Ivory Palaces

My father would have turned 99 today. I started this post in March of 2022, and thought it was finally time to finish it.

Dad’s favorite hymn was Ivory Palaces. If we had an opportunity to choose a favorite song at church, invariably Dad would raise his hand and request “Ivory Palaces, please.” I’m sure I asked him why he liked that particular hymn so much, and I’m also sure he gave me a noncommittal answer. He wasn’t too good at talking about feelings. The song itself is difficult to sing congregationally, because the melody covers a large range, and goes from soprano to alto and back. I’m not sure Dad even sang it, because he didn’t sing much, even though he loved music, especially hymns. But still, Dad loved it, and Jay sang it at Dad’s memorial service. I can imagine Dad now, singing it with the saints in a heavenly voice, rehearsing the wonderful miracle of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.

I haven’t thought about it much, since, until studying for a small group lesson on John 17, Jesus’ “high priestly” prayer. While studying I read R C Sproul’s commentary on John and read this passage where Sproul tells of a meeting with the writer of the hymn, Henry Barraclough.

When he said his name, a light bulb of recognition went on in my mind. I stopped and said something silly like, “Not the Henry Barraclough?” He clearly wasn’t used to people fawning over him, so I asked, Are you the man who wrote the famous hymn, Ivory Palaces’?” That is one of my favorite hymns. The refrain goes: Out of the ivory palaces, Into a world of woe. Only His great eternal love Made my Savior go.

This man allowed that he was indeed that Henry Barraclough, then he told me the inspiration for the hymn. He said he had been attending a series of Lenten addresses in a church in downtown Philadelphia when the minister preached one evening from Philippians 2, where the apostle Paul writes: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:5-11)

Mr. Barraclough said that as he listened to the sermon, he was overwhelmed by a sense of the sacrifice that the second member of the Trinity had accepted. Jesus put aside the eternal glory that He had with the Father and made Himself of no reputation by taking on the form of a man and becoming a slave, obedient even unto death. There was no emptying of any divine attributes, but an emptying of prerogatives, an emptying of status, of exaltation, of glory, for the sake of redemption and for the sake of the ultimate glory of the Father. For these purposes, our Lord put aside His own glory for a season.

R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary) (p. 314). Kindle Edition.

He said, in effect: “I’m ready to come home. I’m ready to return to the ivory palaces from whence I came.”

I had always thought it came from Psalm 45, and maybe it did in part, but reading this gave me new insight and understanding, and appreciation for this hymn, and for Dad’s insight.

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