1 Our 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 her 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 The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
with all their lives and cares,
are carried downward by your flood,
and lost in foll'wing years.
6 Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
bears all its sons away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op'ning day.
7 Our God, our help in ages past
our hope for years to come:
O be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.
Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #222
|First Line:||Our God, our help in ages past|
|Title:||O God, Our Help in Ages Past|
|Author:||Isaac Watts (1719)|
This text was written by Isaac Watts in 1714, shortly before the death of Queen Anne of England. This was a time of great crises and turmoil, as the successor of Queen Anne was as yet undetermined, and the fear of a monarch who would reinstate the persecution of Protestants was great. King George I prevented such persecution, but the fear before Anne’s death was great. This was the context in which Watts wrote his powerful text, now lauded as “one of the grandest in the whole realm of English Hymnody” (Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns, 54).
Watts’ text was published in The Psalms of David Imitated, 1719, in nine stanzas. Now, the original first, second, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth stanza are commonly sung. In 1738, John Wesley changed “Our God, our help” to “O God, our help” for Collection of Psalms and Hymns.
ST. ANNE was first published as a setting for Psalm 42, but in 1861, for Hymns Ancient and Modern, it was made a setting for Watts’ text, and the two have been paired together ever since. It is most probably that the tune was composed by William Croft, though there is no documentation that guarantees this. Erick Routley calls this “the most celebrated of all English tunes” (Westermeyer, Let the People Sing, 172). This hymn requires a moderate tempo, a stately manner, and a big sound – whether that be with festive organ, trumpets, or lower octave piano.
As a declaration of trust, an assurance of God’s providence, and a reminder of our own limitations, this hymn can be sung at just about any time in any circumstance. It is particularly fitting for Old/New Year services, for funerals, services of lament/comfort, or celebrations of God’s faithfulness. The Psalter Hymnal Handbook editors write that this hymn “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” (PHH).Thus, this hymn is appropriate for celebration, but particularly as an assurance in times of lament or fear, or as a song of our own faith and trust in the face of trials. It is often sung during services of civil memorials, such as Canada’s Remembrance Day or British civic holidays.
Alternative Harmonization for Organ:
Alternative Harmonization for Piano:
Laura de Jong, Hymnary.org