Hymn of the Week: I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath

Today’s hymn of the week is Isaac Watts’ metrical adaptation of Psalm 146, the lectionary psalm for Ordinary 31B. First published in Psalms of David (1719) in six stanzas, the version  usually sung today is John Wesley’s revision, which omits Watts’ verses 2 and 5. (To see Watts’ original presented in parallel with the psalm follow this link.)

This hymn has long had a special place in Methodism. John Telford (The Methodist Hymnbook Illustrated) writes:

Wesley never ceased to love this hymn. Miss Ritchie calls it ‘his favourite psalm.’ He gave it out before his sermon in his last service at City Road on Tuesday evening, February 22, 1791. Next day he preached his last sermon at Leatherhead. He returned home to City Road on Friday morning, and on the Monday afternoon, while his clothes were being brought that he might get up, he broke out singing the first and second verses of ‘I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath’ (‘these blessed words,’ as Miss Ritchie calls them in her account of his death) with a vigour that astonished all his friends. The tune was the Old 113th, which was a special favourite of his… During the Tuesday night he was often heard (Tyerman says ‘ scores of times ‘) trying to repeat ‘the psalm before mentioned,’ but could only get out, ‘ I’ll praise — I’ll praise’.

This is the hymn as published in Singing the Faith:

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath;
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.

Happy are they whose hopes rely
On Israel’s God: he made the sky,
And earth, and seas, with all their train;
His truth for ever stands secure;
He saves the oppressed, he feeds the poor,
And none shall find his promise vain.

The Lord pours eye-sight on the blind;
The Lord supports the fainting mind;
He sends the labouring conscience peace;
He helps the stranger in distress,
The widow, and the fatherless,
And grants the prisoner sweet release.

I’ll praise him while he lends me breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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