This hymn was written by Sir Robert Grant, a Scottish Anglican who, because of his father’s association with the East India Company, was born in India in 1779. Robert’s father, Charles Grant supported Wilberforce, an early and effective opponent of slavery. Both father and son served as members of Parliament and directors of the East India Company. Robert wrote this hymn in 1833, a year before being appointed Governor of Bombay, a position that he held until his death.
This hymn was inspired by a 16th century hymn by William Kethe — a hymn that was, in turn, inspired by Psalm 104. If you read Psalm 104 alongside the words of this hymn, you will find several correspondences. For instance:
— The psalm (v. 2) speaks of God as “wrapped in light as with a garment,” and the hymn speaks of God “whose robe is the light.”
— The psalm (v. 2) says, “You stretch out the heavens like a tent,” and the hymn uses the phrase, “whose canopy space.”
— The psalm (v. 3) says, “You make the clouds your chariot, you ride on the wings of the wind.” The hymn says, “His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form, and dark is his path on the wings of the storm.”
The first two verses of the hymn celebrate God’s glory. The last two verses celebrate God’s love and providence. God’s greatness and God’s loving providence—go together. God’s power makes it possible for him to provide for us “frail children of dust” (v. 4.).
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan