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Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Ascription, by Luther Orlando Emerson (b. Aug. 3, 1820; Sept. 29, 1915)
Note: This hymn is over three hundred years old, but its message is still a delight. The Cyber Hymnal describes the likely circumstances in which the song was written.
The dictionary defines delight as: a high degree or pleasure or enjoyment. For something to be delightful suggests it also brings a great measure of satisfaction and contentment.
But can you think of something that’s always and only delightful, with no negative conditions or effects? It’s difficult. That enjoyable vacation had to come to an end, and we returned to the daily grind–perhaps with bills to pay for our holiday fun. That medication that cures or controls our condition also has distressing side effects.
“As high as we have mounted in delight,
In our dejection do we sink as low.”
It isn’t dark cynicism, but a matter of facing reality, to see the thorns on the rosebush. That the delights of this life are not unalloyed, perfect, or complete, does not mean we should avoid them. It simply means we need to recognize the fact of their limitations, and live wisely, enjoying our pleasures in moderation. Don’t avoid the roses–but watch out for the thorns!
The Bible uses forms of the word delight many times. King Saul was reprimanded by the Lord for keeping some animals taken in battle that God had told him to destroy. His excuse was that they were for sacrifices to the Lord. But the prophet Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (I Sam. 15:22). God delights in our obedience, more than our formal rituals.
God blessed King Jehoshaphat because “his heart took delight in the ways of the Lord” (II Chron. 17:6). That is a theme often taken up in Psalms. “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Ps. 112:1). The Lord is seeking those who will walk in consistent obedience toward Him, saying, “I delight to do Your will, O my God” (Ps. 40:8).
However, limitations being admitted in this life, there is a future time and place where our delights will be abundant, unalloyed and complete. Heaven. Says the psalmist, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Of the heavenly kingdom God promises He will “will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
It’s not surprising that our hymn writers have given us many songs about the delights of heaven. A quick look at the Topical Index of a hymn book on my desk shows nearly fifty hymns on the subject. Fanny Crosby wrote a number of songs about heaven, including Saved by Grace, and My Saviour First of All. The very first hymn she wrote, in 1864, took up the theme:
We are going, we are going, to a home beyond the skies,
Where the fields are robed in beauty, and the sunlight never dies;
Where the fount of joy is flowing, in the valley green and fair,
We shall dwell in love together; there will be no parting there.
The references to botanical beauty is appropriate. In the Bible, the heavenly kingdom is also called Paradise, a Persian word describing a lovely park or garden. But it is a hymn of Isaac Watts speaking of the “pure delight” of heaven to which I direct your attention here.
CH-1) There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.
CH-2) There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.
Author Albert Bailey makes the following odd statement.
“Death and heaven play a far less important part in our present-day thought than they did in olden times….The number of [hymns about heaven] in our current hymnals is small, and most of those that are printed are never sung” (The Gospel in Hymns, p. 51).
What do you think of that? He certainly doesn’t attend a church like that of my wife and I!
In contrast, Dewitt Talmage, a pastor and a military chaplain during the American Civil War, tells this story. On one occasion he invited his congregation to sing Watts’s hymn, saying of heaven’s abundant delights, “Oh, I do not know how we shall stand the first day in heaven!” As the congregation sang, “An aged man standing in front of the pulpit sang heartily the first verse, and then he sat down weeping. I said to him afterward, ‘Father Linton, what made you cry over that hymn?’ He said, ‘I could not stand it–the joys that are coming.’”
Watts insists that what the Lord tells us in His Word about the delights of heaven should allay our fears about death. He compares it to Moses, on the mountain top, viewing the Promised Land across the Jordan.
CH-6) Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.
1) What are some of the delights of heaven to which you are looking forward?
2) What are some delightful things from the hand of God that you enjoy in the meantime?