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Our God Our Help In Ages Past a song by Issac Watts & William Croft

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

This hymn is by Issac Watts.  Watts wrote between 600 and 750 hymns in his life and many more poems.  He also wrote, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross", "Joy To The World", and "Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove".

It is interesting that John Wesley changed Watt's lyrics from "Our God, our God in ages past", to "O God, our God in ages past".  It is also interesting that this song has nine verses.  Literate prose has a rich tradition in hymn writing.

This song was Winston Churchill's favorite hymn.  He requested it, when he had a church service, when meeting with Roosevelt, at sea, in 1941; and it was sung at his funeral.

William Croft wrote the music for Watts words to this song.  While this song is Croft's most enduring, his "Funeral Sentences", which are songs from the Common Book of Prayer, which contains verses from various Bible passages, was called a "glorious work of near genius", by music historian Matthias Range.  George Frideric Handel was an admirer of Croft, and the Funeral Sentences was performed at Handel's funeral in 1759, and every State funeral in England since, including Princess Dianna's in 1997 and Margaret (Baroness) Thatcher 2012.

Issac Watts (1674-1748) was in the Non-Conformist movement, in England, that said "no" to state sponsored Anglicanism, which gave birth to the Puritans who came to America.  Many of the middle-aged denominations had their beginnings during this time, including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Methodists.

His dad was imprisoned twice for his non-conformist views.  He studied Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.  He wrote many of his hymns in his twenties and began preaching at age 24.  A condensed biography and a listing of all his hymns is here.

He was born with a gift for making rhymes, which his parents did not understand at first and thought irreverent.  But, as a young man, when he complained about the poor quality of the hymns in church, his father challenged him to write better ones, and Issac did.  He wrote most of his hymns between the ages of twenty and twenty-two.

After the Protestant Reformation began, the Lutherans and Moravians began to develop their own hymns.  The Calvinist Christians carried the idea that the Bible already contained a hymnal, so they attempted to put the Psalms to music, and published them first in 1562.  Their hymn book went through 78 editions.  This was the basic Hymnal that Christians had when Issac was Watts born in 1674.

The timeline of his life, is that he finished school, in 1694 and wrote the bulk of his hymns over the next two years.  In 1696, at the age of 22, be began working as a tutor and chaplain.  He did this for three years.  Then he became an assistant minister at Mark Lane Independent (i.e. Congregational) Chapel in London, and full pastor in 1702.  Note that the Congregational Church had its beginnings in the non-conformist, informational, movement.

He was a pastor until 1712 (age 38), when his health failed.  He then slowed down and wrote for the rest of his life, and he died in 1748.


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