How Can I Keep from Singing (When I can see the glorious God)

How Can I Keep from Singing is a hymn dating to the late 19th century which did not become popular until the late 20th century when it was used as a folk song by artists such as Pete Seeger. The source of the original lyrics is a bit of a mystery, but it appears to be an early Quaker text which was later augmented by folk artists to include new stanzas which spoke directly to political causes of the day.

The tune by Robert Lowry is especially endearing, and captured the heart of David, moving him to write a new text to match the tune’s pathos. This new text traces the theme of singing through a historical and gospel lens, starting with creation, moving through redemption, and ending with consummation. Some of the original phrases were kept though placed into a different context such as “through all the tumult and the strife I hear [his] music ringing.”

Singing plays an extremely important part of the human experience throughout Scripture. The Lord tells Job in Job 38:4,7 that morning stars (angels) sang at creation. The penitential Psalms – including Psalm 51 when David says “hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” – are songs of lament and cries for mercy. We learned in Revelation 5:9 that all of creation will sing of what happened at the cross when Jesus ransomed and redeemed people from every tribe and tongue. We see Jesus weeping and joining the lament (which consisted of singing) at the tomb of his friend Lazarus and then a few chapters later in John saying “You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” So believer- as you sing through this hymn may you be reminded of all of the reasons you have to sing, that songs of praise and thanksgiving may flow freely and fully from your hearts back to Him to whom the most beautiful and enduring songs are due.


When I can see the glorious God
Who spoke us into being
Above the dark and formless deep,
How can I keep from trembling?
The mountains, seas, and valleys dance,
Their music ever ringing;
If creatures great and small can praise,
How can I keep from singing!

When sin and guilt had captured me
And shame was overbearing,
I saw the God of holiness
And could not keep from fearing.
Yet strangely I was drawn to Him
And felt a warmth beginning-
His mercy dawned like morning sun;
How can I keep from singing?

When I survey the wondrous cross
Where grace and law were meeting
And think that God would give his Son
How can I keep from weeping?
Though precious blood flowed crimson red
With love his heart was brimming;
Since I was ransomed and redeemed
How can I keep from singing?

When pain and sorrow overwhelm
And life and health are leaving;
When friends are falling fast away
How can I keep from grieving?
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear his music ringing;
Since he is making all things new
How can I keep from singing?

When I can hear the heav’nly crowd
Their songs of glory raising
And think that I shall join them there
How can I keep from praising?
I lift my eyes unto the hills
And see my savior coming-
He’ll land me safe on Canaan’s side,
How can I keep from singing?


Tune: HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING by Robert Lowry (1826-99)
Text: David L. Ward © 2024 Hymnicity