170. O God, Our Help in Ages Past

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 your throne
your saints have dwelt secure;
sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3 Before the hills in order stood
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

4 A thousand ages in your 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,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

6 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home!

Text Information
First Line: O God, our help in ages past
Title: O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Versifier: Isaac Watts (1719, alt.)
Meter: CM
Language: English
Publication Date: 1987
Topic: Anniversaries; Brevity & Frailty of Life; Alternative Harmonizations (3 more...)
Tune Information
Name: ST. ANNE (Croft)
Composer: William Croft (1708)
Arranger: David Johnson
Meter: CM
Key: C Major
Source: Free Organ Accompaniments to Festival Hymnals, Vol. 1, 1963 (alt. accompaniment)
Copyright: Alternative accompaniment © 1963, Augsburg Publishing House. Reprinted by permission.

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 90:1
st. 2 = Ps. 90:1
st. 3 = Ps. 90:2
st. 4 = Ps. 90:4
st. 5 = Ps. 90:5
st. 6 = Ps. 90:1

Considered one of the finest paraphrases written by Isaac Watts (PHH 155), "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" expresses a strong note of assurance, promise, and hope in the LORD as recorded in the first part of Psalm 90, even though the entire psalm has a recurring theme of lament. Watts wrote the paraphrase in nine stanzas around 1714 and first published the text in his Psalms of David (1719). The Psalter Hymnal includes the most well-known stanzas. The first line, originally "Our God, our help … ," was changed to "O God, our help… “by John Wesley in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns. (1738). For further commentary on this psalm see PHH 90.

Liturgical Use:
Because it has great stature in the British Commonwealth and virtually serves as a second national anthem, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" is suitable for various civic occasions in addition to its more common. See also PHH 90.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Tune Information:

Though no firm documentation exists, ST. ANNE was probably composed by William Croft (PHH 149), possibly when he was organist from 1700-1711 at St. Anne's Church in Soho, London, England. (According to tradition, St. Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary.) The tune was first published in A Supplement to the New Version (6th ed., 1708) as a setting for Psalm 42. ST. ANNE became a setting for "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), and the two have been inseparable ever since.

ST. ANNE shares its first melodic motif with a number of other tunes from the early eighteenth century; one example is Bach's great fugue in E-flat, nicknamed "St. Anne," though it uses only the first motif of ST. ANNE. The original "gathering notes" (where the first note of each phrase is doubled in length) have been changed to equal the tune's prevailing quarter-note rhythms. ST. ANNE is a strong tune that must not be sung too rapidly. On the final stanza, sing in a stately manner and try unison singing on the alternative accompaniment by David Johnson (PHH 433), which was first published in Free Organ Accompaniments to Festival Hymns, Vol. 1 (1963).

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

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