There is a Green Hill Far Away
Where I live near Austin, Texas, springtime is not as dramatic as in other areas where snow and cold force all life to sleep. During springtime, we witness a rebirth of life after the metaphoric death of winter. But even here the grass grows dormant, and many plants find their yearly slumber. I know when spring has come fully when the lovely Texas Blue Bonnets permeate our green spaces.
One of my favorite hymns about the awful acts inflicted on Jesus Christ begins with describing a beautiful pastoral setting.
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
There is a Green Hill Far Away was written by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, who also wrote such hymns as All Things Bright and Beautiful, and the Christmas carol Once in Royal David City. Cecil had a great passion and love for children and strived to write hymns that used simple language with simple phrasing. This idea of teaching doctrine simply and clearly is showcased in There is a Green Hill Far Away, and the writer’s testimony in the Savior’s atonement shines through.
The bible tells us it was outside the city:
Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
The bible doesn’t call the place where Jesus was crucified a hill. The site is called Golgotha, which means, place of a skull (Mark 15:22).
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
Often, when portraying the crucifixion, the event’s gruesomeness is emphasized. How else would sculptors, painters, cinematographers (or other visual artists) depict the sacrifice? No matter how beautiful the portrayal, the physical pain and suffering are front and center.
I love this hymn because it somehow captures the feeling of sorrow, suffering, and pain of the Atonement while highlighting the beauty and majesty. This moment in time, filled with an innocent Lamb’s torture and death, resulted in Christ overcoming death and sin.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.
Isaiah described these events 700 years before:
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
When I try to comprehend what some have called the Infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ, I am left wanting, and it is easy to become overwhelmed. I know that I sin and require salvation; I know that Jesus is that Savior. Beyond that, my imagination leaves this world, and the feelings which remain are inexpressible.
This hymn that Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander intended to teach children about the Atonement does not instruct only those of a young age. When it comes to grasping the eternities, we are all children.
If we become lost in the event’s grandeur, we may forget to internalize the sacrifice and example of Jesus Christ. This last verse grounds us in his love, instructing us to “love Him too.”
The author’s husband was rector of Termonamongan County Tyrone, Ireland and the two served the county for many years. Upon her death William Verner, the rector at the time, reflected on her charitable work:
“The parish clerk still remembers her carrying soup and other nourishment to the sick and poor in the most remote parts of the parish and in the most inclement weather, and often has he seen her returning from her ministrations of loving and practical sympathy wet through. I cannot refrain from mentioning another case differing from the above, which shows the great interest she took in all classes of the parish. She sent a man to school whose education had been somewhat neglected in his youth and gave him a weekly allowance towards his maintenance out of her own purse, and when he had made sufficient progress Mrs. Alexander procured an appointment for him as National School Teacher. As beautifully put in her exquisite hymn, “There is a green hill far away,” she trusted in His redeeming blood, and tried his works to do.”
The hymn so masterfully leaves us with a call to action. The author tells us to “trust in His redeeming blood” and “try his works to do.”
Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved!
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.