There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
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.
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.
O dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood,
And try his works to do.
Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)
We return to that great name in hymns for children, with this, her greatest hymn. The means by which she teaches the doctrine of the cross are truly simple. In verse 2 the plain ‘for us’ will bear examining in later years, as will the effectively repeated ‘dearly, dearly’ in the last verse, which may be simple emphasis or a play on two different interpretations of that word in this context. Perhaps only in the last line are we, and the children, let down by that flat and awkward word ‘try’. Again this is a hymn that, while remaining utterly suitable for children, can be sung by adults with integrity.
The tune was published in 1844 as just another tune to sing to metrical psalms. It was wedded to these words in Hymns Ancient and Modern 1868 and given the composer’s name. Its very simplicity allows the words to speak clearly and with no false emotion.