HYMNS OF THE CHURCH

Charles Nutter

Come, Sound His Praise Abroad

Isaac Watts

1    Come, sound His praise abroad,
   And hymns of glory sing:
Jehovah is the sovereign God,
   The universal King.
2    He formed the deeps unknown;
   He gave the seas their bound;
The watery worlds are all His own,
   And all the solid ground.
3    Come, worship at His throne;
   Come, bow before the Lord;
We are His works, and not our own;
   He formed us by His Word.
4    Today attend His voice,
   Nor dare provoke His rod;
Come, like the people of His choice,
   And own your gracious God.

Title, “A Psalm before Sermon.” From The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, 1719. These are the first four stanzas unaltered. The last two are as follows:

   But if your ears refuse
   The language of His grace,
And hearts grow hard like stubborn Jews,
   That unbelieving race;
   The Lord in vengeance drest
   Will lift his hand and swear:
“You that despise my promis’d Rest
   Shall have no portion there.”

The hymn is complete without these stanzas, yet warnings are sometimes useful.

The poet James Montgomery said that “Dr. Watts may almost be called the inventor of hymns in our language.” Compare this hymn with that part of Psalm 95 on which it was written:

O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth: the strength of the hills is His also.
The sea is His, and He made it: and His hands formed the dry land.
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.

A brief history of the circumstances under which this national hymn originated will explain why in all probability the author of the noble Christian lyric written in imitation of it chose to remain unknown. The first two stanzas of this national anthem of England appeared as a song “For Two Voices” in a publication titled Harmonia Anglicana, which, though not dated, is supposed to have been published in 1743 or 1744. These stanzas are also known to have been in existence in Latin at that time and to have been used as a “Latin Chorus” in a concert given by the organist of the Chapel Royal in 1743 or 1744. On September 28, 1745, this now famous English song is known to have been sung in Drury Lane Theater, London, in honor of King George, and a few days later at Covent Garden. At both places it awakened tumultuous applause. The following month (October, 1745) the music and words, “as sung in both playhouses,” were published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, with the third stanza, given above, added. It was thus caught up and sung by everybody, and in due course of time, by virtue of its widespread popularity rather than by any official action, it came to be recognized as the national hymn of England. So much concerning the origin of this national anthem.

The late distinguished English hymnologist, Daniel Sedgwick, was the first to attribute the hymn, “Come, Thou Almighty King,” to Charles Wesley. This he did partly on what he regarded as internal evidence and partly because its first appearance was in an undated and anonymous half-penny leaflet containing two hymns– this, which was there titled “An Hymn to the Trinity,” and another hymn known to be by Charles Wesley, beginning, “Jesus, Let Thy Pitying Eye." As the other hymn was known to be by Charles Wesley, he inferred that this unknown hymn to the Trinity was also by him. In drawing this inference he has been followed, though not without considerable hesitation and uncertainty, by numerous editors of Church hymnals who have accredited it, as the editors of this Hymnal have here done, to Charles Wesley.

As Charles Wesley never claimed this hymn, as it is not found in any of his published volumes, as neither he nor his brother John allude to it in any of their writings, and as it is in a meter that neither of the brothers ever used, it is impossible for us to claim with any confidence whatever that Charles Wesley is its author. We regret to be compelled to reach this conclusion; for we regard it as a truly great hymn, which we should be glad to credit to the great singer of Methodism if we could feel at all justified in doing so.

We think, however, that an obvious reason can be suggested why the author chose to remain unknown. When we remember that this was not an original hymn, but something composed in unmistakable imitation of a popular political song of the day which was then being sung in the theaters and on the streets and at political gatherings, and which had by no means won the place of honor that it now holds as a national anthem, we can easily see why the writer preferred to remain unknown to the public.

This noble and useful hymn is the most popular of all our hymns addressed to the Trinity. It is an ideal hymn for the beginning of a great Christian hymnal, as well as for opening public worship. The first verse is an invocation to God the Father to come and aid the congregation in worthily praising His name and also a prayer for Him to “come and reign over us.” The second verse is addressed to the Incarnate Word, and invokes His presence and blessing to give the prayer and the preached word success. The third stanza invokes the presence and sacred witness of the Holy Spirit; while the last stanza finds a fitting climax in ascribing praises to the Triune God.

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts may be considered the father of English hymnody. The beginning of the eighteenth century marks a distinct period in the history of hymnology. The apostle of the new departure was Dr. Isaac Watts. He was the first to see the real need, and in large measure he succeeded in supplying it. (See note under No. 167.) He was born at Southampton July 17, 1674. He was a precocious child; learned to read almost as soon as he could articulate, and wrote verses when a little boy. He was firmly attached to the principles of the Nonconformists, for which his father had suffered imprisonment, and was therefore compelled to decline the advantages of the great English universities, which at that time received only Church of England students. He availed himself, however, of the privilege of attending a Dissenting academy in London, taught by Mr. Thomas Rowe, where he applied himself to study with uncommon diligence and success. During his school days it was his habit frequently to attempt poetry both in English and in Latin, according to the custom of the time. In this manner he was unconsciously preparing himself for a long, brilliant, and useful career. In 1705 he published his first volume of poems, Horæ Lyricæ, which was received with approbation in Great Britain and America, and gave the author, in the opinion of the learned Dr. Johnson, an honorable place among English poets. His Hymns and Spiritual Songs appeared in 1707; Psalms, in 1719; and Divine Songs for Children, in 1720. One characteristic of Watts’ hymns is majesty. He is bold, massive, tremendous. This was not his only style of writing; some of his hymns are very pathetic. For example, “When I survey the wondrous cross” and “Alas! and did my Saviour bleed.” Grandeur was his forte, but he could be as simple as a child and as tender as a mother. The same hand that wrote

   Wide as the world is thy command,
      Vast as eternity thy love,

also wrote the familiar little cradle song,

   Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber;
      Holy angels guard thy bed.

He became pastor of an Independent Church in London in 1702. He was so feeble that much of the time the work of the parish was done by an assistant, but he held the place nominally until his death. Dr. Watts never married. In 1713 he was invited to the elegant and hospitable home of Sir Thomas Abney. Years later he wrote to Lady Huntingdon: “This day thirty years I came hither to the house of my good friend Sir Thomas Abney, intending to spend but one single week under his friendly roof; and I have extended my visit to exactly the length of thirty years.” He issued many works in prose as well as in poetry, amounting altogether to fifty-two publications. He lived to be seventy-five years of age, and was for many years before his death recognized as a patriarch among the Dissenting clergy. He died November 25, 1748. Westminster Abbey, that vast mausoleum of England’s heroes, statesmen, poets, and saints, has been honored with a memorial of this great, good man. Underneath a bust of the poet the artist has sculptured Watts sitting at a table writing, while behind and above him an angel is whispering heavenly thoughts. The design is artistic and very appropriate. This Hymnal contains fifty-three hymns by Dr. Watts.

Isaac Smith was an English composer; date of his birth is unknown [generally given as 1735]; died about 1800. He was the director of music at Alice Street Meetinghouse, London, and the editor of A Collection of Psalm Tunes in Three Parts, about 1770.