The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning
"The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning" (also "The Spirit of God" or "Hosanna to God and the Lamb") is a hymn of the Latter Day Saint movement. It was written by W. W. Phelps, one of the most prolific hymnwriters of early Mormonism.
History of use
The hymn was sung for the dedication of Kirtland Temple, 27 March 1836. Although Keith W. Perkins said it was written for this occasion in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism this is probably overstating the connection. An LDS hymnal including this hymn had been published the year before. It had also been sung at many LDS meetings before the Kirtland Temple was completed.
The song continues to be sung throughout the various Latter Day Saint denominations, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), Community Of Christ, and the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is sung as part of the Hosanna Anthem, a special piece for the dedication of all LDS temples that includes "The Spirit of God".
Early printings of the hymn contain text only, although tune names were given twice in the church newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate. The January 1836 issue of the Messenger and Advocate specifies the tune American Star. On the other hand, the March 1836 issue specifies the tune Hosanna when it was sung for the dedication service of the Kirtland Temple. At least four tunes were associated with the hymn since it was written. While these tunes were likely familiar to many of the members of the church at the time, there is some ambiguity today as to how these tunes were sung.
J. C. Little and G. B. Gardner published an unofficial hymnal 1844 in Bellows Falls, Vermont, which is the first Latter Day Saint hymnal to include any music. "The Spirit of God," is included as the very first hymn and it is set to the tune Hosanna, which is the same tune used today—although the notes in the refrain differ slightly from modern editions, and it contained only soprano and bass instead of the four parts typical of modern editions.
Lyrics and commentary
The hymn was a last minute addition to the first church hymnal, Collection of Sacred Hymns published in Kirtland, Ohio, 1835 or 1836. It appears as the last song (hymn 90) and in a different typeset than the rest of the hymnal. This original version had six stanzas. In some cases the lyrics borrow from the words of its original tune, "The American Star."
- The Spirit of God like a fire is burning;
- The latter day glory begins to come forth;
- The visions and blessings of old are returning;
- And angels are coming to visit the earth.
The words of the first stanza capture the millennialist spirit of the early Latter Day Saint movement. Phelps supposedly wrote the words following a meeting during which the leaders of the church were overcome by the Spirit. Joseph Smith, Jr. speaks of the meeting in his diary, 17 January 1836:
"The Lord poured out his spirit upon us and the brethren began to confess their faults one to the other. The congregation was soon overwhelmed in tears and some of our hearts were too big for utterance. The gift of [tongues] come upon us also like the rushing of a mighty wind and my soul was filled with the glory of God."
The first words come from "The American Star" which begins, "The spirits of Washington, Warren, Montgomery" and "then goes on to praise these heroes of the Revolution who yet watch over nineteenth-century patriots."
The chorus is sung as above after each stanza. However the first line becomes "We'll sing and we'll shout with His armies of heaven" for the last chorus in the original printing.
The use of the phrase "armies of heaven" in first line is used to mean a "great multitude of angels," but also reflects the imagery of the original song, "The American Star." Musicologist, Michael Hicks, points out, "The choruses to both use military images. One speaks of the U.S. militia ('let millions invade us, we'll meet them undaunted'), the other of heaven ('we'll sing and we'll shout with the armies of heaven')."
More recently, Andrew Bolton and Randall Pratt authored a revised or alternative version of "The Spirit of God" in 2003. This version offers the less militaristic wording, "angels of heaven," over "armies of heaven." It has been used in various Community of Christ gatherings, however the 2013 World Conference Hymnal and the new denominational hymnal Community of Christ Sings while including the Bolton-Pratt adaptation of stanza 6, do not contain the changes to the chorus.
- The Lord is extending the saints' understanding—
- Restoring their judges and all as at first;
- The knowledge and power of God are expanding
- The vail o'er the earth is beginning to burst.
- We call in our solemn assemblies, in spirit,
- To spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad,
- That we through our faith may begin to inherit
- The visions, and blessings, and glories of God.
Further parallels between patriotic "American Star" and "The Spirit of God" are found in stanza three.
- The patriotic song declares that "to us the high boon has been granted." Phelps elaborates on this: "We...begin to inherit the visions and blessings and glories of God." "The American Star" urges all "to spread the glad tidings of liberty far." Phelps urges the Saints "to spread forth the kingdom of heaven abroad."
- We'll wash and be wash'd, and with oil anointed
- Withal not omitting the washing of feet:
- For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed,
- Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.
This stanza is rarely sung today as most hymnals have omitted stanzas four and five.
The phrase "PENNY appointed" is a reference to the parable of the laborer in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16). In this parable, laborers who start working during the eleventh hour receive the same reward of a penny as do the laborers who have been working from the very beginning.
- Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom,
- Must come with the cloud and the pillar, amain:
- A Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him,
- And feed him on manna from heaven again.
This stanza is rarely sung today as most hymnals have omitted stanzas four and five.
- How blessed the day when the lamb and the lion
- Shall lie down together without any ire;
- And Ephraim be crown'd with his blessing in Zion,
- As Jesus descends with his chariots of fire!
Stanzas 1,2,3, and 6 appear in the LDS Church's hymnal as hymn verses 1 to 4. However, Hymns of the Saints, the Community of Christ hymnal from 1981 to 2013, did not include the sixth stanza. Community of Christ Sings, the current Community of Christ hymnal, includes the Bolton–Pratt revision of this stanza as the third of four stanzas.
The first two lines are a reference to Isaiah 11:6, "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them." (KJV)
- Perkins, Keith W. (1992), "Kirtland Temple", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, New York: Macmillan Publishing, pp. 798–799, ISBN 0-02-879602-0, OCLC 24502140
- Cornwall 1975, p. 221
- Messenger and Advocate 2 (January 1836): 256. Online version at centerplace.org
- Messenger and Advocate 2 (March 1836): 280. Online version at wikisource.org
- "Emma's 1835 Hymnal"
- Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Kirtland, Ohio: F. G. Williams & co., 1835; reprint, Independence, Missouri: Herald Heritage, 1973), hymn 90. original lyrics at Wikisource
- Hicks 1985, pp. 134-135
- "Sketch Book for the use of Joseph Smith, Jr." (22 September to 3 April 1836), 126; Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet's Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1989), 111-112. Joseph's diary account
- By Request: Songs for the Community of Christ (Independence, Missouri: Herald House, 2004), R-18.
- In the 1985 LDS Edition of the hymnbook this word has been altered to "We'll"
- The full Bolton-Pratt revision of this stanza was at one point quoted here on the official Community of Christ website: http://www.cofchrist.org/peacecolloquy/2008/articles/peacecolloquy12-08.asp (archived copy).
- Clothier, Richard (1996), A Heritage of Hymns: an exploration of music and religion, music and our hymns, and the stories of hymns and hymn writers of the Restoration Movement, Independence, Missouri: Herald House, ISBN 0830907378, OCLC 34905979
- Cornwall, J. Spencer (1975) [1961, 1963], Stories of Our Mormon Hymns, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, OCLC 6639608
- Davidson, Karen Lynn (2009) , Our Latter-day Hymns: the Stories and the Messages (Revised ed.), Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, ISBN 9781606410684, OCLC 297222576
- Hicks, Michael (Spring 1985), "Poetic Borrowing in Early Mormonism", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 (1): 132-142
- Wikisource - Kirtland Temple Dedication Account of Kirtland temple dedication in March issue of church newspaper, Messenger and Advocate. "The Spirit of God" is the final hymn and directly follows the dedicatory prayer
- "The Spirit of God" - First printing with music and words Music from 1844 Bellow Falls unofficial hymnal. Similar to tune used today. Hosted by Mutopia project.
- "The American Star" - four stanzas The third stanza of this printing that starts "The spirits of Washington, Warren, Montgomery..." It appears to be the most popular stanza, often by itself in other printings.
- The Spirit of God current words and music from LDS hymnal and MP3 download