To Christ the Lord let every tongue
Majestic sweetness sits enthroned
Text: Origins. This text by Samuel Stennett (1727–1795) was first published in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of Christians of All Denominations (1782 | Fig. 1), in nine stanzas of four lines, unattributed, without music, headed “Chief among ten thousand.” This is a hymn of praise to Christ, for his attributes and for his providence.
Fig. 1. A Collection of Hymns for the Use of Christians of All Denominations (London, 1782).
Stennett’s text circulated more widely via its inclusion in John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (1787 | Fig. 2), this time attributed to Stennett, with an alternate heading, “… or, the excellencies of Christ, Cant. v. 10-16,” meaning Song of Solomon 5:10-16. This version contained one minor correction, the proper form of the verb “pours” (“His hand … pours,” stanza 6, line 1). Rippon made one additional small change starting in the 27th edition (ca. 1827), from “fled” to “flew” (stanza 5, line 2).
Fig. 2. John Rippon, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors (London, 1787).
Stennett’s hymn is often trimmed to start with stanza 3, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned.” The hymn’s first appearance in the United States was in Asahel Nettleton’s Village Hymns (1824).
Text: Analysis. The heading in Rippon’s Selection cites Song of Solomon 5:10-16, which reads (KJV):
10 My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
11 His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
12 His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
13 His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.
14 His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.
15 His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
16 His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
From this Scripture, the hymn borrows its original title. Verses 11-13 are reflected in Stennett’s stanzas 2 and 3, describing the features of Christ’s head. His hands are mentioned in stanza 6; the scheme of describing Christ’s body ends there. The last part of stanza 5 resembles Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (KJV).
Robert Cottrill, in his analysis of the hymn, made an interesting observation of the first line of the third stanza:
The phrase “majestic sweetness” is an interesting combination. The latter word is used in the sense of pleasing and agreeable. Christ in heavenly majesty, crowned with glory at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 1:3), is not seen as harsh and tyrannical, but as abundantly gracious. In this character He is approachable by the children of God in their need.
Tune. This hymn is most frequently set to ORTONVILLE, a tune by Thomas Hastings (1784–1872), first printed in The Manhattan Collection (1837 | Fig. 3), where it was set to “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” thus initiating a longstanding relationship between music and words.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
11 April 2019
Robert Cottrill, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Wordwise Hymns: Hymns, Their History and Meaning (10 June 2013):
Robert Guy McCutchan, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Our Hymnody: A Manual of the Methodist Hymnal, 2nd ed. (NY Abindgon-Cokesbury, 1942): p. 265.
“Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” The Hymnal 1940 Companion, 3rd rev. ed. (NY: Church Pension Fund, 1962), pp. 230-231.
William J. Reynolds, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Hymns of Our Faith: A Handbook for the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1964), pp. 118-119.
Fred D. Gealy & Austin C. Lovelace, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Companion to the Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1970), p. 282.
Milburn Price, “Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), p. 186.
“To Christ the Lord let every tongue,” Indelible Grace Hymn Book:
“Majestic sweetness sits enthroned,” Hymnary.org: