Jeremy Taylor on a hymn by Isaac Watts (1719)
It’s a common practice in modern songwriting to take an older song and modernize it, either by changing the words slightly or changing the tune. This is nothing new—in 1719, Isaac Watts did something very similar. He took an old song—Psalm 72—and wrote a “contemporary” song based on it. Watts once wrote that he felt some psalms were unsuitable for Christian worship because they were written before the completion of God’s redemption and revelation. So when he wrote the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign,” he applied a distinctly Christian focus to a psalm written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus.
In Psalm 72, Solomon wrote, speaking of the king, “May he have dominion from Sea to Sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Watts applied that to Christ, writing that “His kingdom shall spread from shore to shore.”
In 1797 there was no great missions effort yet underway. It wasn’t until sixty years later that William Carey, the father of modern missions, set sail for India. Today, the church is active in missions all around the world. The work is not yet done, but what a wonderful testament it is to God’s work in the world that Isaac Watts’s vision has come to pass. Of course, there has never been a time when the words of this hymn were not true. But we can rejoice that today we see people living out God’s Word and following Jesus from shore to shore and to the ends of the earth.
Jesus shall reign wheree’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And endless praises crown His head;
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.
Blessings abound where’er He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to loose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
Let every creature rise and bring
His grateful honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!