A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing

 

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

   Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.

   Declare His glory among the nations,

His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:1-3

 

A Rebellious Youth Revolutionizes Congregational Singing *

Line by line the clerk read a Psalm. Line by line the congregation sang after him. That is, everybody sang except young Isaac Watts.

After church services that Sunday in 1692, when his Puritan father called him to the carpet for not singing, Isaac said bluntly that there was no music in the Psalms. He said further that the Psalms did not rhyme and that there was no sense in having to sing them line by line.

When outraged Deacon Watts’ blood pressure subsided, he suggested that if his young upstart son were smarter than King David he might try his hand at writing something better. The result of that challenge was a revolution in church singing that has resounded for more than three centuries.

Staid old Deacon Enoch Watts must have spoken without thinking when he hurled his sarcastic remark at his teen-age son. For at his boarding school in Southampton, the deacon himself had taught Isaac five languages before the boy was fourteen years old. That is, the deacon taught when he wasn’t in jail for his acts against the Established Church.

For twelve years Mrs. Enoch Watts had tutored her oldest son in the writing of verse. At seven he had won a copper medal for writing rhymes. He waxed so poetical that when the elder Watts threatened to flail him for rhyming even his everyday conversation, the boy cried out, “O father do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Accepting his father’s challenge, eighteen-year-old Isaac Watts set about “Christianizing” and “modernizing” the Psalms. The following Sunday the clerk read Isaac Watts’ hymn and the congregation was so pleased that for two years Watts had to bring one of his “modernized” Psalms every Sunday!

Eighteen-year-old Isaac had successfully broken an ancient tradition. From his prolific pen would come “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Am I Soldier of the Cross” and many other notable hymns.

With his bold departure from Psalm singing, Isaac Watts gave to Christianity a popular and inspiring medium of worship and paved the way for Charles Wesley, John Newton, William Cowper, and hundreds to follow.

Here is a hymn, written by Isaac Watts in 1719, that was one of three selections sung by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during devotional services aboard the man-of-war H.M.S. Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in 1941. Four months later, the United States entered WWII.

O God our help in ages past,

   Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blat,

   And our eternal home.

* A Hymn is Born, by Clint Bonner (Broadman Press, 1959)

The Excellence of Contentment as Worship

“In contentment we come to give God the worship due to Him.”

Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)

“I say it is a special part of divine worship that the creature owes to the infinite Creator, in that I tender the respect that is due from me to the Creator.

“You worship God more by contentment than when you come to hear a sermon or spend half an hour, or an hour, in prayer. These are the acts of God’s worship, but they are only external acts of worship: to hear and pray. This is the soul’s worship: to subject itself thus to God. You who often will worship God by hearing and praying, yet afterwards will be froward [contrary, perverse] and discontented—know that God does not regard such worship; He will have the soul’s worship, in this subjecting itself unto God.

“Oh! That I could do what pleases God! When we come to suffer any cross: Oh! That what God does might please me! I labour to do what pleases God, and I also labour that whatever God does shall please me: here is a Christian indeed, who shall endeavour both of these. It is but one side of a Christian to endeavour to do what pleases God; you must as well endeavor to be pleased with whatever God does, and so you will come to worship as a complete Christian when you can do both. And that is the excellence of contentment.”

 

Hymn: Lord With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

In our tribute this weekend to the patriot who wrote the lyrics to our national anthem, this autobiographical hymn captures his love for the Lord and his praise for God saving him. The expressions exude heartfelt thanks to God in spite of his sinfulness (“wretched wand’rer far astray”) and human frailty (“my weak endeavor”). God sought him, graciously forgave his sins (‘pard’ning grace”), and saved him (“to that cross, new life to give”). The writer ends his hymn expressing the desire of every believer: “let my life show forth thy praise.”

Lord With Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee

by Francis Scott Key

Lord, with glowing heart I’d praise thee

for the bliss thy love bestows,

for the pard’ning grace that saves me,

and the peace that from it flows.

Help, O God, my weak endeavor;

this dull soul to rapture raise;

thou must light the flame, or never

can my love be warmed to praise.

Praise, my soul, the God that sought thee,

wretched wand’rer far astray;

found thee lost, and kindly brought thee

from the paths of death away.

Praise, with love’s devoutest feeling,

him who saw thy guilt-born fear,

and, the light of hope revealing,

bade the blood-stained cross appear.

Praise thy Savior God that drew thee

to that cross, new life to give,

held a blood sealed pardon to thee,

bade thee look to him and live.

Praise the grace whose threats alarmed thee,

roused thee from thy fatal ease;

praise the grace whose promise warmed thee,

praise the grace that whispered peace.

Lord, this bosom’s ardent feeling

vainly would my lips express:

low before thy footstool kneeling,

deign thy suppliant’s pray’r to bless.

Let thy love, my soul’s chief treasure,

love’s pure flame within me raise;

and, since words can never measure,

let my life show forth thy praise.

Hymn: Before the Lord We Bow

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

This hymn was composed by Key for a July 4th, 1832 Independence Day celebration. The “We” in the title are American Christians bowing in subjection to “heaven’s high King” from whom all blessings flow. The nation had survived years of war with Great Britain, seen Washington D.C. ransacked and burned by enemy troops (only miles from Key’s home in Baltimore), fought bloody battles against Indians and Canada allied with Britain, experienced an economic depression, and watched most of Europe conquered by Napoleon. The years after the War of 1812 were a reminder that the United States had escaped annihilation by a powerful enemy and that it was God who had spared the nation.

In 2021, thanks to a gracious, omnipotent, sovereign God, the United States has rich resources, protection from enemies, and abundant blessings. Key’s vision in the last verse of the hymn is that America be represented by a “glorious band” resurrected at the Lord’s Coming. On this holiday let us bow before the Lord and thank Him for all that we have as Americans.

 

Before the Lord We Bow

by Francis Scott Key

Before the Lord we bow,

The God who reigns above,

And rules the world below,

Boundless in power and love;

Our thanks we bring

In joy and praise,

Our hearts we raise

To heaven’s high King.

The nation Thou hast blest

May well Thy love declare,

From foes and fears at rest,

Protected by Thy care.

For this fair land,

For this bright day,

Our thanks we pay–

Gifts of Thy hand.

May every mountain height,

Each vale and forest green,

Shine in Thy word’s pure light,

And its rich fruits be seen!

May every tongue

Be tuned to praise,

And join to raise

A grateful song.

Earth! hear thy maker’s voice,

The great Redeemer own,

Believe, obey, rejoice,

And worship Him alone;

Cast down thy pride,

Thy sin deplore,

And bow before

The Crucified.

And when in power He comes,

O may our native land,

From all its rending tombs,

Send forth a glorious band;

A countless throng

Ever to sing

To heaven’s high King

Salvation’s song.

Francis Scott Key

A Tribute to Christian Hymn Writer Francis Scott Key

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) was a devout and prominent Christian as well as an influential lawyer. In his youth, he almost became an Episcopal priest rather than a lawyer. Throughout his life he sprinkled biblical references in his correspondence. From 1818 until his death in 1843, Key was associated with the American Bible Society. Much to his dishonor later, he successfully opposed an abolitionist resolution presented to that group around 1838. Key also helped found two Episcopal seminaries, one in Baltimore and the other across the Potomac River in Alexandria (the Virginia Theological Seminary). Not only did he teach a Sunday school class at his church, Key also served as manager and vice president of the American Sunday School Union from its inception in 1824 until his death in 1843. The American Sunday School Union was responsible for establishing thousands of churches across America.

Francis Scott Key composed and published a poem entitled “Defence of Fort M’Henry“. In the fourth verse of the poem, Key’s published version of the poem includes the line, “And this be our motto—‘In God is our trust!’” Key’s poem would later be adopted as the national anthem of the United States under the name “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

When ‘In God We Trust‘ was under consideration to be adopted as the national motto of the United States by the US Congress, the words of the fourth verse of Key’s poem were brought up in arguments supporting adoption of the motto.

A monument to Francis Scott Key was commissioned by San Francisco businessman James Lick, who donated some $60,000 for a sculpture of Key to be raised in Golden Gate Park. The travertine monument was executed by sculptor William W. Story in 1885–87. The city of San Francisco allocated some $140,000 to renovate the Key monument, which was about to be lost to environmental degradation if repairs were not made. Repairs were finished on the monument in 2019.

Because of Key’s anti-abolitionist stand, his statue was toppled and destroyed by protesters on June 19, 2020. Sadly, our national anthem is in jeopardy today because this godly man, with all his human faults and shortcomings, did not take a position against slavery two centuries ago.

Hymn: Jesus is Coming Again

Nothing brings a sense of contentment to me more than thinking about the imminent return of Jesus Christ! The apostle Paul encouraged his readers not to believe a rumor or false teaching that the Lord’s return had passed already and that they might never see their saved loved ones again. His words of comfort give us insight into what God has planned for those who belong to Him:

“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [died]. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:15-18 (NKJV)

 

Jesus is Coming Again

by John W. Peterson *

Marvelous message we bring,

Glorious carol we sing,

Wonderful word of the King,

Jesus is coming again!

Chorus

Coming again, Coming again,

May be morning, may be noon,

May be evening and may be soon!

Coming again, Coming again;

O what a wonderful day it will be –

Jesus is coming again!

Forest and flower exclaim,

Mountain and meadow the same,

All earth and heaven proclaim,

Jesus is coming again! [Chorus]

Standing before Him at last,

Trial and trouble all past,

Crowns at His feet we will cast,

Jesus is coming again! [Chorus]

 

* John Willard Peterson (1921 –2006) was born in Lindsborg, Kansas. He served as an Army Air Force pilot flying the China Hump from Burma during World War II. He attended Moody Bible Institute and graduated from the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago and shortly thereafter began his songwriting career. For over ten years he was President and Editor-in-Chief of Singspiration, a sacred music publishing company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While there, he compiled and edited a popular hymnal called “Great Hymns of the Faith.” He had a major influence on evangelical Christian music in the 1950s through the 1970s. He wrote over 1,000 songs and 35 cantatas.

Some of John Peterson’s more popular song titles include “Heaven Came Down,” “So Send I You,” “Springs of Living Water,” “Jesus is Coming Again,” “Surely Goodness and Mercy,” “This is the day that the Lord hath made,” and “O Glorious Love.” His cantatas include “Down From His Glory,” “Born a King,” and “Hallelujah for the Cross.”

 

Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

“Be Thou My Vision” is a traditional Christian hymn of Irish origin. The words are based on a Middle Irish poem or prayer often attributed to a sixth-century Irish Christian, however it may have been written later than that. The text reflects aspects of life in Early Christian Ireland (c. 400-800 AD). The prayer is a prayer for protection and is best seen in a verse omitted from most modern hymnals:

Be Thou my Breastplate, my Sword for the fight;

Be Thou my whole Armor, be Thou my true Might;

Be Thou my soul’s Shelter, be Thou my strong Tow’r,

O raise Thou me heav’nward, great Pow’r of my pow’r.

The symbolic use of a battle-shield and a sword to invoke the power and protection of God draws on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:16–17), which refers to “the shield of faith” and “the sword of the Spirit”. Such military symbolism was common in the poetry and hymnnology of Christian monasteries of the period due to the prevalence of clan warfare across Ireland. The poem makes reference to God as the “High King of Heaven”. This depiction of the Christian God as a chieftain or High King is a traditional representation in Irish literature; medieval Irish poetry typically used heroic imagery to portray God as a clan protector.

 

Be Thou My Vision

Translated by Mary Byrne; *

Versified by Eleanor Hull **

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;

Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;

Thou my best thought, by day or by night;

Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my wisdom, and Thou my true Word;

I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;

Thou my great Father and I, Thy true son;

Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise;

Thou mine inheritance, now and always;

Thou and Thou only, first in my heart;

O King of glory, my treasure Thou art.

O King of glory, my victory won;

Rule and reign in me ’til Thy will be done;

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall;

Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

(Sung by the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team)

 * Mary Byrne (1880 – 1931) was born in Ireland and first translated the old Irish hymn, “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile,” into English as “Be Thou My Vision” in Ériu (the journal of the School of Irish Learning), in 1905. A linguist, Byrne received her education from the National University of Ireland. She contributed to the Old and Mid-Irish Dictionary and Dictionary of the Irish Language.

** Eleanor Hull (1860 – 1935) was born in England, of a County Down family. She was educated at Alexandra College, Dublin and was a student of Irish Studies. She was a co-founder of the Irish Texts Society for the publication of early manuscripts and president of the Irish Literary Society. The best-known English version of “Be Thou My Vision”, with some minor variations, was translated by her and published in 1912. Since 1919 it has been commonly sung to an Irish folk tune and is one of the most popular hymns in the United Kingdom.

 

Hymn: The King of Love My Shepherd Is

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

 

The King of Love My Shepherd Is

by Henry W. Baker *

The King of love my Shepherd is,

Whose goodness faileth never,

I nothing lack if I am His

And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow

My ransomed soul He leadeth,

And where the verdant pastures grow,

With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,

But yet in love He sought me,

And on His shoulder gently laid,

And home, rejoicing, brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill

With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;

Thy rod and staff my comfort still,

Thy cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;

Thy unction grace bestoweth;

And O what transport of delight

From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days

Thy goodness faileth never;

Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

Within Thy house forever.

* Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877) was the eldest son of Admiral Sir Henry Loraine Baker. He was educated at Trinity College and took Holy Orders in 1844. Sir Henry’s name is intimately associated with hymnody. One of his earliest compositions was the very beautiful hymn, “Oh! what if we are Christ’s,” which he contributed to Murray’s Hymnal for the Use of the English Church, 1852. His hymns, including metrical litanies and translations, number 33 in all. The last audible words which lingered on his dying lips were the third stanza of his exquisite rendering of the 23rd Psalm, “The King of Love, my Shepherd is”:

Perverse and foolish, oft I strayed,

But yet in love He sought me,

And on His Shoulder gently laid,

And home, rejoicing, brought me.

This tender sadness, brightened by a soft calm peace, epitomized his poetical life. (This hymn was sung at the fun­er­al of Di­a­na, Prin­cess of Wales, in West­min­ster Ab­bey, Lon­don, Sep­tem­ber 6, 1997.)

 

Hymn: Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

This beloved hymn describes the experience of God’s people in their travel through the wilderness from their escape from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12–14), being guided by a cloud by day and a fire by night (Exodus 13:17–22) to their final arrival forty years later at the border of the Promised Land of Canaan (Joshua 3). During this time, their needs were supplied by God, including their daily supply of manna (Exodus 16).

The hymn text forms an allegory for the journey of a Christian through life on earth requiring the Redeemer’s guidance and ending at the gates of Heaven (the verge of Jordan) and the end of time (death of death and hell’s destruction).

Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah *

Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,

pilgrim through this barren land.

I am weak, but thou art mighty;

hold me with thy powerful hand.

Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,

feed me till I want no more;

feed me till I want no more.

Open now the crystal fountain,

whence the healing stream doth flow;

let the fire and cloudy pillar

lead me all my journey through.

Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,

be thou still my strength and shield;

be thou still my strength and shield.

When I tread the verge of Jordan,

bid my anxious fears subside;

death of death and hell’s destruction,

land me safe on Canaan’s side.

Songs of praises, songs of praises,

I will ever give to thee;

I will ever give to thee.

* Hymn background:

William Williams Pantycelyn is generally acknowledged as the greatest Welsh hymn writer. The lyrics for the Welsh original of this hymn were first published as Hymn 10 in the hymnal Mor o Wydr (Sea of Glass) in 1762. It comprised six verses. [See below for a literal translation from the Welsh of the original six verses.]

Peter Williams (1722–1796) translated part of the hymn into the familiar three stanzas of the English version, with the title Prayer for Strength. It was published in Hymns on Various Subjects, 1771. This translation is the only Welsh hymn to have gained widespread circulation in the English-speaking world.

John Hughes wrote the present version of the tune, which he called “Rhondda”, for the Cymanfa Ganu (hymn festival) in Pontypridd in 1905, when enthusiasm of the great 1904–1905 Welsh Revival still remained. The form was developed further and published for the inauguration of the organ at Capel Rhondda, in Hopkinstown in the Welsh Rhondda Valley, in 1907. (The hymn is usually pitched in A-flat major and has the 8.7.8.7.4.7 measure which is common in Welsh hymns.)

 The hymn was featured prominently in the soundtrack to the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley, directed by John Ford and starring a young Roddy McDowall. The soundtrack, by Alfred Newman, won that year’s Academy Award for Original Music Score. It is also featured at the beginning of The African Queen (film), with Katharine Hepburn singing and playing the organ in her part as a missionary’s daughter.  The hymn was also the informal anthem of Wales in the “Green and Pleasant Land” section of the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

Translation of the lyrics for the hymn originally titled in Welsh

Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch.

(“Lord, lead me through the wilderness”)

Lord, guide me through the wilderness,

A pilgrim weak of aspect,

There is neither strength nor life in me,

As though lying in the grave,

Almighty,

It is Thou who shalt take me to that shore.

I wandered for long years,

And saw not the break of dawn;

I despaired, without Thy strength,

Ever to leave the desert land;

Do Thou grant,

The occasion to escape.

Give Thou a pillar of fire to lead me in the night,

And a pillar of mist in the day,

Hold me when I travel places

Which are rough on the way,

Give me manna,

Thus shall I not despair.

Open the sweet springs

Which gush forth from the rock,

All across the great wilderness

May a river of healing grace follow:

Give this to me

Not for me but for Thy sake.

When I go through Jordan –

Cruel death in its force –

Thou Thyself suffered this before,

Why shall I fear further?

Victory!

Let me cry out in the torrent.

I shall trust in Thy power,

Great is the work that Thou hast always done,

Thou conquered death, Thou conquered hell,

Thou hast crushed Satan beneath Thy feet,

Hill of Calvary,

This shall never escape from my memory.

Hymn: Complete in Thee

One of the keys to learning spiritual contentment is knowing that we have all that we need for life and godliness. (II Peter 1:3) The second thing is that we are eternally settled in our position in Christ through faith in His shed blood on the cross. We are complete in Him and thus have every reason to be content in Him!

Complete in Thee

by Aaron Robarts Wolfe *

Complete in Thee! no work of mine

May take, dear Lord, the place of Thine;

Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,

And I am now complete in Thee.

Refrain

Yea, justified! O blessed thought!

And sanctified! Salvation wrought!

Thy blood hath pardon bought for me,

And glorified, I too, shall be!

Complete in Thee! no more shall sin,

Thy grace hath conquered, reign within;

Thy voice shall bid the tempter flee,

And I shall stand complete in Thee. (Refrain)

Complete in Thee–each want supplied,

And no good thing to me denied;

Since Thou my portion, Lord, wilt be,

I ask no more, complete in Thee. (Refrain)

Dear Saviour! when before Thy bar

All tribes and tongues assembled are,

Among Thy chosen will I be,

At Thy right hand, complete in Thee. (Refrain)

* Aaron Robarts Wolfe (1821–1902) was born at Mendham, New Jersey and educated at Williams College and the Union Theological Seminary, New York. In 1851, he was licensed by the Third Presbytery of New York. For some time he had charge of a school for young ladies at Tallahassee, Florida; and in 1859 he established “The Hillside Seminary for Young Ladies” at Montclair, New Jersey.

      He gave his friends this account of an in­ci­dent which seriously shaped his later life and made “Complete in Thee” a personal hymn: When he left Flo­ri­da in the sum­mer of 1855 he put all his ef­fects—lib­ra­ry, notes, and things of that sort—on board a sail­ing-ves­sel, and with a sim­ple grip­sack re­turned North by way of Nash­ville and Chi­ca­go. Reaching New York af­ter some two weeks spent in jour­ney­ing, he sought his goods at the com­mis­sion house to which they had been con­signed. There he learned that, on the day ap­point­ed for sail­ing, the ves­sel with his goods had been struck by light­ning, the mate killed at the foot of the mast, and the ves­sel, la­den with tur­pen­tine, burned to the wa­ter’s edge. Books, papers, notes, ev­ery­thing of past trea­sure had gone up in smoke.

     Aaron Wolfe looked up­on this event as a spe­cial pro­vi­dence of God, shap­ing his life, and fix­ing his home. For it made him a teach­er of the young ra­ther than a pas­tor of a church; and soon the way was op­ened for the be­gin­ning of one of the most use­ful en­gage­ments with Dr. Ab­bott, and so his life was fa­shioned…Thus the Lord made up his pet­ty loss­es by a rich re­ward.

 

(Personal note: When I was a teenager, and not saved, a tragic house fire resulted in loss of most of our family’s possessions and shaped the lives of each member of my family. My father worked for Pan American Airways in Jamaica when our family house was burned to the ground by an arsonist and we lost almost everything. Some photos, papers, and valuables stored in a metal box to preserve them from the tropical humidity were the only possessions that survived. Now that I have been saved for more than forty years, I look back and see how much this loss shaped my early life. Worldly goods may have less of a grip on my life today because of that incident years ago even before I came to Christ. God has been faithful in everything and I know that I am complete in Him.)