For All the Saints
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus . . . (Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV)
People put a lot of effort into cultural observances and celebrations. Halloween seems to be one that tops the “effort” list, given the decorations, costumes, parties, and the annual “trick or treating” of kids (small and large) going door to door. According to one source, Halloween’s origins date back to an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain which was held on November 1, a date when it was believed the souls of the dead returned to their homes. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to hopefully keep the ghosts away. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as “All Saints Day,” a time to honor all followers of Christ who had passed from this life to the next.
God condemns calling on dead spirits and other occultic practices (Leviticus 19.31; 20.6; 20.17; Deuteronomy 18.10-12), but He does call us to remember those who lived faithful lives and left a godly legacy as a lasting testimony. In fact, an entire chapter in the New Testament – Hebrews 11 – calls to remembrance the lives of “saints” who lived and died “in faith.” To the Jewish recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, the names Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and Moses would remind them of what it meant to live a life of faith and trust in God.
At the end of Hebrews 11, the writer makes this interesting statement: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:39-40 NKJV). It seems that there is a connection between the people of God in the past and those living in the present; between the work God has done in the past and what He is doing now and will do through believers in the future. The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that the people of God in the past are “. . . so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV) who should serve to motivate us to faithful and godly living.
Bishop William Walsham How’s hymn “For All the Saints” helps us celebrate the memory of the lives of our forebears in the faith and make the connection between their experiences and ours. The first stanza simply affirms the God-honoring lives they lived.
For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
The “saints” of old left an example of looking to God and trusting in Him whenever they encountered troubles or trials.
Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one True Light.
The people of God – past and present – have a common destiny and form a “blessed communion” and “fellowship divine.” Those in the past are now enjoying the great reward of being in the presence of their Lord and hearing his “. . . well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV). Such is the hope that the people of God in every generation have – “the calm of paradise the blest.”
Oh, blessed communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine,
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But there is more. There is coming a day when the glory of King Jesus will be on full display. “And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him” (Daniel 7.13-14 NKJV).
But yonder breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
These saints “triumphant . . . in bright array” will form “. . . a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hand, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7.9-10 NKJV).
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The ancient Hebrews remembered Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David, Elijah, and many others. Today, we remember Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Wesley. We remember those whose witness for Christ affected us personally and profoundly. For me, I remember my grandmothers Leota Neely and Ada Rabon. What a glorious hope! What a wonderful destiny! Let us live today and every day following the notable example of those who have gone before us, keeping our eyes on King Jesus and the prize that waits ahead for us.
Enjoy this video which gives a compelling visual illustration of each of the verses of this hymn.
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 WORDS: William Walsham How (1864, 1875). MUSIC: Ralph Vaughn Williams, 1906.