Hymn To God the Father

One of my favorite poems of all time is “Hymn to God the Father” by John Donne. If you are not familiar with this poem, you need to be. Donne composed this piece near the end of his life when he was facing death (circa 1631). As he contemplates his demise, he is overcome with a sense of his own sinfulness, and he wonders how he will stand at the judgment. Donne evokes all the anguish of the “wretched man” in Romans 7:24 before he sounds a final note of hope that Jesus will rescue him at the last day. There is a wonderful play on the word “done” in this poem, and you’ll note that it can either mean “done” or “Donne” (as in John Donne). It really is beautiful, and you can read the full text below.

There are some who believe that this poem was originally composed to be accompanied by music. Indeed, since 1631, composers have done just that. But my favorite one is a contemporary version recorded by a band named Jolly Napier. It remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Lead singer Myles Roberts has given me permission to share the song here, and I encourage you to press the play button and listen to the music as you read the text. When you’re finished with that, you can download the song for yourself here.

[Hat Tip to John Piper for tweeting a link to this poem yesterday and inspiring this post.]

Hymn to God the Father

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

7 Responses to Hymn To God the Father

  1. Joe B January 25, 2012 at 9:59 am #

    One of my very favorites too! A rare bird that Myles Roberts – can sing and preach.

  2. Evan May January 25, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    It’s good to have another Louisiana boy in the blogosphere! I was surprised to see you mention Jolly Napier, but then I remembered your roots.

  3. Rachel Hood January 25, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    love this.
    it reminds me that you wrote that great song for the poem by Rudyard Kipling-“and the burnt fool’s bandaged finger goes wobbling back to the fire…i’d love to have a digital copy of that one (i am sure i have an old cassette somewhere)

    • Denny Burk January 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

      I’ve got one, but I’m not going to let it go digital!

  4. Jason Lee January 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    I am a big Jolly Napier fan, so thanks for posting this. By the way, John Donne’s sermons are some the most fun reading from 17th century English preachers. I have no idea of his delivery quality, but the sermons themselves are excellent.

    Godspeed, JKL

  5. Jason Kees January 26, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Great song. Jolly Napier came to my church in Leesville when I was in the 7th grade. Great group. Thanks for the link

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  1. Borrowed, Found, Inherited « journey toward stillness - January 25, 2012

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