Lyrics: Ancient Irish Poem
Lyrics Date: 8th Century
Translator: Mary E. Bryne
Translation Date: 1905
Versified by: Eleanor H. Hull
Versified Date: 1905
Theme: The Christian Life; Hope Guidance in Pilgrimage
Music: Ancient Irish Melody
Music Date: First published in 1909
Arranger: David Evans
Arrangement Date: 1927
Tune Name: SLANE
Key: E flat
Scripture: Philippians 3:7
One of the surest ways to learn about someone is to observe how they spend their time—and money! Jesus said:
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34
Our hymn expresses the exuberant faith of one whose focus was not money, but God.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: Thou mine inheritance…
All those who call themselves Christians claim to put God at the top of their priorities.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.
These words become the first—and greatest commandment, when a person puts on their ‘marching boots’ and begins to follow Jesus.
St. Paul, the great Apostle of the first century, helped to reinforce this single-minded commitment to God. When, after surveying past achievements of education, religious heritage and social prestige, wrote that he abandoned them all for Someone else:
I consider everything a loss when compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…Philippians 3:8
Centuries before Paul, the Psalmist took inventory of his possessions. He lifted his eyes upward and affirmed his perspective on life’s priorities:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. Psalm 73:25
The writer of Be Thou My Vision refers to God by many descriptive titles. Some of them are taken directly from the Bible while others, not found in Scripture, are consistent with Biblical teaching:
Vision, Lord, Best thought, Wisdom, Word, Great Father, High King, Inheritance, Treasure, Sun, Ruler, Heart and others as well.
Coming one upon the other, they overwhelm the reader—and singer! —with the belief that the hymn writer was consumed with one burning conviction: This God alone deserves "first place." Who would dare to substitute anything or anyone else!
A stanza from an old hymn provides a fitting prayer to close our thoughts:
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.
William Cowper, 1772
With its heartfelt poetry and moving melody, "Be Thou My Vision" beautifully expresses the desires of the Christian heart. Though its popularity rose only in the past fifty years or so, the hymn actually has a rich history dating back to the eighth century.
Between the years of 400 and 700 AD the Irish people lived out a passionate faith in Christ. Ireland took up the missionary endeavor with excitement, and the country became known for its all-absorbing efforts to share Christianity throughout the world. Irish missionaries were found from Scotland to Switzerland, spreading the Good News wherever they went.
Some scholars believe that the words to the hymn are the product of a man known simply as St. Patrick. Patrick was born in A.D. 373 along the banks of the River Clyde in what is now called Scotland. When he was 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland. There he gave his life to Jesus Christ. He eventually escaped, but he never forgot this experience and when he was about 30 he returned to his former captors with only one possession: the Latin Bible. History tells us that St. Patrick was the man most responsible for the Good News of Christ coming to Ireland. As a result of his preaching, over 200 churches were established and 100,000 converts were baptized.
"Be Thou My Vision" undoubtedly comes from this spiritually rich period. Its prominent theme encourages single-hearted focus and devotion to Christ. In the hymn lyrics, the poet expresses his adoration of God through the many titles he gives him: Vision, Wisdom, Word, Great Father, Power, Inheritance, High King of heaven, Treasure, bright heaven's Sun, Ruler of all.
Today, we continue to sing the words of this hymn, echoing the poet's response to God's many titles. "Thou my best thought, Thy presence my light."
Be Thou My Vision
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
The Center for Church.