Let All the World

From the book "Lead, Kindly Light"  (Reproduced with kind permission of ‘This England’ magazine)

George Herbert (1593 - 1633)

Let all the world in every corner sing,

My God and King!

The heavens are not too high,

His praise may thither fly;

The earth is not too low,

His praises there may grow.

Let all the world in every corner sing,

My God and King!

These are some of the lyrics written by George Herbert - a Christian poet and hymn-writer of rare purity and perfection. He lived in the days of King James I, and for a number of years in his younger adulthood he seems to have hovered around the King's courts. There is no doubt that George Herbert tried very hard to become a courtier and later was able to reflect on the "painted pleasures" of a life he never quite attained. The battle between life in the royal entourage and the Christian ministry continued in his soul - some friends telling him he was too honest for the court and others that he should not enter the ministry. The break from court ambitions came with the deaths of King James (1625) and two of his other friends.

Whilst still a layman he was appointed a prebendary at Lincoln Cathedral (no need for theological colleges in those days!), and he was rector of Bemerton for three years. He rode through the scattered parish on horseback but his home was open to all comers. "In the house of a preacher, all are preachers" he declared. He died at the age of 39 due to tuberculosis. One thing of interest to mention of his younger years is that he was four years old when his father died. From then on his mother took sole charge of his education and general well- being, her strong but gentle influence continuing well into George's manhood.

Some of the other lyrics he wrote show his heart attitude to the Lord, for example:

And the cream of all my heart I will bring Thee.

And from the popular hymn "Teach me my God and King":

Nothing can be so mean

Which, with this tincture, 'For Thy Sake' will not grow bright and clean.

George Herbert is also well known as a poet. One of his children's poems comes down to us with a touch of mediaeval severity:

Fear God, my child, be brave and wise,

And speak the truth, and tell no lies;

For liars shall forever dwell

With devils in the hottest hell.

Another poetic example of his advice on taking time to judge oneself:

By all means use sometimes to be alone.

Salute thy self: see what thy soul doth wear.

Dare to look in thy chest; for 'tis thine own: And tumble up and down what thou find'st there.