So far I’ve picked hymns from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but today we are going right back to the early Stuart period, well before our dear Prayer Book appeared in its present form. George Herbert was born in Wales, a clever boy in a noble family – the Herberts included the earls of Pembroke. He did well at Cambridge and seemed destined for high public office, but for various reasons,  including his poor health, he became an obscure parish priest in a country village. The small church he built at Bemerton is well worth a visit; it’s quite close to Salisbury, and George Herbert used to hurry across the fields to the Cathedral services and to make music with the choirmen there afterwards. He wrote many poems and verses, and several of them we still use as hymns today. Let all the world in every corner sing, is one of them, but we are going to look at another, Teach me my God and King, No 583 in Common Praise.

We’ve been looking at hymns we know by heart as suitable prayers for various activities – starting the day, going out to work or shop, but for many people at home, housework takes quite a chunk of time, and it’s not always our favourite occupation. ‘Teach me, my God and King’ guards against simply treating housework as a chore – but it is really only the first verse that is a prayer addressed to God at all. It does make an excellent short prayer as you roll up your sleeves and get down to work:


Teach me, my God and King,

in all things thee to see;

and what I do in anything,

to do it as for thee.


The rest of the hymn (which George Herbert never intended as a hymn)  elaborates and in fact fits various tasks very well. Are you cleaning windows? Look out through them and thank God for the view, and especially for the sky, the clouds, whatever the weather may be:


A man that looks on glass,

on it may stay his eye;

or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,

and then the heaven espy.


Are you polishing furniture, or making brassware sparkle?  You can put some mental elbowgrease into it with the next verse:


All may of thee partake;

nothing can be so mean.

that with this tincture. For thy sake,

will not grow bright and clean.


Getting the vacuum cleaner out? This has been a regular chore ever since Jesus told his parable of the woman sweeping the floor of her house to find the coin she had lost. It’s a good activity, and the room looks so much better for it.


A servant with this clause

makes drudgery divine;

who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,

makes that and the action fine.


The last verse of the hymn is the most puzzling for us. The ‘famous stone’ was the legendary ‘philosopher’s stone’ of medieval alchemists, who thought that it could turn any base metal which touched it into pure gold – people have always been looking for ways to make money quickly. The true ‘famous stone’ for our faith is Jesus Christ ‘the chief cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2.20) upon whom we are built together spiritually, into a dwelling place for God.


This is the famous stone

that turneth all to gold;

for that which God doth touch and own

cannot for less be told.


Who do we pray to​? – I naturally seem to pray to God as Father and loving carer, but some people find that they pray most directly to Jesus himself. So next week, we’ll look at a hymn that takes up that theme, if you are still with me, next Sunday, same time, same place.