This week’s hymn was my choice of opening hymn on Sunday at Caledonian Road and Islington Central Methodist Churches. I’m tempted to choose it for Archway this coming Sunday. With its emphasis on the reign of Christ, it is particularly appropriate for Ascensiontide.
The author of the hymn, Isaac Watts (1674-1748), has been called ‘the father of English hymnody’, who challenged the then almost universal use of metrical psalms in worship. ‘Jesus shall reign’ is based on Psalm 72, but in Watts’ hands the psalm is completely transformed so that its subject is explicitly Christ (The original title was ‘Christ’s Kingdom among the Gentiles’). In order to better apply the psalm to contemporary worship, Watts also changed the original geographical references (Tarshish, Sheba and Seba) to countries of his own day (Europe, Persia and India). These verses are now generally omitted. (A full version of the original can be found at this link.)
It was only in the 19th Century that the hymn gained popularity, likely “with the growth and development of Foreign Missions” (John Julian). John Telford relates a couple of stories of its use:
This hymn was sung on Whit Sunday, 1862, at the beginning of the service which King George of Tonga and his people held under the banyan-trees preparatory to the adoption of a Christian form of government. One after another broke down in sobs over the cannibal horrors from which the gospel had rescued them. Lancashire Fusiliers sang it on a hillside overlooking Jerusalem on the Sunday after the British entered the city (December, 1917). (The New Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated)
We sang the hymn to one of my favourite tunes, RIMINGTON. This was first printed in a leaflet in 1904, set to the present hymn.
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
For him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to 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 lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honours to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the long Amen.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
based on Psalm 72:5-19