in the “Biblical Model,” congregants are to address one another and God in their song. How then can they let the words of Christ dwell in them, when those words are spoken by Christ to them, not by them to Christ or to one another? Certainly this is the challenge presented to Christopher Idle when he attempted to create a hymn based on some of Christ’s best-known words, often called the Great Commission. Idle’s solution is both clear and successful. Instead of relying on the sometimes sentimental practice of having us speak in the voice of Christ, he places the great commission text in the mouth of the Christian. Then, creating a sermon on the Great Commission instead of merely repeating it, he amplifies his text by drawing on all the scriptural passages which Christ here referenced, as well as the many New-Testament ideas which are then based on it.

The opening stanza begins with a direct quotation from Matthew 28, but where the text reads “has been given to me,” Idle’s hymn defines the pronoun. The pronoun refers, of course, to Christ, to whom the authority has been given, but here, in Idle’s hymn, Christ is defined by his redemptive work. The authority of Christ is complete but will become more clear in the future. The last line of this first stanza intimates the “already and not yet” nature of Christ’s reign by using the modal verb “shall,” which also intimates the certainty of Christ’s future and completed reign.

Idle continues the sentiment of the great commission’s first idea into the second stanza’s first line, and in doing so employs the common biblical language of “every tongue.” This serves as a perfect transition into the commission’s second and most well-known idea, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” because of its reference to language. Christ shall have dominion over all nations and by defining nationality in terms of language, Idle draws our attention for the need to preach the gospel in those languages, here through a direct reference to Paul: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14) By placing the words of Christ, “therefore go and make disciples,” into the mouths of Christians, he has given us a tool by which we may exhort one another in obedience to Christ’s command.

Idle skips over Trinitarian baptism, which is the third idea in the great commission, but this is so he can mine it for a Trinitarian blessing at the end of his hymn. He moves on, in the third stanza, to this often overlooked portion of the great commission—“teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.” Teaching obedience to Christ’s commands is not half as popular these days (nor was it in Idle’s 1970s) as the “go therefore…” passage. Idle seems to be aware of this shortcoming and wisely spends an entire stanza on that important fourth idea in the great commission. Far from being discouraging (as attention on obedience sometimes can be), the hymn reminds us that Christ himself equips us for obedience through his word and ordinances.

For the fifth idea of the great commission—“and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”— Idle takes his time. The first two lines of the fourth stanza cover the words of Christ, but the third and fourth lines are devoted to explaining whom exactly Christ means by “you”: his people, who are known for their obedience—they “keep steadfast in his ways.” Again Idle is avoiding antinomian tendencies. He finishes his hymn by asking for God’s blessing. To confirm the triune nature of the Trinity, he refers to each person by name and then describes them, as an entity, with the singular masculine pronoun “him.”

As suggested by the small sample of twentieth-century tunes discussed on this website, excellent congregational melodies are hard to come by. Consequently, Idle’s hymn is set to the rather ill-used seventeenth-century tune NEANDER. We describe it as ill used because of its repeated appearance as a setting for many different texts. Also known as UNSER HERRSCHER, it is used for not less than eleven hymn texts in common usage today, including three in the Trinity Hymnal (1990). It is enough to point out that our inclusion of this hymn implies our gentle suggestion that Idle’s text find its permanent home in NEANDER and supplant all other texts which might vie for the tune. This is, not least, because the marriage of text and tune is a relatively good one.

The tune is a bar form and so derives its melodic drama from the tension created by repeating a complete melodic phrase:

NEANDER phrase

This melodic tension is released when we come to the third musical idea, to which the last two lines of each of Idle’s stanzas are set:

NEANDER phrase

Beautifully, in each stanza this is a summary or a conclusion of what comes before. In the first stanza, the last two lines sum up Christ’s authority. In the second stanza, they are the important quotation from Scripture: “therefore go and make disciples.” In the third stanza, they are a comfort to us as we consider Christ’s call to obedience. In the fourth stanza, the last two lines contain the Trinitarian blessing. But to say this is merely to say that Idle’s text would be well set to any good bar-form tune with an appropriate number of notes. The success of the marriage between text and tune, however, is more than just this. The third musical idea (the second musical example above) is a stately, almost march-like, descent that mimics the steady steps of God’s people as they take forth the gospel. In that sense, the melody really does paint for us the process of the gospel going forth: the first musical phrase (which is repeated) is triumphant, as we are when we know of Christ’s authority, and the third musical phrase is determined, as we are when we bring the gospel in light of such authority.