Fill Thou My Life, O Lord, My God

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The comprehensiveness of this prayer (“my whole being,” stanza 1) arises from a heart that knows the full power of the grace of God that has restored us, “so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits...” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32, Question and Answer 86).
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 47, Question and Answer 122 professes that believers can aim to “direct all our living—what we think, say, and do—so that your name will never be blasphemed because of us but always honored and praised.”

Tune Information

A♭ Major
Meter D


Hymn Story/Background

Horatius Bonar, famous Scottish evangelical preacher and poet, wrote this text in twelve, four-line stanzas. Entitled "Life's Praise," the text was published in the third series of Bonar's Hymns of Faith and Hope (1866). Like most other hymnals the Psalter Hymnal includes only half of the original text with minor alterations (the most obvious being the change from "intercourse" to "fellowship" in st. 2, which is more in accord today with Bonar's meaning).
The text's theme is the consecration of all life as a doxology to God–the equivalent in hymn form of the neo-Calvinist concept that all of life is religion. Echoing an emphasis of the Old Testament prophets (see Ps. 50 or Isa. 1), this text affirms that "lip service" or an orthodox heart is not enough; we must live our Christianity in every aspect of our lives each day. That sanctity of life includes the intimate setting of family life and, by extension, the entire family of God, the church. Such a holy lifestyle is possible only in communion with God, in "fellowship with thee."
Published in a chapel hymnal for the Duke of Würtemberg (Gesangbuch der Herzogl, 1784), ELLACOMBE (the name of a village in Devonshire, England) was first set to the words "Ave Maria, klarer und lichter Morgenstern." During the first half of the nineteenth century various German hymnals altered the tune. Since ELLACOMBE's inclusion in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern, where it was set to John Daniell's children's hymn "Come, Sing with Holy Gladness," its use throughout the English-speaking world has spread.
ELLACOMBE is a rounded bar form (AABA), rather cheerful in character, and easily sung in harmony. Try having a soloist sing the story in stanzas 1 and 2, with the children (or entire congregation) joining in on stanza 3.
Bright organ stops and brass instruments will immensely enhance the conviction expressed in this text. Some hymnals still provide four-line stanzas for this text and offer RICHMOND as the tune.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Horatius Bonar (b. 1808; d. 1889) was educated at the University of Edinburgh. At the age of thirty he became a preacher in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a church that underwent a schism "the Disruption"– in 1843. A major question in the controversy was whether a minister could be forced on a congregation by an aristocratic sponsor. Many church leaders and the government agreed that he could, but one-third of the ministers, including Bonar, disagreed, and in 1843 this group formed the Free Church of Scotland. Bonar was a prolific, popular author of tracts, sermons, and hymns (even though his congregation sang exclusively psalms during much of his life). One of Bonar's great interests was biblical prophecy and the return of Christ, an interest reflected in some of his hymns. He published several hundred hymns in collections such as The Bible Hymn Book (1845), Hymns of Faith and Hope (1857,1861), and Hymns of the Nativity (1879). Many were written casually, illustrating very little interest in poetic finesse, but a few have had staying power and are still found in many modern hymnals.
— Bert Polman