In the world of hymns, there are those that stand the test of time, touching the hearts and souls of generations. “This Is My Father’s World” is undoubtedly one of these timeless treasures. Its profound theological message resonates as much today as when it was published more than a hundred years ago.
Written by Maltbie Davenport Babcock, an American Presbyterian minister, and published posthumously in 1901, “This is My Father’s World” packs a theological punch.
Unpacking the Hymn’s Lyrics
The opening line, “This is my Father’s world,” sets the tone for the entire hymn. It is a declaration that everything in the world ultimately belongs to God. In the beginning, God called forth something from nothing and then, in a successive series of moments, shaped that something into the awe-inspiring world which we now inhabit.
Thus, Babcock’s hymn makes a profound statement about the natural world as a signal of God’s goodness and beauty. As the Psalmist declared, the heavens “declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). As the apostle Paul wrote, the natural world teaches humanity that God exists and should be worshiped (Rom 1:18-22). Indeed, the world’s majesty and beauty point us to God’s magnificence and glory.
The hymn continues, “I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought,” emphasizing that the tangible aspects of God’s creation should be seen and cherished for what they are—gifts from God. Notice that Babcock isn’t longing for God to take him away from this world; he is expressing gratitude that he gets to live in this world.
The hymn also addresses the oft-misunderstood relationship between Creation, Fall, and Redemption: “O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” In other words, Satan doesn’t have the power to make bad what God has made good. God’s created world remains structurally good even though the Evil One twists and misdirects it toward bad ends.
Babcock’s original four-stanza song of praise ends with a reaffirmation of God’s kingship. “The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!” Thus, the hymn comes full circle.
Applying the Hymn to Our Lives Today
More than a century after its composition, “This Is My Father’s World” continues to hold a special place in the hearts of many—and for good reason. It serves not only as a doxological prompt but also shapes what we believe and how we live.
Shaping What We Believe
This hymn reminds the atheist and agnostic that the grandeur of the natural world points to the majesty of its Creator. When confronted with the elaborate architecture, irreducible complexity, and frightening beauty of the cosmos, only a fool could say there is no God (Rom. 1:18-22; Ps. 14:1). God is there, and he is not silent. He speaks through the created order.
This hymn also reminds the church that God has not given up on the created order. He is actively reversing the curse through the redemption accomplished by His Son. We sing in light of the glorious promise that Christ will return one day to consummate a new heaven and a new earth where the saints will dwell in the presence of God forever (Rev. 21).
Shaping How We Live
This hymn prompts us to be alert and attentive to the magnificence of God’s creation. Whereas God could have created a world that was simple, grey, and dull, he chose to give us a world that is magnificently complex and majestically beautiful. When encountering a sunrise, being confronted by field of flowers, or stunned by an austere mountaintop, our first impulse should be to sing the praises of the Creator. While enjoying a good meal, basking in the sun, or refreshing ourselves in the ocean, our reflex should be to remember the Giver of these gifts.
What’s more, “This is My Father’s World” serves as a reminder that God has called us to “live in the world, but not of the world.” He calls us to keep our feet firmly planted in this world, living holy lives for Him within creation’s order; summons us to bring every square inch of our creaturely lives under submission to Christ, who is Lord over all; empowers us to take anything Satan has misdirected and redirect it toward Christ. The church has a high calling to bear witness to the Father’s glory throughout the entire world, which ultimately belongs to him.
“This Is My Father’s World” is no ordinary hymn; it’s a powerful reminder of God’s sovereignty and the goodness of his creation. Unlike many of the kitschy and theologically anemic songs of today, it has earned its status as a timeless treasure.
A Personal Word
In 2017, my wife and I tragically lost our three-year-old daughter, Lily. The week before she entered the presence of her heavenly Father, she was singing with our son Preston after dinner. He was teaching her some of the hymns his class was learning at school. There was one hymn that she seemed to really enjoy, “This Is My Father’s World.” However, Lily would only sing the opening line throughout the entire song. She simply repeated the phrase, “This is my Father’s world.”
This is a beautiful memory for our family but also can serve as a profound reminder for the church. “This is my Father’s world” should be the anthem of God’s people in our secular age. This truth is our hope regardless of the cultural moment. Our society is desperate for the good news of Jesus Christ. People long to know the unknown God, to have wrongs made right, and to see the broken made whole. We are called to advance God’s mission of restoration and redemption.
This world—every square inch of it—belongs to our Father. In the midst of the present darkness, therefore, we must shine the light of Truth into the dark corners of our world. We must do so through our words and our deeds. And we must do so in every sphere of culture, not only from the church pulpit, but also in the workplace, the community, and the public square. Let us never forget that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”