When looking for a hymn that extols the glory of God and His handiwork, one must look no further than Maltbie Babcock’s hymn This Is My Father’s World. The song presents the Creator not merely as a "First Cause" but as "our Father" because of His personal interest in man. In one stanza Babcock listens to the sounds of God’s creation and concludes that he can rest in this creator. Another stanza reflects the beautiful sights of God’s creation and demonstrates Babcock’s profound touch with nature.
The Psalter Hymnal Handbook states that This is My Father’s World fits with “many worship settings but especially those that focus on creation, providence, and stewardship of nature.” Careful study of the text denotes that Babcock is saying that “if the Father’s children of this chaotic day could catch a glimpse of the eternal verity . . . they would feel more deeply their obligation to make our world more nearer what the Father purposed in the making of it” (Washburn 22). In this hymn Babcock joins with the trees, skies, rocks, and other elements of nature in praise to God (Young 653). By referring to his “father’s world” Babcock seems to understand God and the world to be unified with God being in the world and the world in God, a belief system that aligns itself with the teachings of Panentheism. Panentheism believes “God and the world to be interrelated with the world being in God and God being in the world” (Culp) . According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy panentheism “offers an increasingly popular alternative to traditional theism and pantheism” (Culp). In contrast to panentheism pantheism is the view that the universe and God are identical while theism refers to the doctrine of a monotheistic God and God’s relationship to the universe that without his interaction. Panentheism presents an inadequate view of God’s transcendence by failing to distinguish God from the world. This is a major charge against the text that Babcock lays out in his hymn This is My Father’s World. One illustration of panentheism in Babcock’s hymn is demonstrated in the line that reads, “In the rustling grass I hear him pass, he speaks to me everywhere.” Here Babcock fails to distinguish God from the world aligning his beliefs with panentheism.
There appears to be a disconnect between Babcock’s thinking of the what he calls “his father’s world” and the one referred to in Ephesians 2:2 which says, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” This verse reveals to us that every human being who has ever lived has been enslaved to a way of thinking generated by the prince of the power of the air (Satan). In Ephesians 2 Paul demonstrates that once saved believers are freed from the power of sin’s domain which is referred to in scripture as “the world”. Prior to the rebellion, God gave Satan and his demon assistants power over the earth which includes its people. As people on earth, the Bible says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do” (John 8:44). We must never forget that in large part our struggle, as Paul terms it, is with these spirits. We inhabit the same space they inhabit. Babcock seems to address this world as most beautiful while leaving out the fact that the world is fallen and true beauty will be beheld beyond the gates of eternity.
Babcock’s hymn fails to clearly articulate the gospel. The only reference is “Jesus who died.” That statement alone is better said than not said, but in a poem that was originally 16 stanzas long it definitely cannot be called “gospel-centered”. One must assume the gospel when coming to the text of the hymn. Without knowledge of the Scriptures one cannot easily come to the conclusion that the “Father” referred to in Babcock’s text is actually the God who created the universe and sent forth the Savior to die for sinners. For example, a devout follower of Islam can just as easily assume the “father” in the hymn text refers to his god Allah. While a careful study of the man who wrote the hymn would reveal that the “father” in the text refers to God, a congregational song leader cannot assume that everyone understands this truth. Furthermore, though the song is ornately worded its lack of deep Biblical text causes many hymnologists to refer to it more as a song for children. While this may be a pleasant song for some, in truth it appears to be a song that is best characterized by a feel-good text rather than one that is doctrinally based. It cannot be called an enriching hymn.
In Truth there can be no criticizing of the motives of Maltbie D. Babcock. He was used of God in many ways. Even his motivation for writing the original poem was no doubt meant to bring glory to God. However, this hymn falls short of the instruction found in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3.
Culp, John. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 19 May 2009. 11 February 2011 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/panentheism/>.
Net Hymnal. 8 September 2007. 18 February 2011 <http://www.cyberhymnal.org/bio/b/a/b/babcock_md.htm>.
Osbeck, Kenneth W. 101 More Hymn Stores. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1985.
—. Amazing Grace. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1990.
Stulken, Marilyn Kay. Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1981.
Washburn, Charles C. Hymn Interpretations. Nashville, TN: Parthenon Press, 1938.
Young, Carlton R. Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993.
Posted by Caleb
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears