Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

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Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
Isaac Watts from NPG.jpg
Isaac Watts in 1705
TextIsaac Watts
Based onPsalm 90
Meter8.6.8.6 (C.M.)
Melody"St. Anne" by William Croft

"Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" is a hymn by Isaac Watts in 1708 that paraphrases the 90th Psalm of the Book of Psalms. It originally consisted of nine stanzas; however, in present usage the fourth, sixth, and eighth stanzas are commonly omitted to leave a total of six (Methodist books also include the original sixth stanza to leave a total of seven). 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' original text 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 on similar occasions in the United Kingdom, including at the annual Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in London.

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 St Anne's Church, 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 fugal theme. Young Bach's inspirator and mentor Dieterich Buxtehude, church administrator and organist of St Mary's in Lübeck in north Germany, used the same first line of the hymn tune as theme for the (first) fugue of his Praeludium-pedaliter in E major for organ.

Arthur Sullivan uses the tune in the first and last sections of his Festival Te Deum, first in a relatively standard setting, but eventually pairing it with a military march accompaniment. 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. Brother Colin Smith also arranged a setting of this hymn.[1]


In modern hymnals, some stanzas are omitted, for example as in The New English Hymnal:[2]

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

2 Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.

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

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

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

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

Notable uses[edit]


  1. ^ "apmn - Donrita Reefman". Apmn.org.au. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  2. ^ "O God, Our Help in Ages Past › Representative Texts". hymnary.org. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  3. ^ "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past". Encyclopedia Titanica. 12 October 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  4. ^ Jeffrey Richards, Imperialism and Music: Britain 1876–1953, Manchester University Press 2001, ISBN 0-7190-4506-1 (pp. 155–156)
  5. ^ Parker, WG. "An Historical link with 1941 – World War II". Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
  6. ^ The picturesque prison: Evelyn Waugh and his writing, Jeffrey M. Heath
  7. ^ Cobain, Ian (27 June 2017). "Troubled past: the paramilitary connection that still haunts the DUP". theguardian.com. Retrieved 27 June 2017.

External links[edit]