Hymns: Lord of all Nations, Grant Me Grace

I was recently introduced to “Lord of all Nations, Grant Me Grace,” and I thought it a fitting hymn to share with you. This is a timely hymn of unity, of grace, and of peace. Poetry has a way of conveying thoughts and ideas that prose does not always explain quite as well, and this hymn, I think, does just that.

Olive Adelaide Wise, daughter of Bertha and George, was born in January of 1916 in St. Louis, Missouri. While she was baptized in the Presbyterian Church, she was later confirmed in the Lutheran Church, and her family followed to the LCMS shortly thereafter. Her father was a school teacher and eventually a college professor at Brown’s Business college, where Olive later attended. Though her mother worked in a factory, she also was a pianist and organist, and a piano teacher; her whole family loved music, and we can assume that love came from Betha.

After graduation, she was to attended Washington University, St. Louis, but faced some trouble when it turned out that her earned scholarship was supposed to only go to men. Her mother went to bat for her, and after quite the struggled, it was decided that Olive would receive a half-scholarship for the descendants of civil war veterans in the Union, of which Olive’s grandfather, from the Ohio infantry, was. Here, Olive studied English, Latin, and German. Unfortunately, she could only attend for three years as her mother’s health needed her attention.

During this time, she worked for Shell Oil, but it was at this time that the Great Depression hit, so everyone there was laid off. But this time was not all distressing. In 1936, Olive met a Ruben Spannaus who had attended Concordia Lutheran Seminary. Three years later, they were married just before Christmas! They then moved back to California, where Reuben was from. Over their life together, they moved to Seatle, Chicago, and then back to Seatle again. They also had four children.

As her family had a love for music, Olive has a love for writing hymns. One little poem she wrote said,

So many things to be done, and I've wondered:
Will I have enough time if I live to a hundred?

If nothing else, Olive certainly tried her hardest to accomplish all those things to be done. Both her and her husband, a pastor, were strongly involved in the LCMS – either as choir members, committee heads, member of an LCMS board of directors, charity programs, LWML, and many civil rights organizations, including the Lutheran Human Relations Association of America (LHRAA), the League of Women Voters, and human relations councils.

But one of the most memorable ways she impacted the Church then and today was through the written word. In 1960, she wrote the hymn “Lord of all Nations, Grant Me Grace” for the LHRAA, and they published it in the LCMS worship Supplement nine years later. It is still such at their annual institute, and it can be found in nearly two dozen hymnals today!

This hymn was originally put to the tune BEATUS VIR (Blessed is the man, Psa.1), which appears to have been a traditional Slovak tune from around the 1560s. However, this tune appears to have been adapted by both Vivaldi and Mozart before application to this hymn. I learned this hymn with the tune ANGELUS by Georg Joseph, a Polish musician who composed this tune in around 1657. Olive also wrote a great many other hymns, some of which can be found in hymnals today.

About nine years after writing this hymn, they moved back to Seattle as Reuben had retired. While this was a time of rest and to be with family, this did not keep either of them from staying involved in the Church and other civil rights activities, in addition to other personal recreation activities, such as line dancing, which she taught into the 2000s (yes, do the math on that).

Sadly, her beloved Reuben died in the spring of 2006. A few years later, she went to a senior home where she was the life of everyone who lived there, bringing music and dancing to all the residents. Almost exactly twelve years after her husband went to be with the Lord, Olive joined him in 2018. As she pondered in that little poem she had written so many years ago, 100 years was a lot of time to get so many things done, but finally, she could rest after a life full of love, selflessness, and grace.

Lord of all nations, grant me grace
to love all people, every race;
and in each person may I see
my kindred, loved, redeemed by thee.

We are not to see each other a separate or divided, least of all by mere physical appearances or locality. God created all mankind of one blood (Acts 17:26). The only race there is is the human race. While we have our differences, and unfortunately, there will always be strife within mankind, in Christ, we find unity in peace. This is because, in Christ, we realize we are all of one blood and all part of one body, the Body of Christ and His Bride, the Church (1 Cor. 10:17, 12:12-25, Eph. 4:4-6). God came to save all mankind, not a select few; no “race” is more holy than another (Psa. 98:2, Acts 10:34-35, Gal. 3:25-29, Eph. 3:6). Thus, because of our sin, we ask that God might grant us His grace, his help, his mercy that we might treat others as our brothers, both as part of Adam’s children and as the redeemed children of God.

Break down the wall that would divide
thy children, Lord, on every side.
My neighbor's good let me pursue;
let Christian love bind warm and true.

This verse continues the thought of treating those around us as our brothers and sisters, our “kindred.” So often, we treat each other as enemies, and, as the saying goes, we build walls instead of bridges (Eph. 4:16, Phil. 2:1-8). There is really so much that binds us together, and so little that truly divides us. Unfortunately, our sin only magnifies that division. But in Christ, those walls of separation are torn down. Because of this, we can ask for help that we may seek the good of others not for our own sake but because they are dearly loved children of God (1 Tim. 2:1-6, 1 Pet. 1:22, 1 Jhn. 5:2). Then we will truly be bound in Christian love.

Forgive me, Lord, where I have erred
by loveless act and thoughtless word.
Make me to see the wrong I do
will crucify my Lord anew.

But in recognizing that we have erred, we ask in this verse for our Lord’s forgiveness. As we say in the confession, we have sinned in “thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.” In this, we do not “love our neighbor as ourselves,” and in so doing (or not doing), we are not loving God with our whole hearts (Mat. 22:37-40, Phil. 2:1-11). And how often do we need to ask for forgiveness for such a thing! How often, especially in the age of social media, do we quickly go to anger and react, quickly speaking when we should have listened and prayed, asking for how to be peacemakers in this dark world (Mat. 3:9, Phil. 2:14-16, Jas. 1:19-27, 3:18). We have been set free in Christ, so let us not become slaves to sin again, and especially not slaves to ourselves and our evil desires (Jhn. 8:34, Rom. 6:6-7, 7:14-25).

Give me thy courage, Lord to speak
whenever strong oppress the weak.
Should I myself the victim be,
help me forgive, remembering thee.

Yet there is a time to speak. In these cases, when we see wrong, we should speak up with the purpose of bringing unity and peace again among people. We are to seek justice but also to love mercy and walk humbly with God (Mic. 6:8, Lev. 19:18). Too often, people seek revenge, love fear, and walk in rebellion towards God . Instead, let us help others as we have the opportunity so that the love of Christ may be shown to all in our words (Col. 2:17).

In the same way, when we are mistreated, we should also show the love of God, showing mercy and grace, as was shown to us (Rom. 12:16-21). We were justified not by things we had done (for indeed, we deserved death). But God, in mercy, justified us by the love of Christ (Rom. 5:6-11). In the same way, we should not seek “justice” when what we really mean is “revenge.” Instead, we should show mercy and love to those around us when we are injured that they might, in turn, praise God (Mat. 5:43-48).

With thine own love may I be filled
and by thy Holy Spirit willed,
that all I touch, where're I be,
may be divinely touched by thee.

This verse echoes the final thought of the last verse. If we are remembering Christ, fixing our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, then we too will be filled with God’s love, which shines through us to all the world around us (Mat. 5:16, Heb. 12:1-3). In this way, we can love our neighbor as Christ loved us (Luk. 10:33-37). If it is the Lord’s will, we may be lights in this dark world that all we say in do will be used for His glory and to the edification of His dearly loved children (1 Jhn. 4:7-12). We can be the means by which God takes down these dividing walls, we may forgive as we were forgiven, and we may love as we were loved first, for then it will be Christ working through and in us.

Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig

Works Referenced

“Beatus vir.”

Georg Joseph

“Lord of all Nations Grant me Grace.”

The Lutheran Service Book. p.151.

Olive Wise Spannaus

Olive Wise Spannaus (1916-2018)

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