WE’RE MARCHING TO ZION
Isaac Watts, 1674–1748
You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. (Hebrews 12:22)
Should we sing psalms or hymns in our church services? This was the controversy stirring many congregations during the 17th and 18th centuries. Isaac Watts was the life-long champion of the “humanly composed” hymn while the majority of the English-speaking churches insisted on the traditional psalm settings. Tempers frequently flared, and some churches actually split in the heat of this decidedly inharmonious musical conflict. In some churches a compromise was reached. The psalm setting would be sung in the early part of the service with a hymn used at the close, during which time the parishioners could leave or simply refuse to sing.
Isaac Watts’ “Come, We That Love the Lord” was no doubt written in part to refute his critics, who termed his hymns “Watts’ Whims,” as well as to provide some subtle barbs for those who refused to sing his hymns: “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God; but children of the heavenly King may speak their joys abroad.” The hymn first appeared in Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs of 1707 and was titled “Heavenly Joy on Earth.”
Still today there exists a controversy within some evangelical congregations regarding the use of traditional versus contemporary sacred music. Although we may each have our own preference, cultural differences such as this should never be a cause for disrupting the unity of any group of believers. This epigram by Augustine, the early church theologian, is still worthy of our earnest consideration: “Let there be in the essentials, unity. In all non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”
Come, we that love the Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, and thus surround the throne.
Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God; but children of the heav’nly King may speak their joys abroad.
The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heav’nly fields, or walk the golden streets.
Then let our songs abound and ev’ry tear be dry; we’re marching thru Immanuel’s ground to fairer worlds on high.
Chorus: We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion; we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.
For Today: Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 35:10; Habakkuk 3:17, 18; 1 Peter 4:13
Determine to follow the suggestion of this hymn: “Let our joys [not our minor differences] be known and thus surround the throne.” Rejoice in the truth that the best is yet to come—“fairer worlds on high.”