Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hymns & Hymn Writers: All Things Bright & Beautiful by David R. Kenney

The hymn “All Things Bright & Beautiful” is based on a poem written by Cecil F. Alexander around 1848.  The words were set to music for congregational singing by Lloyd O. Sanderson around 1935 and this hymn has appeared in several hymnals among churches of Christ.

The Refrain (or Chorus) became popular in a series of books containing reminisces of a country veterinarian of the 1930s in Yorkshire of northern England.  The character’s name was James Herriot, but his actual name was James Alfred Wright.  The books are semi-biographical and are favored by animal lovers worldwide including those of our family!  Who knows how many have been inspired to the field of veterinary science because of these books which the poem helps make famous.

Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander (1818-1895), Lyricist

Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander was born in April 1818 (the closest reference to the day one can find is “Early April”) in Dublin, Ireland.  Her parents were John Humphreys and Elizabeth Francis Reed.  She was taught about writing poems at an early age which resulted in several of her lyrics being incorporated into hymnbooks of the Church of Ireland (Anglican).  She was a part of the Oxford Movement, which was an effort to bring Anglicism and Catholicism closer together.  She wrote many poems, some sources estimate over 400, including some under pseudonyms.  She was very much interested in the spiritual welfare of children having published a children’s hymnbook entitled Hymns for Little Children that went through several editions.  In fact, the words to this song are found in this hymnbook.  Some of her writings she used to help build institutions to help troubled young girls, the deaf and mute.  

In October 1850, she married William Alexander who was a clergyman of the Anglican Church.  Her husband was also an accomplished poet.  She was six years older than her husband which caused conversations in hallways.  Cecil Frances Alexander passed away on October 12, 1895 in Londonderry, Ireland at the age of 77 years old.  She is buried in the Londonderry City Cemetery.

Additional hymns that may be familiar to us include:  “Jesus Calls Us” and “There is a Green Hill”.  According to, the songs that have over 100 instances in hymnals, in order of popularity, are :  “Jesus Calls Us, O'er the Tumult” (“Jesus Calls Us”), “There is a Green Hill Far Away” (There Is A Green Hill”), “Once in Royal David's City Stood a Lowly Cattle-shed”, “Each Little Flower That Opens” (“All Things Bright & Beautiful”), “He Is Risen, He Is Risen; Tell It Out With Joyful Voice”, “The Eternal Gates Lift Up Their Heads”, “The Roseate Hues of Early Dawn” “Saw You Never, In The Twilight”, “When Wounded Sore the Stricken Soul” and “Do No Sinful Action”.

Her original composition contains some extra verses that are not in our hymnbooks including:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.
The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.
The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992), Composer

There are alternate versions of music such as tunes entitled ROYAL OAK by Martin F. Shaw (1915), BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL by William H. Monk (1887), GERALD by Ludwig Spohr (1834), and perhaps others.  The tune that we sing the words to was written by Lloyd O. Sanderson in 1935.  The song was once a with a matching refrain; however, with the exclusion of the word “All” in front of the world “Creatures” this pattern was broken by Sanderson in the chorus of his composition. 

Sanderson was born May 18, 1901 near Jonesboro, Arkansas.  His father was a singing teacher who was reared in a home where instruments were forbidden.  So Sanderson’s father made sure that instruments were prominent in their home including the piano, organ, guitar and others.  He was taught much about music both from his father and mother.  He was brought up in the Methodist Church; however, he became a Christian in 1922.  He had to give up his position as church choir director of the Methodist Church but was hired to teach music by J. N. Armstrong at Harper Christian College which would eventually lead to his teaching at Harding College.  On August 29, 1927 he married Rena Raye Woodring.  In 1935 he worked as Business Manager for the Gospel Advocate in Nashville, TN where he also taught at David Lipscomb College.  With the death of John T. Hinds in 1938, he served as interim editor of the Gospel Advocate until B. C. Goodpasture took over the Editorship in 1939.  He continued as the Music Editor for the Gospel Advocate for some time but decided to resign in 1942 to devote his efforts to full time church work.  He was acquainted with many familiar names in the brotherhood:  N.B. Hardeman, G.C. Brewer, Horace Busby, Foy E. Wallace, Roy Cogdill, F.B. Srygley, B.C. Goodpasture, S.H. Hall, E.M. Borden, C.R. Nichol, M.S. Mason, A.G. Freed, H.A. Dixon, E.A. Elam, H. Leo Boles and others.  He was also familiar with other popular song writers:  E. L. Jorgenson, William W. Slater and Tillitt S. Teddlie.  Hymns that he wrote include “Be With Me, Lord”, “The Lord Has Been Mindful of Me”, “Bring Christ Your Broken Life” and others.  Some report that he also used a pseudonym, Vana R. Raye, based on his wife’s name.

His wife died in a serious car accident in 1984 which left Sanderson crippled.  They had lost their daughter to cancer a few days prior to the accident.  Sanderson remarried to Vesta Stowe Sanderson in 1988.  Lloyd Sanderson died January 17, 1992 and is buried by his first wife Rena in Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, TN.

All Things Bright & Beautiful

Literary experts theorize that Cecil F. Alexander may have been inspired by William Pauley’s book, Natural Theology, which was released in 1802 and became a very popular work.  It is this book that the concept of a Divine Watchmaker became popularized.  Some see a similarity to the poem with that of “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1834) which includes this line “He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all."  Some point out that there is a great similarity between this poem and the “Apostle’s Creed”.

These literary analysts may be correct, however, one should not overlook the inspiration that comes from the Bible itself!  We speak of inspiration as “God breathed” which is certainly correct; however, the Bible has inspired/motivated mankind to greater achievements and acknowledgement of the Divine Mind and Creator.

Reflecting on the poem bring to mind some of these verses from the mind of the Creator:   “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31, NKJV.)  “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NKJV.)  “You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all.  The host of heaven worships You” (Nehemiah 9:6, NKJV.)  “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Mathew 6:28-29, NKJV.) 

God has provided us a treasure chest for us in His creation!  We can look all around us, dig deep, reach far, admire His great handiwork and be amazed.  And to think the Bible promises us more beauty yet to behold in Heaven; cf. Revelation 21!


Wiegand, John P., Editor, Praise For The Lord, Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

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