For All the Saints – In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin says, “Whatever be the kind of tribulation with which we are afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life.” (Inst. 3.9.1) In the midst of persecution and strife of Calvin’s time, he was sustained by the expectation of glory, and indeed has now achieved that which we will sing about in this hymn. “For All the Saints,” leads us in declaration of our hope. For though we may face trouble in this life, we may trust in God’s holding of all things in His hands. They hymn may be broken into 3 parts, which we will now briefly consider.
The first three verses lay out the context of the “saints who have gone before.” It is a clear echo of Hebrews 11, and we sing of these saints who confessed their faith boldly before the world (verse 1). These saints were emboldened by God who was their “Rock, their Fortress, and their Might” as well as their “Captain” and their “one true light” in the darkness of their tribulation (verse 2). Here we see their example powerfully: it was only by virtue of their unwavering faith and hope in the Lord that they were able to remain faithful. And so we petition in verse 3 that we, God’s “soldiers,” may “fight as the saints who nobly fought of old.” We truly desire to follow their example.
Verses 4-6 focus again more on us here as God’s soldiers fighting now, but with the victories of the saints who went before close-by in our thoughts. For though we struggle feebly now, now “in glory” they “shine” (verse 4). When our trouble is great, we are enjoined to remember “their distant triumph song” and gain strength for the fight (verse 5). Verse 6 reminds us, too, that the “rest” of death will come to “faithful warriors.” Calvin’s words are again helpful here, as he says, “If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country…shall this give us no comfort?” (Institutes 3.9.5)
Finally, in verses 7-8 we sing of that “more glorious day.” That day of Resurrection when the saints rise together “in bright array” (verse 7) and stream through “gates of pearl” (verse 8) to sing in praise “to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” Back to brother Calvin, who no doubt sees this more clearly now than we do, says that as we learn to bear our present struggles, we will “turn [our] eye to that day, on which the Lord will receive his faithful servants, wipe away all tears from their eyes, clothe them in a robe of glory and joy, feed them with the ineffable sweetness of his pleasures, exalt them to share with him in his greatness; in fine, admit them to a participation in his happiness.” And finally, “To conclude in one word, the cross of Christ then only triumphs in the breasts of believers over the devil and the flesh, sin and sinners, when their eyes are directed to the power of his resurrection.” (Institutes 3.9.6)
As we ascend to the heavenly places this Lord’s Day, we remember that we are joined by that great company of Saints on high, and so may we gain comfort and hope in life and death, for we are not our own, but belong body and soul to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.