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Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Duke Street, by John C. Hatton (b. Sept. ___, 1710; d. Dec. ___, 1793)
Note: Isaac Watts has been called the Father of English Hymnody. It was common in the church of his youth for congregations to sing only musical versions of the Bible’s psalms. But Watts argued that by doing this they were missing a lot of New Testament truth. He wrote hundreds of fine hymns, including his own paraphrases of the book of Psalms, but also new songs of praise to Christ. We see the hymn writer’s purpose indicated in the full title of the book in which the present hymn was originally published: Psalms of David Imitated, in the Language of the New Testament.
The tune, Duke Street, is also used with another of Watts’s hymns: Jesus Shall Reign Where’re the Sun. (The street was apparently one on which the composer, John Hatton, lived for a time.)
Because the song is extremely short–only two brief stanzas–some editors have added stanzas of their own, including the follow two for which the authorship is uncertain.
CH-3) Your lofty themes, ye mortals, bring,
In songs of praise divinely sing;
The great salvation loud proclaim,
And shout for joy the Savior’s name.
CH-4) In every land begin the song;
To every land the strains belong;
In cheerful sounds all voices raise,
And fill the world with loudest praise.
The word “universal” literally means that which is turned into one, or combined in one. It has to do with what concerns all, belongs to all, is experienced by all, or that which is present everywhere.
When we speak of the physical universe, we’re referring to all that has a material existence in all the vastness of space. Our knowledge of distant planets and stars is growing, but there’s still much we don’t know. Is the force of gravity we experience the same everywhere? Is the speed of light a universal constant? Conclusions have to be based on assumptions or theories, since we have not traveled the many light years required to experience these things.
But the word universal is used of earthly things, too. Nations speak of the goal of universal health care–by which they mean the cost of all medical treatments, and all medicines, for all diseases, is to be overed for all people. It’s what many hope for–and Canada does pretty well. But as any doctor or druggist will tell you, there are things that still aren’t covered.
There are things that are universal on our planet. The weather is one. Wherever you are, if you’re outdoors, you experience it. But as we know it can vary tremendously. All have weather, but not all have the same weather. As I write this, it’s a sunny day, and the temperature outside “feels like” 23 C (73.4 F). That’s shorts and tee-shirt time. But at the South Pole the current “feels like” temperature is a frosty -69 C (-92.2 F). Better break out the winter woolies if you’re going there!
There’s a more sobering thing that’s universal. All human beings die. Other than the intervention of God at Christ’s return, death is universal. “We will surely die” (II Sam. 14:14). “Wise men die; likewise the fool” (Ps. 49:10). “Death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). “It is appointed for men to die once” (Heb. 9:27). We have an appointment we all must keep.
But there is a more positive application of our word. Almighty God deserves universal praise and worship. He is worthy of the praise of all, and there are many calls for this in the Scriptures. “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honour of His name; make His praise glorious” (Ps. 66:1-2). Of course, that is not happening yet in any truly universal sense. But it is true that all kinds of people everywhere praise the Lord. Male and female, old and young, people of all ethnic backgrounds, and so on, praise God.
Our hymns are one important means we use to praise God. One song from the pen of Isaac Watts, published in 1719, is a paraphrase of Psalm 117–which has only a couple of verses. It’s the shortest psalm in the Bible. A call to universal praise, the psalm says:
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 117:1-2).
Now see how Watts builds on the psalm and introduces related truths from the New Testament. It is Christ who is both Creator (Jn. 1:1-3; Col. 1:13-17) and Redeemer. “[He] gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us (Tit. 2:14), “[we’re] redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ” (I Pet. 1:18-19). Watts’s hymn says:
CH-1) From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung,
Through every land, by every tongue.
CH-2) Eternal are Thy mercies, Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word.
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore,
Till sun shall rise and set no more.
The British government decreed that the black slaves of the West Indies were to be emancipated on August 1, 1834. But there were predictions of a violent revolt and payback attending this step. However, it never happened. A missionary reported:
“Our large chapel was literally crammed, and many stood in the yard exposed to the rays of the scorching sun, so anxious were the newly liberated people to express their thankfulness to God for the great deliverance He has wrought. It was announced that the Bible Society would present every freed slave with a copy of the New Testament. There were smiles all around, and tears of joy, as the multitude sang–virtually shouted–the last stanza of Isaac Watts’s hymn (CH-2).”
1) What do you have to especially praise the Lord for today?
2) What is your favourite hymn of praise?