Crown Him with Many Crowns

Matthew Bridges, 1851
Addressed to all the saints
Crown him with many crowns,Rev. 19:12
   the Lamb upon his throne;Rev. 5:13
hark! how the heav’nly anthem drownsRev. 5:9–13; 14:2; 19:6
   all music but its own:
awake, my soul, and singPs. 108:1–5
   of him who died for thee,Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3
and hail him as thy matchless KingPs. 10:16; 29:10; Rev. 11:15
   through all eternity.
Crown him the Lord of love;John 3:16
   behold his hands and side,Luke 24:39
rich wounds, yet visible above,Is. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24; Ps. 16:10; Col. 2:9
   in beauty glorified:John 7:39b; Phil. 2:8–9
no angel in the sky
   can fully bear that sight,Is. 6:2; but see Matt. 18:10
but downward bends his burning eye
   at mysteries so bright.Rev. 1:16
Crown him the Lord of peace;Is. 9:6b; Ezek. 34:25; 2 Thess. 3:16
   whose pow’r a scepter swaysPs. 110:2; 45:6
from pole to pole, that wars may cease,Ps. 22:27–28; 46:9; Is. 40:2; Mic. 4:3
   absorbed in prayer and praise:Rev. 21:3–4
his reign shall know no end;Ex. 15:18; Rev. 11:15
   and round his pierced feet
fair flow’rs of paradise extend
   their fragrance ever sweet.2 Cor. 2:14
Crown him the Lord of years,2 Pet. 3:8
   the Potentate of time;Josh. 10:12–13
Creator of the rolling spheres,Gen. 1:14–18; Ps. 33:6
   ineffably sublime:
all hail, Redeemer, hail!Luke 21:28
   for thou hast died for me:Col. 3:16; 1 Cor. 15:3
thy praise shall never, never failPs. 111:10
   throughout eternity.

In the Book of Revelation we read with consternation of a dragon who, by wearing seven diadems on seven heads, vainly tries to usurp a glory that is not his, and of a beast from the sea who wears ten diadems, also on seven heads. But Christ, by contrast, wears unnumbered “many” diadems (on one head, of course! Rev. 19:12) as King of kings and Lord of lords—many crowns for many victories. In the hymn above, the idea of manifold coronation provides a framework for praising Christ’s tiumphs in redemption (stanza 2), human affairs (stanza 3), and creation (stanza 4).

The introductory stanza identifies the King. He is the Lamb once slain but now seated at the right hand of God the Father. In a stroke of irony, even as the congregation sings the hymn’s third and fourth lines it acknowledges another song, a heavenly one, which outsings it. Or perhaps this is a way of identifying the song we sing together as “the heav’nly anthem.” Indeed, the latter reading seems more likely as we move into the last half of the first stanza, for it is our soul who sings, presumably as part of that heav’nly music just described. We are both prompted to sing and enabled to sing because Christ died for us. And since he restored us to himself, we “hail him as [our] matchless King.”

The second stanza crowns Christ as Lord of love. The marks of His love for us—“rich wounds”—are glorified now in beauty. Beauty here, and love, have their true effect. Those accustomed to thinking of beauty and love as soft and pleasant are reminded of the real nature of both. Even the angels, we speculate, are unable fully to view Christ’s glory—described through his wounds—fully disclosed. Those dear marks of cross and passion burn the angelic eye. The last line of stanza 2 is particularly striking. We are accustomed to thinking of mystery as dark, but here the mystery is mysterious precisely because it is “so bright.” A light impenetrable is far more mysterious than an unfathomable darkness.

The third stanza is dedicated to peace but, again with irony, it begins by discussing Christ’s power and might. Bridges makes an unusually successful pun between the scepter (which is a pole born by kings) and the poles of the earth. Christ uses his might to “absorb” war in “prayer and praise.” Remembering the primary meaning of “absorb” is to swallow up, we see that rapacious war is itself devoured by prayer and praise. Though the stanza began with the hard image of Christ’s scepter, it ends with Edenic flowers as a royal carpet for Christ’s feet.

The hymn itself ends with Christ’s lordship over time—unsurprisingly, since he created the heavenly bodies by which we measure our earthly time. By turning to time in its last stanza, the hymn can come full circle, its first and last stanzas ending with nearly identical lines. The Lord of time, Christ, will be worshiped throughout eternity—that is, where there is no more time.

The tune, DIADEMATA, was written for this poem and supports its rhythmic shift in each stanza from an initial trochee to a stream of iambs; that is, the tune starts with a rhythm well matched to the first few words (for example, there is no pickup) and then turns to iambic rhythms thereafter: the pickup to measure 3 establishes the pattern for the rest of the stanza. Thus the beginning of the tune is as different from the rest of the tune as the beginning of each stanza of the poem is different, rhythmically, from the rest of the stanza.

The tune also supports the text’s buildup to a climax in lines 7–8 of every stanza by employing heightened repetition in lines 5–6. Compare what we sing at “awake my soul, and sing” with what we sing at “of him who died for thee” and consider how this builds to the climax of “and hail him as thy matchless King.”