Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Duke Street, by John Hatton (b. September ___, 1710; d. December ___, 1793)
Note: This hymn is a paraphrase of part of Psalm 72. It first appeared in 1719, in Isaac Watts’s Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. In keeping with his goal to reflect New Testament truth in his adaptation of the psalms, this one explicitly refers to the reign of Christ.
The original had eight stanzas, but today’s hymnals normally use only four or five: CH-1 is followed by a combination of the last two lines of CH-2, and an altered version of the last two lines of stanza CH-3, giving us:
From north to south the princes meet
To pay their homage at His feet;
While western empires own their Lord,
And savage tribes attend His word.
This is followed today by CH-4 and 5. Occasionally CH-6 and 8 are used as well.
Psalm 72 presents an idealized portrait of the reign of King Solomon, possibly an aspiration written by Solomon himself, or by his father David. Vs. 20 does not mean this is the last psalm of David’s in the book. Many more are found after this point. Rather, the statement means “the prayers of David…are fulfilled in what is described concerning Israel’s ideal king (cf. II Sam. 23:1-5).
The psalm describes five aspects of the reign of the king:
1) That it will be a just and righteous reign (vs. 1-4)
2) That it will bring in lasting and universal peace (vs. 5-11)
3) That it will be a reign of kindness and compassion (vs. 12-14)
4) That it will be a time of great prosperity and plenty (vs. 15-16)
5) That it will be a endless reign, to the praise and glory of God (vs. 17-20)
The question then is when and how does this psalm find its fulfilment. Certainly not in Solomon, a very imperfect king, in the end, though he may well have aspired to these things. Isaac Watts saw the characteristics listed being fulfilled in a spiritual and figurative sense, through the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, this is recognized as being one of the greatest missionary hymns (and perhaps the first) in the English language.
However, though there are wonderful elements here fulfilled in part today, even that is inadequate. Matthew Henry, in his commentary (pre-dating the hymn by a few years) tries in vain to make this description fit the proclamation of the gospel in the Church Age. He says:
“As far as his kingdom is set up, discord and contentions cease, in families, churches, and nations. The law of Christ, written in the heart, disposes men to be honest and just, and to render to all their due; it likewise disposes men to live in love, and so produces abundance of peace.”
Really? “Discord and contentions cease”? Just which families, and churches, and nation,s does this speak of? Again, it’s a worthy aspiration. But until the Prince of Peace begins His personal reign on earth, this is mere wishful thinking.
The hymn is ultimately about Christ. (The NKJV, taking this view, capitalizes the personal pronouns.) It seems clear that the literal and final fulfilment of Psalm 72 awaits the return of Christ, and the establishment of His earthly reign (Isa. 9:6; Lk. 1:31-33; cf. Rev. 11:15; 19:11-16; 21:1-3, 23-26). One day, “He shall have dominion from sea to sea” (Ps. 72:8), and “all kings shall fall down before Him” (vs. 11).
CH-1) Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
CH-8) Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honours to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
Note: “Peculiar” here means unique and special.
1) One of Watts’s stanzas says, “Blessings abound where’er He reigns.” How is this fulfilled today at a personal level? That is, what blessings come from giving Christ His rightful place as Lord of our lives?
2) Why is Christ the only one who can fulfil the ideal picture painted in this psalm?