"Crown Him WithMany Crowns"
On YouTube, you can watch a video of the hymn Crown Him With Many Crowns being played at Westminster Abby in 2002, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It is a powerful, stirring rendition arranged especially for that event. Huge organs, tons of congregational voices, boys' choirs, antiphonal melodies on the last verse, trumpets – I mean the whole regalia – a dramatic coronation package. Exactly what our minds would imagine crowns, coronations, and kings sound and feel like.
Matthew Bridges, who wrote the words for this song, died 108 years before that moment (1894), but as a British citizen, he was fully aware of the regalia and drama of human coronations and the excesses and pride of human kings. He was actually a history buff and even wrote a book about the Roman Empire under Constantine that was published in 1828. In that book, he gives a detailed description of how some of Europe's grandest rulers may have lived. He says this of Constantine:
"His own palace, seated on the most conspicuous elevation, was roofed externally with gilded plates of brass, which, when illuminated by the sun, had the appearance of a city on fire. It was surrounded by spacious gardens, comprising the wonders of art, and exhibiting the beauties of nature. The splendors of oriental luxury, interspersed with groves, fountains and temples on all sides."
This was Bridges' picture of kings and coronation. Yet, Bridges was a devout follower of Christ who loved poetry and great hymns. Among the religious disciplines that he practiced was reflecting on the sorrowful mysteries. There are five of them – the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the carrying of the cross, and the crucifixion. Because of his skill as a writer, he chose to write his meditation into poetry. So 25 years after writing about Constantine, Bridges wrote The Passion of Jesus, a Collection of Original Pieces Corresponding with the Five Sorrowful Mysteries.
You can still read them and reflect on those same ideas with him! The text of Crown Him With Many Crowns comes from that work of poetry. He was actually meditating on the crown of thorns when he wrote this poem. I can see him wrestling between the picture of grand kings and coronations and that unseemly, misshapen, painful crown that he was contemplating. A crown of thorns that led him to a crown of love, a crown of peace, the crown of heaven.
I imagine that as he pictured the crown of thorns, he was thinking on the horrible agonies born by Christ on his behalf. He understood that this king who was battered and bruised was really the Creator, Son of the triune God who sacrificed all kingly glories to bear punishment on our behalf. A king who deserved a real crown, not such a torturous one. This brought Bridges to Revelation chapter 19. And the contemplation of a King who will be praised with these words, "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" Revelation 19:6-7
A king described this way.
"His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself." Revelation 19:12
In fact, Bridges placed this scripture reference at the beginning of his poem, so the reader would know that the lamb brutalized by that crown of the thorns will one day return as the conquering king.
Now the contrasts in the poem just come to life
A Sacrificial Lamb on the throne.
Singing for someone who died
Rich wounds that we can still see and are beautiful
Around Pierced feet, fair flowers
Take a few minutes and read through these beautiful verses of poetry. Read it several times and think about each of these things.
1. How many times are there contrasts in the middle of the poem? (There are more than I listed above)
2. How many different kinds of crowns are there?
3. Are there words that you don't understand? Take the time to look them up.
4. Can you find a scripture passage that speaks to the truth of every verse.
Crown him with many crowns,
The Lamb upon his throne;
Hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns
All music but its own:
Awake, my soul, and sing
Of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king
Through all eternity.
Crown him the Lord of love!
Behold his hands and side,--
Rich wounds, yet visible above,
In beauty glorified:
No angel in the sky
Can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye
At mysteries so bright!
Crown him the Lord of peace!
Whose power a scepter sways,
From pole to pole,--that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise:
his reign shall know no end,
And round his pierced feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend
Their fragrance ever sweet.
Crown him the Lord of years!
The Potentate of time,--
Creator of the rolling spheres,
Glassed in a sea of light,
Where everlasting waves
Reflect his throne,--the Infinite!
Who lives,--and loves--and saves.
Crown him the Lord of heaven!
One with the Father known,--
And the blest Spirit, through him given
From yonder triune throne!
All hail! Redeemer,--Hail!
For Thou hast died for me;
Thy praise shall never, never fail
Crown him the Lord of light,
Who o'er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven--in earth--beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O'er Satan, sin, and death.
Crown him the Lord of life
Who triumphed o'er the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife
For those he came to save;
His glories now we sing
Who died, and rose on high.
Who died, eternal life to bring
And lives that death may die.
Over the course of history, the tune that has become traditional was added (1868 to be exact), and some verses were added by Godfrey Thring(1874). Hymnals and arrangements vary verses and lines. Melodies come and go, but the truth of the King, humbling himself to death on a cross, remains.