There Is a Green Hill Far Away

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1818-95

There is a green hill far away, Without a city wall, Where the dear Lord was crucified, Who died to save us all.

We mortals will always be surprised at what remains of our lives or of our centuries. This is evident in the pages of our songbooks. Any number of songs originally written for children have wound their way into hearts now old and hymnals edited for and read by adults. A prime example is Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander's much-loved "There Is a Green Hill Far Away." Before his death, William Alexander, eminent Anglican archbishop of Ireland, had a wry grip on the realities of the twists and turns of history. He who presided over the church's rules and rites said he would ultimately be remembered only for being the husband of the woman who wrote "There Is a Green Hill Far Away." Right he was.

Author of more than four hundred hymns, Mrs. Alexander, as she was known, generally wrote for young Sunday school children, in an attempt to bring the Christian faith and feasts down to their level.

"There Is a Green Hill" came to her as she sat at the bedside of a critically ill girl, who lived to relate the incident; as a child she was not called to test the gate-locks of heaven.

He died that we might be forgiven, He died to make us good, That we might go at last to heaven, Saved by his precious blood.

There was no other good enough To pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate Of heaven, and let us in.

When published in a collection of Alexander's Hymns for Little Children, "There Is a Green Hill" stood among several (including her memorable "Once in Royal David's City" and "All Things Bright and Beautiful") that explicated specific lines of the Apostles' Creed.

Alexander lived in Londonderry, a city bound by a stone wall and surrounded by rolling hills. Having never seen Jerusalem, she is said to have fancied a particular nearby knoll to be "like. Calvary." In this regard, she may have been inventing her own version of history.

In subsequent verses she clearly lays out the basics of the historically orthodox understanding of the Creed's "I believe": in Jesus Christ who "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried." For your redemption and mine.

On this count was she writing fact or fiction? She does have her critics. Is there a "price of sin"—or a penalty of sin and price of redemption? Is her whole notion of atonement "outworn"? Do scholars hunting for the historical Jesus prove the Christ of our creed a merely mythical figure? Do they put the poems of Alexander on a shelf, never to be dusted off?

I'm no theologian, but I find insight in the comments of philosopher C. Stephen Evans. After giving an overview of gospel-discrediting Jesus scholarship, he affirms that many scholars conversant with ancient languages and texts see the historical evidence as consistent with historic Christian faith. However, it is equally vital to realize that Christ's church does not stand or fall with the changing fashions of a contemporary academic field. My Christian beliefs are not primarily grounded in historical scholarship but in the testimony of Christ's church and the work of Christ's Spirit, as they witness to the truth of God's revelation.3

In the preface to The Course of Empire, Pulitzer-prizewinner and historian Bernard De Voto noted that although "history abhors determinism," it "cannot tolerate chance."4 And it is by no chance that our faith—in the redemptive death of Christ-—-has survived the millennia since his resurrection.

"I believe," says the church of Christ.

And all the people said, "Amen."

Lord, this song gives me such a simple rendition of the Good News of your redemption. Give me a new understanding of what it means, as I bear witness to the Word and as I live under the grace it offers me. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

From  the  book: "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns" by Evelyn Bence.


Oh yes some of the words of some of these hymns will need to be changed to conform to correct truth of God's word. "Kingdom" can be used instead of "heaven"   .....  for the truth is we do not go to heaven at death; actually heaven is coming to us; all expounded on my website in various studies.

Keith Hunt