God of forgiveness, your people you freed (StF 425)

Authors & translators:
Forster, Michael
Composers & arrangers:
Wright, Paul Leddington
Festivals and Seasons:
Singing the Faith: 425 (CD17 #27)
STF Number:

Ideas for use 

palestine-shepherd-laying-the-sheep-on-his-shoulders-1st-ww-iwm-non-commercial-licence-wikimediaIt’s worth taking time to learn Paul Leddington Wright’s tune for this hymn, “Blakeney” (named for a village on the coast of Norfolk). This is the only tune in Singing the Faith with this slightly unusual metre ( but the flowing melody, with very few “jumps” in it, will be fairly easy to pick up. Just watch out for the slightly higher than expected second note of the third line (G-sharp). 

This hymn contains a number of specific biblical allusions; verse 2 in particular makes it an ideal accompaniment to a number of Jesus’ most familiar parables e.g. the ‘prodigal son’, the lost sheep (pictured right) etc. Verse 3 also draws towards all that follows from the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

More information 

This is a subtly Trinitarian hymn. Verse 1 speaks of the powerful, guiding God of the Hebrew scriptures, and of God’s relationship with the Hebrew people travelling in the wilderness after being released from slavery in Egypt. Verse 2 focuses on the life and ministry of Jesus (the ‘Son’); and verse 3 speaks of God’s ongoing presence in our lives – speaking of God’s power, which we may think of as God’s Spirit who descended upon the disciples at Pentecost. 

worshipping-the-golden-calf-12th-centuryIn each case, the focus is on the need of God’s people to repent – to return to God – and on God’s willingness to “embrace and reclaim” those who have turned away. This is as true of the “perverse and misguided” of the present day (v.3) as it was of the Israelites who opted to create a Golden Calf and worship it instead of Yahweh (Exodus 32 - pictured left, from a 12th century image). So, as well as being a hymn out of which a picture of the forgiving Trinitarian God unfolds, the three verses also draw us through history; through the two Testaments of the Bible into our own present-day “third part” of God’s story.

 Interestingly, Michael Forster ascribes to Jesus the task of calling God’s people to repent, rather than the more usual John the Baptist (Matthew 3: 2). However, in the person of Jesus, that call is transformed into merciful love and forgiveness, and an embrace of the lost (Luke 19: 10) that recalls the “strange embrace that holds yet sets us free”, which Michael describes in his hymn, Let love be real (StF 615). 

One other striking phrase: “Perverse and misguided, our souls we deprave” (v.3). We rarely use “deprave” as a verb in this way nowadays. However, it’s a striking reminder of how we harm the deepest parts of ourselves when we lose our focus on God’s presence – and our desperate need for healing and compassion when we do.

Michael Forster

michael-forsterRaised in an Anglican family, the Revd Michael Forster joined the Baptist Church. Following some years as a professional musician, and practising as a musician, he trained for the Baptist ministry. However, he later transferred into the United Reformed Church and took on a role as a mental health and learning disability chaplain in Leicester. He was encouraged in his (prolific) hymn writing by Kevin Mayhew, who began publishing Michael's work in 1992 (a collection of thirty hymn texts). This led to commissions for further works in a wide variety of genres, including children’s songs and stories, all-age worship, theology, and scripts for stage and radio that were performed widely, including on BBC Radio 4 and at the Royal Albert Hall. Michael died on 23 April, 2023, aged 77. 

For more about Michael, see Going home, moving on (StF 734).

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