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Simon Kershaw
June 1999.

About the title

The Bible contains many references to song. In perhaps the oldest part of the Bible, Moses and the Israelites sang a great song of God’s triumph when they had safely crossed the Red Sea. It is a recurring theme in the prophecy of Isaiah, in the Psalms, and elsewhere in the Old Testament. In the vision recounted in Revelation it is described how the company of heaven will sing a new song in honour of the Lamb, and on another occasion how they will sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, of the old covenant and the new. In these visions, we catch a glimpse of the glory of heaven, and the triumph of those who have proclaimed that glory by their lives on earth. Thus, ‘singing the song‘ becomes a reminder of our hope that we too might follow their example, and proclaim the love of God to the world.

In a song or hymn written for her children in the 1920s Lesbia Scott put this in simple words:

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
And one was a doctor,
And one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God—and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.

They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
And one was a soldier,
And one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason—no, not the least,
Why I shouldn’t be one too.

They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
You can meet them in school, or
In lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too.

Lesbia Scott (1898–1986)
copyright 1929 Lesbia Scott
copyright © 1940 Lesbia Scott

William J Reynolds, Professor of Church Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the USA, wrote that: Lesbia Scott wrote hymns for her three children during the 1920s as expressions of their faith. Never intended for publication, many were written in response to the children’s own requests. They would ask, ‘Mum, make a hymn for a picnic,’ or ‘Mum, make a hymn for a foggy day.’

‘I sing a song of the saints of God’ was intended for use on saints’ days to reinforce the fact that saints not only lived in the distant past but may also live and work in everyday lives. Mrs Scott’s hymns were first published in England in Everyday Hymns for Little Children, 1929, and in the United States in the Episcopal Hymnal 1940.

Lesbia Lesley Locket was born in Willesden in 1898, and educated at Raven’s Croft School in Sussex. She married John Mortimer Scott, a naval officer, who later became an Anglican priest and served a parish near Dartmoor. Active in amateur theatre and religious drama, Mrs Scott did considerable writing, especially of religious drama. She died in 1986 at Pershore.

John Henry Hopkins Jr’s tune Grand Isle was written for this poem in 1940, and words and music first appeared in The Layman’s Magazine of the Living Church, November 1940. Hopkins, ordained priest in the Episcopal church in the USA in 1891, served several churches in the American Mid-West. A talented organist, he found time for his musical interests throughout his life. The hymn tune was named after Grand Isle, Vermont, where Hopkins lived after his retirement in 1929. He died in 1945.

Copyright © 1997, 1999, William J Reynolds. Used by permission.

© copyright 1999 Simon Kershaw
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