I made an exciting discovery some time ago. It seems that Adam-God lives on in the pages of the current LDS hymnal. I write, of course, of that well-loved favorite, “Sons of Michael He Approaches,” hymn 51.
It was written by Elias L. T. Harrison who lived from 1830 to 1900 and would have been alive right at the height of the Adam-God teachings during the middle of Brigham Young’s administration. The hymn was first published in 1861 in the Millennial Star. It seems that the Millennial Star was most active on the Adam-God front between about 1855 and 1857. After about 1860, Adam-God in general died down a bit, since due to opposition Brigham started to counsel against its teaching, although it continued to be taught in less public settings — e.g. the School of the Prophets — much later. Thus, the Adam-God timing for the first publication of “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” is not quite right for the “high” Adam-God period, but it would have been right on the edge.
While the language of the hymn does not include explicitly those claims that have made Adam-God so controversial down through the years – Adam is the father of Jesus Christ, Adam is the God of this world, etc. – there is certainly reason to think that Adam-God teachings, and the interest in the status of Adam and Michael of which those teachings are a part, forms the theological backdrop for this hymn. Certainly, the vision of Adam-Michael as the deified patriarch of the human race and holder of the ultimate priesthood authority of this world is a wonderfully distinctive Mormon image and one that led Brigham on to Adam-God adventures. Included here are the lyrics to “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” for the edification of all:
- Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient father greet.
Bow, ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet.
Hail the patriarch’s glad reign, Spreading over sea and main.
Sons of Michael, ’tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along!
Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent pow’r of song.
Hail our head with music soft! Raise sweet melodies aloft!
Mother of our generations, Glorious by great Michael’s side,
Take thy children’s adoration; Endless with they seed abide.
Lo! to greet thee now advance Thousands in the glorious dance!
Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old ocean’s roaring swell,
Till the mighty acclamation Thru rebounding space doth tell
That the ancient one doth reign In his Father’s house again!
Interestingly, the current hymnal indicates the text has been altered from the original. My curiosity was piqued. As I suspected, the unmodified version of “Sons of Michael, He Approaches” is even better than our current version. Here is the unamended text from the 1948 hymnal, hymn 163:
- Sons of Michael, he approaches! Rise, the ancient Father greet;
Bow ye thousands, low before him; Minister before his feet;
Hail, hail the Patriarch’s glad reign, Hail, hail the Patriarch’s glad reign
Spreading over sea and main.
Sons of Michael, ‘tis his chariot Rolls its burning wheels along!
Raise aloft your voices million In a torrent power of song;
Hail, hail our Head with music soft! Hail, hail our Head with music soft!
Raise week melodies aloft!
Mother of our generations, Glorious by Great Michael’s side,
Take thy children’s adoration; Endless with thy Lord preside;
Lo, lo, to greet thee now advance, Lo, lo, to greet thee now advance
Thousands in the glorious dance!
Raise a chorus, sons of Michael, Like old Ocean’s roaring swell,
Till the mighty acclamation Through rebounding space doth tell
That, that the Ancient One doth reign, That, that the Ancient One may reign
In his Paradise again!
Some of the changes are boring enough. In 1985 the hymn was set to different music, and the repetitions in the third line of each verse were eliminated to accommodate the new music. In addition, in the 1985 version “Father” (applied to Adam/Michael), “Head,” and “Ancient One” are no longer capitalized. I would write this off as an irrelevant typographical change, except that The Story of Our Latter-day Hymns explicitly states that the shift in capitalization was part of an effort to more correctly define Adam’s eternal role. We don’t want people to get any ideas of divinization from the capitalization.
The real fun changes, however come in the third and fourth verses. The 1985 version says that Eve is to “endless with thy seed reside,” while in the 1948 version she is to “endless with they Lord preside.” So we have here two shifts. First, Eve no longer “presides,” and second, Adam is no longer her “Lord.” It seems that we have three different stories that can be told about this change. First, we can say that Eve’s eternal authority is being down-shifted from presiding to residing. Second, we can say that Eve’s eternal position is being bettered in that Adam is no longer her “Lord.” Third, we can say that Adam’s eternal position is being down-shifted in that we are no longer referring to him as “Lord.”
The shift in the fourth verse is striking. In the 1985 version the ancient one once more preside’s in “his Father’s house.” This obviously has the effect of emphasizing Adam’s subservient status to his father. He is not the “our Lord and our God and the only one with whom we have to deal” (to use BY’s phrase) in this formulation. However, in the 1948 version there is no mention at all of Adam’s father. Rather, he returns to his Paradise to reign again. Thus we have the vision of Adam/Michael returning to the paradisiacal glory from which he decended (coming from another world with one of his wives, as BY taught?) as Lord and Head surrounded by the posterity who “have to do” with him.
In short, this is a truly great hymn; a hidden treasure of Mormon wierdness (in the best possible sense).