Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander lived in Dublin, Ireland, in the mid-1800s. She taught children in Sunday School at her church, and one Sunday she was was working with a child, who happened to be her godson, and the young boy was struggling to understand the Apostle’s Creed and certain parts of the catechism that he had to memorize, like many of us did as young children in Sunday School.
She believed that children needed to understand these Christian truths, but she knew they were very complicated ideas for children to understand, so she began to write songs that would help simplify them for young ones. She published a collection of these poems in 1848, titled Hymns for Little Children (available here on public domain), and dedicated it to her godsons:
To my little godsons, I inscribe these simple lines, hoping that the language of verse, which children love, may help to impress on their minds what they are, what I have promised for them, and what they must seek to be.I highly recommend you skip over to google books and at least take a look at the table of contents, because it’s fascinating to see how she dissected each of the rather complicated ideas. Over the course of several stanzas, the hymns simplify each phrase of an important Christian prayer, Creed, or concept into terms a child can understand, and then relates these ideas to the perspective of a young child, helping them understand the application of it in their everyday lives. She gave each phrase of the Apostle’s Creed its own song, as well as the Holy Trinity, several sacraments, each of the Ten Commandments, and each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer.All Things Bright and Beautiful is the second hymn she wrote about the Apostle’s Creed, since it’s based on the Creed’s second phrase, “Maker of Heaven and earth.” It is often paired with the creation story in Genesis, especially Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good,” but it can very well stand alone as an expansion of the phrase from the Creed.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small,
all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.
There are two other familiar hymns that also came from her explanation of the Creed:
Once In Royal David’s City: “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”
There Is A Green Hill Far Away: “…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.”
Three hymns that were originally written for children have, over the course of 150 years, become beloved hymns of adults. The truth is, children are not the only ones who struggle with the complicated concepts in the Apostle’s Creed. And if we’re honest, many of us who don’t struggle with the ideas are simply reciting the words without thinking about what we’re saying. Hymns like these help worshiping Christians of all ages to gain a greater understanding of the complex truths of our faith.