Giving Thanks for Hobgoblins, Foul Fiends and Presbyterians

Okay so it wasn’t the first hymn that they had thought of but the family and friends of Dennis sung it with gusto at his funeral yesterday afternoon, well that was until they got to the final verse and ‘Hobgoblin nor foul fiend’.  You could hear the questioning in some voices, you could see the quizzical looks and I even heard a snigger.

I have issues with the way some hymn books and hymn book compilers change words.  Mainly this is because we happen to use a particularly awful hymn book in my two churches and I often struggle to even find particular hymns in it, for lots of the words have been changed.  Last Sunday was a perfect example:

Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost,
taught by thee, we covet most
of thy gifts at Pentecost,
holy, heavenly love.

has for some bizarre reasoning been changed to:-

Holy Spirit, gracious guest,
hear and grant our heart’s request
for that gift supreme and best:
holy heavenly love.

Christopher Wordsworth must be spinning in his grave.  Don’t get me wrong I don’t have a problem with modern language in hymns I just think that it should be left to modern hymns.  As long as theologically a hymn is sound I don’t see the point in changing thees and thous etc and especially if in the changing of them you then end up with what in many cases is not far short of a new hymn.  But I am in danger of now going into a rant and throwing manifold examples at you of these infractions so instead I will get back Bunyan’s hobgoblin.

This messing about with hymn words is no new phenomena – oh no – the Hobgoblin and his foul fiend, of whom we sung yesterday, were exiled from John Bunyan’s hymn by Rev Canon Percy Dearmer in 1906 for the English Hymnal.  The reason apparently being that ‘to include the hobgoblins would have been to ensure disaster’.  Now that has sadly meant, its successors and a number of other English language hymnals tend to use Dearmer’s words – Since, Lord, thou dost defend us with thy Spirit – to begin the last verse rather than – Hobgoblin nor foul fiend can daunt his spirit – and some others have demoted the hobgoblin to the less troublesome but more mischievous goblin.  (Bunyan must be joining Wordsworth in an eightsome reel.)  Yesterday, however, it was at the Crematorium that we sung the hymn and the hymn books which grace the crematorium book racks are those of the Church of Scotland and both hobgoblins and foul fiends are still well and truly in residence.  Yet I knew that there was a more recent version of the CoS hymnal, so it was with a degree of trepidation that I opened the music cupboard when I got back to the Rectory.  CH4 (pub 2005) delighted me when I discovered that the hobgoblins and foul fiends were still in tact, so it is with great joy that I give thanks for my Presbyterian cousins who have not been swayed by the whim of some English canon in Westminster, but have stood firm against such superstitious nonsense.


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