Blog Entries

Father, Long Before Creation 

From the series Church Music of China


Last weekend, I was at a gathering during which we sang the song “Father, Long Before Creation.” The person who was leading worship at the gathering mentioned that it was a translation of a Chinese hymn that had sustained Chinese Christians during the dark times of the 1950s and 1960s.

These are the lyrics:

1. Father, long before creation 
you had chosen us in love, 
and that love so deep, so moving, 
draws us close to Christ above. 
Still it keeps us 
firmly fixed in Christ alone. 

2. Though the world may change its fashion, 
you will still remain the same; 
your compassion and your cov’nant 
through all ages will remain. 
Your own children 
shall forever praise your name. 

3. Your compassion is our story, 
is our boasting all the day; 
mercy free and never failing 
moves our will, directs our way. 
God so loved us 
that he gave his only Son. 

4. Loving Father, now before you 
we shall ever sing your grace, 
and our song will sound forever 
when we see you face to face, 
giving glory 
to the Lamb upon the throne.

As is my wont, I decided to do a bit of research.

According to the wonderful website Hymnary.org, it was first sung in Beijing in 1952. A year later, Francis P. Jones, a Methodist Episcopal missionary who had served in China from 1915 to 1950, translated the lyrics. It was published in the China Bulletin of the National Council of Churches and first appeared in an English hymnal in 1955. Between then and 1987, it was published in five different hymnals.

The Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity provides a bit more background on Jones. He taught at Nanking University and was instrumental in producing a published collection of hymns. Later he taught at Nanking Theological Seminary and established their school of music. During the war, he was based in Chengdu and spent his time translating classical literature.

These are the lyrics in Chinese:

父阿,久在创世之前

1. 父阿,久在创世之前, 你选我们,爱无限!
这爱甘美、激励、深厚, 吸引我们亲耶稣。
还要保守,还要保守,
我们今后永稳固。 我们今后永稳固。

2. 虽然宇宙逐渐改迁, 但是我神总不变;
祂的爱心,同祂话语, 向着我们永坚定;
神的儿女,神的儿女,
我们应当赞祂名。 我们应当赞祂名。

3. 神的怜悯是我诗歌, 我口所夸心所乐;
从始至终,惟有白恩, 能得我命感我心。
神爱我们!神爱我们!
连祂爱子都不吝! 连祂爱子都不吝!

4. 爱的神阿,我们现在 同心歌颂你奇爱,
直到天上,远离尘嚣, 我们仍是要称扬;
但愿荣耀,但愿荣耀,
永远归神和羔羊。
永远归神和羔羊。

You can hear it being sung in Chinese here.

There seem to be a few other tunes floating around. The audio posted to Hymnary.org is a very traditional tune. You can listen to it here. It can also be sung to the tune of “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” The one we sang at our gathering was set to a contemporary tune by Andrew Osenga:

What a fantastic reminder of God’s sovereignty over creation and our everyday lives. I was particularly struck by the second stanza:

Though the world may change its fashion, 
you will still remain the same; 
your compassion and your cov’nant 
through all ages will remain. 
Your own children 
shall forever praise your name. 

When those words were first sung in the 1950s, China was undergoing revolutionary changes that would have a profound impact on Christian life and practice. They knew that, and yet they also knew that God himself would not change. This was cause for praise.

As the world continues to change its fashion, may we cling to the truths of this hymn.

Image Credit: qimona, via Pixabay.
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio


Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.

Donate