Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

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Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
by William Croft (tune), Isaac Watts (lyrics)
Genre Traditional Hymn-Psalm
Form organ
Language English
Composed 1708 (tune), 1719 (lyrics)

Our God, Our Help in Ages Past is a hymn by Isaac Watts and paraphrases Psalm 90. It originally consisted of nine stanzas. In present usage, however, the hymn is usually limited to stanzas one, two, three, five, seven and nine. In 1738, John Wesley in his hymnal, Psalms and Hymns, changed the first line of the text from "Our God" to "O God." Both Watts' wording and Wesley's rewording remain in current use.

The hymn was originally part of The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, published by Watts in 1719. In this book he paraphrased in Christian verse the entire psalter with the exception of twelve Psalms which he felt were unsuited for Christian usage.

The hymn is often sung as part of the remembrance day service in Canada and festive occasions in England.

The hymn tune "St. Anne" (common metre 86.86) to which the text is most often sung was composed by William Croft in 1708 whilst he was the organist of the church of St Anne, Soho: hence the name of the tune. It first appeared anonymously in the Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, 6th edition in 1708. It was originally intended to be used with a version of Psalm 62. It was not until sometime later when set to Watts' text that the tune gained recognition.

Later composers subsequently incorporated the tune in their own works. For example, George Handel used the tune in an anthem entitled, "O Praise the Lord". J. S. Bach's Fugue in E-flat major BWV 552 is often called the "St. Anne" in the English speaking world, because of the similarity of its subject to the first line of the hymn tune, though there is some debate as to whether Bach used the actual tune after hearing it, or coincidentally created himself the very similar tune used as the fugual theme. The American composer Carl Ruggles (1876–1971) used the text in his last composition, "Exaltation" (for Brass, Chorus, and Organ) in 1958, in memory of his wife Charlotte who had died the previous year. The hymn and words are also featured in Vaughan Williams's anthem "Lord, thou hast been our refuge", using both the Book of Common Prayer's words and those of Watts.


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Notable uses[edit]

  • 1941 – on board HMS Prince of Wales at a religious service attended by Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as part of the conference creating the Atlantic Charter.[1]
  • H. G. Wells quotes the seventh stanza of the hymn in the first chapter – "The End Closes in upon Mind" – of the very last of the 146 books he published during his lifetime, the bleak Mind at the End of its Tether (1945), and adds his own comment: "But hitherto other sons have appeared, and now only does life pass plainly into a phase of complete finality, so that one can apprehend and anticipate its end."
  • The song was sung at the funeral of Winston Churchill.
  • It is the University Anthem of the University of California, Berkeley.
  • It is also the School hymn for King Edward VI School, Southampton, which Isaac Watts himself attended, the peal of the Southampton Civic Centre clock tower and The Laidlaw Memorial School and Junior College, Ketti.
  • It is the official college hymn for Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wooster School in Danbury, Connecticut and St. Stephen's College, Delhi; and is sung at formal occasions such as baccalaureate and commencement exercises.
  • It is the foundational hymn of the Nisga'a Nation
  • The hymn tune is employed prominently in John Addison's Academy Award-winning score for the 1963 movie Tom Jones.
  • In Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall the prisoners communicate the death of Prendergast, bypassing a rule of silence by amending the words of the hymn in chapel.[2]
  • The lines "Time, like an ever rolling stream,Bears all its sons away;They fly, forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day" are the first lines of the first song "Bath" on The Divine Comedy album Promenade.
  • The fifth stanza of this hymn forms the epigraph for the novel The Shadow of the Torturer by the American science-fiction writer Gene Wolfe.
  • It is also the school anthem of the Boys High School, Allahabad, India, now known as the Boys High School & College, originally established in 1822 to cater to the education of European children in British India

Lyrics[edit]

Our[3] 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
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence 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.[4]

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.[4]

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.[4]

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

References[edit]

  1. ^ Parker, WG. "An Historical link with 1941 – World War II". Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  2. ^ The picturesque prison: Evelyn Waugh and his writing, Jeffrey M. Heath
  3. ^ Cyberhymnal gives "Our God, our help in ages past"
  4. ^ a b c Verse omitted from both Hymns Ancient and Modern 1906 and Hymns Old and New 1996

External links[edit]