O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST
Isaac Watts, 1674–1748
Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. (Psalm 90:1, 2)
It has been wisely said that no thinking person ever regarded the beginning of a new year with indifference. Each of us faces many concerns and questions as we stand on the threshold of the unknown future. The mystery of time is the subject of this hymn text, a paraphrase of Psalm 90. The hymn is considered by many to be one of the finest ever written and perhaps the best known of the 600 hymns by Isaac Watts, often called the “father of English hymnody.”
At an early age Isaac displayed unusual talent in writing poetic verse. As a young man he became increasingly concerned with the congregational singing in the English speaking churches. Only ponderous metrical psalms were used until this time. To use any words other than the actual words of Scripture would have been considered an insult to God. Challenged by his father to “write something better for us to sing,” young Watts began to create new versions of the psalms with inspiring and expressive style. Eventually, at the early age of 25, he published an important hymnal titled The Psalms of David in the Language of the New Testament.
In addition to “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” several of Watts’ other paraphrases based on psalm settings are hymn texts still widely sung today. They include such favorites as “Joy to the World,” Psalm 98; and “Jesus Shall Reign,” Psalm 72. After more than 250 years, Isaac Watts’ hymn is still a timely reminder of God’s faithfulness throughout the past and His sure promises for our future.
O 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 defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood or earth received her frame, from everlasting Thou art God, to endless years the same. Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.
Psalm 33:20; 48:14; 90; Isaiah 26:4