The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Great God Of Heaven

Alternate Title: The Great God Of Heaven Is Come Down To Earth
Alternate Title: The Incarnation

For Christmas

Words: Henry Ramsden Bramley (1833-1917).

Music: "A Virgin Unspotted," Traditional English carol from Gloucestershire
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Source: Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, Second Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., 1871), Carol #26.

1. The great God of heaven is come down to earth,
His mother a virgin, and sinless His birth;
The Father eternal His Father alone:
He sleeps in the manger; He reigns on the throne.

Refrain
Then let us adore Him, and praise His great love:
To save us poor sinners He came from above.

2. A Babe on the breast of a maiden He lies,
Yet sits with the Father on high in the skies;
Before Him their faces the seraphim hide,
While Joseph stands waiting, unscared, by His side. Refrain

3. Lo! here is Emmanuel, here is the Child,
The Son that was promised to Mary so mild;
Whose power and dominion shall ever increase,
The Prince that shall rule o’er a kingdom of peace. Refrain

4. The Wonderful Counsellor, boundless in might,
The Father’s own image, the beam of His light;
Behold Him now wearing the likeness of man,
Weak, helpless, and speechless, in measure a span. Refrain

5. O wonder of wonders, which none can unfold:
The Ancient of Days is an hour or two old;
The Maker of all things is made of the earth,
Man is worshipped by angels, and God comes to birth: Refrain

6. The word in the bliss of the Godhead remains,
Yet in flesh comes to suffer the keenest of pains;
He is that He was, and forever shall be,
But becomes that He was not, for you and for me. Refrain

Graphic Line

Sheet Music from Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1871)

Incarnation_26a.gif (429633 bytes) Incarnation_26b.gif (408170 bytes)

 

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916)

Editor's Note:

According to The English Hymnal, this carol is suitable until Candlemas, February 2.

Concerning the tune found in The English Hymnal,#29, it is interesting that the Gloucestershire tune "A Virgin Unspotted"  is used, although not to those lyrics, but to a new set of words written by Dr. Bramley, "The Great God of Heaven." This song originally appeared in Christmas Carols, New and Old, words by Rev. Henry Ramsden Bramley, and music edited by Dr. Stainer, and was later picked up for inclusion in The English Hymnal (1906). John Julian, in his Dictionary of Hymnology, Vol. 1, gave us some background about this on page 213:

"Dr. Stainer has supplied the following facts:

"He says he has every reason to believe that the melody was originally the same as that of “A virgin unspotted, &c.” The editors of the Christmas Carols, New and Old received several manuscript copies of the tune taken orally, agreeing with that which they have printed [Carol #3]; but from Gloucestershire a tune was obtained that was always sung to these words “A virgin unspotted,” but differing widely from its more usual form. It was considered so beautiful that Dr. Stainer got his co-editor to arrange other words for it. Thus we are indebted to the happy accident of a variation in the melody for another carol on the Nativity, ”The Great God of Heaven is Come Down to Earth,” equal to the former, "A Virgin Unspotted” in the clearness and interest of its narrative, and far surpassing it in depth of thought, and elegance of diction."

Cecil Sharp collected a version of that Gloucestershire tune (and the lyrics to "A Virgin Unspotted") from from Mr. Henry Thomas at Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire. See Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk-Carols (London: Novello & Co., Ltd., 1911), pp. 36-7.

Finally, if we look very closely, we find that this tune was the one written by William Knapp to his re-written lyric, "A Virgin Most Closely," published in Anthems for Christmas-Day (1843).

A_Virgin_Most_Pure-Knapp-1743-20.jpg (103604 bytes) A_Virgin_Most_Pure-Knapp-1743-21.jpg (95859 bytes)

It was later published in several American shape-note song books, including The Hesperian Harp (1848):

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