Posted by: rcottrill | May 7, 2012

We’re Marching to Zion

Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Marching to Zion, by Robert Lowry (b. Mar. 12, 1826; d. Nov. 25, 1899)


Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Watts’ original hymn had ten stanzas, of which four are usually used in modern hymnals (CH-1, 3, 9 and 10). Watts had “But favourites of the heavenly King,” in stanza 3. More usually today it’s written as “But children of the heavenly King.”

There are two distinctly different versions of this hymn–sometimes put side by side in hymnals. One uses a tune written by James Mountain, and includes a refrain, as below. The common tune for the other is St. Thomas (also called Williams) by Aaron Williams (1731-1776), which has no refrain. I’ve made use of both over the years. At the Wordwise Hymns link, you can hear an example of the haunting Sacred Harp shaped note singing of this hymn (to yet another tune).

Twice in this hymn (in stanzas CH-2 and 6, omitted today) Watts uses the word “pleasures.” From CH-2 we have:

Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less.

Perhaps that shocked the Puritans of his time, who often thought of their religion as necessarily austere and sober. (Another author speaks of “the grimness of much eighteenth century nonconformist piety.”) But delight in the Lord fitted Watts’s own understanding of the Scriptures. He saw the Christian walk as one of joy and rejoicing, by the grace of God. His original title for the song was, “Heavenly Joy on Earth.”

In his book, An Annotated Anthology of Hymns, J. R. Watson makes this comment:

“This is Isaac Watts in the mood of a seventeenth century Puritan, journeying with his friends (‘Come we’) toward the Celestial City, as Bunyan had described it shortly before in The Pilgrim’s Progress.

One wonders whether the opening words of CH-3 were intentional: “Let those refuse to sing, / Who never knew our God,” meaning to suggest that if a professing Christian was morose and lugubrious, perhaps it was because he didn’t really have a personal relationship with the Lord! We need to be sensitive to those in painful situations though, and compassionate. When Christians are going through difficult trials, we need to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

In quite another vein, many years ago, the choir in a New England church took offense when a stranger, leading the service in the absence of the pastor, disregarded some of their traditional rules. In retaliation, they refused to sing the hymns during the service. That is, they did so until the visitor asked all to sing stanza CH-3 of Watts’s song. It’s reported that it had the desired effect on the choir!

In the words of Edgar Stites’s gospel song Beulah Land, this earth is “heaven’s borderland,” for God’s people, where we surely can experience a foretaste of heavenly joys. Christ came that we might have abundant life (Jn. 10:10). And the resurrection of Christ brought “great joy” to His followers (Matt. 8:6-9). We serve a risen Saviour! Appropriately the joy and rejoicing the believer is mentioned dozens of times in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 14:17; 15:13; Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:11; I Thess. 1:6). As to the future, we’re to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2).

1) Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known;
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

CH-10) Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.

1) The Christian life can have both its joys and sorrows. What are some of the reasons for each?

2) What kind of misunderstanding (or misapplication of Scripture) has led some to conclude that the Christian life is to be a sober, joyless affair?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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