O Changeless Christ

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is ‘O Changeless Christ, forever new’ by Timothy Dudley-Smith. Unusually for one of his hymns it is set to an old (early 19th century) tune.

The changelessness of Christ is invoked in the first verse to ‘draw our hearts as once you drew the hearts of other days’ and in the last to ‘bring us home, to taste at last the timeless joys of heaven’. Other verses ask him to teach us as he taught the people of his own day, still troubled hearts as he stilled the storm, heal today as he did then, and to make himself known in the bread and wine of Communion.  

While there is truth in saying that Christ is changeless, that can all too often be used as an excuse to resist change in the Church.  The ways that the ‘Early Church’ (or for that matter the Church of 17th century England) taught and worshipped don’t have to remain unchanged. The often-asked question ‘What would Jesus do?’ appeals to the changeless elements of his teaching (love God, love your neighbour, bring hope and healing in his name) but should not be used to oppose those who seek change in patterns of worship or more acceptance of people whose lifestyles diverge from what is seen as the Christian ideal.  We have to work out the application of Scripture in our own generation while not losing sight of the core of the Gospel message. 

1 thought on “O Changeless Christ”

  1. Yes, I think I had the same ambivalent feelings as Stephen about the opening line of this hymn. Its content reminds me of “At even, ere the sun was set” which says that just as Jesus had the power to heal then, we invite him into our lives now – and as such it is a very pertinent way of beginning a prayer, for it reminds us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). But the word “changeless”, although it can be comforting as in the Compline collect “Grant that we … may repose upon thy eternal changelessness”, summons up the Greek concept of the divine impassibility, which means that God is above our human ways and therefore cannot be in any way changed in himself by our distresses or needs – not a very Christian concept of God, for we believe in a God who suffers alongside us and carries our burdens in his agony.

    So I resolutely forced myself to focus on the concept of “changeless” which the hymn actually states, instead of the meaning of the word itself. But I could have done with Timothy having chosen a different way of beginning his hymn.

    In his book “Lift every heart (Collected hymns 1961-83)”, Timothy sets out an extended account of the writing of this hymn (p31ff). It’s interesting that he says Derek Kidner also had misgivings about the word “changeless”. At no point is “Wiltshire” suggested as a tune, and I am forced to conclude that this is solely the choice of the compilers of “Sing Praise”. Instead Ballerma and St Botolph are suggested, and Hymns for Today’s Church sets it to “Beulah” – and I confess I’m not grabbed by any of these choices, which maybe is another indication of my unease about this first line?

    (At Morning Prayer I also omitted verse 5, as it has an explicit feeling of being in the Holy Communion service. Mea maxima culpa!)

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