Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The first hymn

The Cyber Hymnal records that the first hymn written in English for public worship was penned by Isaac Watts at the ripe old age of 14 . . .

In a lengthy dis­cuss­ion with his fa­ther, Watts ar­gued that sing­ing on­ly the Psalms in church made them miss much im­port­ant New Test­a­ment truth. Once his con­gre­ga­tion was con­vinced of what Isaac was say­ing, he be­gan turn­ing out a new hymn a week. But this one is the ve­ry first, mak­ing the words Pre­pare new hon­ors for His name, and songs be­fore un­known es­pe­cial­ly mean­ing­ful. This hymn al­so re­veals Watts’ amaz­ing breadth of bib­lical know­ledge (he was on­ly a teen­ag­er at the time); there are al­lu­sions to ma­ny Script­ure pass­ag­es.
And the following is what resulted

Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne.
Prepare new honors for His name,
And songs before unknown.

Let elders worship at His feet,
The Church adore around,
With vials full of odors sweet,
And harps of sweeter sound.

Those are the prayers of the saints,
And these the hymns they raise;
Jesus is kind to our complaints,
He loves to hear our praise.

Eternal Father, who shall look
Into Thy secret will?
Who but the Son should take that Book
And open every seal?

He shall fulfill Thy great decrees,
The Son deserves it well;
Lo, in His hand the sovereign keys
Of Heav’n, and death, and hell!

Now to the Lamb that once was slain
Be endless blessings paid;
Salvation, glory, joy remain
Forever on Thy head.

Thou hast redeemed our souls with blood,
Hast set the prisoner free;
Hast made us kings and priests to God,
And we shall reign with Thee.

The worlds of nature and of grace
Are put beneath Thy power;
Then shorten these delaying days,
And bring the promised hour.

Obviously the main muse for the hymn comes from the book Apocalypse of John.  Watts went on to be a very serious non-conformist theologian and preacher as well as penning nearly 800 hymns.  Of course, my favourite Watts hymn is entitled "Blest is the man whose bowels move." I kid you not, and the second verse is even better than the first line!

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