“Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne”

"The four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne….saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, honor, and power" (Rev. 4.10-11)

     INTRO.: A hymn which has appeared in some of our books and ascribes glory, honor, and power to Him who sits on the throne of heaven is "Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne." The original text, based on Ps. 100 and beginning "Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice," was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). It was penned perhaps in 1705 and first appeared with five stanzas in his 1706 Hora Lyricae. The author revised it and added a sixth stanza for publication in his 1719 collection, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. It was further edited by John Benjamin Wesley, who was born at Epworth in Lincolnshire, England, on June 17, 1703, the son of Anglican minister Samuel Wesley and his wife Susanna. After being educated at home by his mother, Charterhouse School, and Christ Church of Oxford, he became a minister of the Church of England in 1728 and served first with his father at Epworth. In 1729 he began serving as a tutor at Lincoln College of Oxford and became active in the Holy Club with his brother Charles. In 1735, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent John and several others to Georgia while Charles served as secretary to Governor Oglethorpe. On the voyage to America, John was deeply moved by the religious demeanor of a group of Moravians. While there, John worked as minister with the church in Savannah.

     For his first hymnbook, the 1737 Collection of Psalms and Hymns, printed in Charleston, SC, which contained psalm parahprases, standard English hymns, and translations of German poetry, Wesley dropped Watts’s first stanza of the Psalm 100 parapharse and changed the opening lines of the second, now stanza one, from "Nations attend before his throne, With solemn fear, with sacred joy" to their present form.  Wesley also omitted Watts’s stanza four, but this has been restored by later editors. After
his return to England in 1738, Wesley had a deep religious experience while attending a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate St., and dated his "conversion" from that time. Although he never joined the Moravians and later openly dissented from some of their beliefs, he did adopt some of their devotion into his preaching, and the following year he and Charles began to travel all over England, Ireland, and Wales with a fervent evangelical message which urged people to return to holiness of life.  For the next fifty years, he travelled some 225,000 miles, delivered more than 40,000 sermons, and converted at least 100,000 people. The Wesleys never left the Church of England, but since they were not welcome in most Anglican churches, they and their followers often established their own meeting houses, such as The Foundry in London, which became their headquarters.

     John Wesley produced only about 27 original hymns and translations, but his 1780 Collection of Hymns for the People Called Methodists was the ancestor of all subsequent Methodist hymnbooks in both England and the United States. Some time after his death at London, England, on Mar. 2, 1791, his followers broke from the Church of England and formed the Methodist Church. With this Watts/Wesley hymn, most of our books have either indicated or used the tune "Old Hundredth," which is usually attributed to Louis Bourgeois and most often associated with William Kethe’s metrical version of Psalm 100, beginning, "All people that on earth do dwell," as well as with the "Doxology" of Thomas Ken beginning, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." However, a newer tune (Watts) was composed for this text by John David Brunk (1872-1926). It is dated 1910 and was likely first published in the 1911 Supplement to the 1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal, a Mennonite hymnbook of which he was the music editor. The song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today it can still be found today in the 1986 Great Songs Revised (with a tune "Winchester New") edited by Forrest M. McCann, and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     This hymn expresses the kind of attitude that we need to have when we worship.

I. The first stanza speaks of God’s throne
"Before Jehovah’s awful throne, Ye nations, bow with sacred joy:
Know that the Lord is God alone: He can create and He destroy."
 A. Jehovah is pictured in scripture as sitting on the throne of heaven: Isa. 66.1 ("awful" here is used in its original sense of "full of awe," not in our colloquial idiom of something distasteful)
 B. Therefore, we can know that He is God alone: Ps. 86.10
 C. And this God is the Creator of everything that exists: Gen. 1.1

II. The second stanza speaks of God’s power
"His sovereign power, without our aid, Made us of clay, and formed us men;
And when like wandering sheep we strayed, He brought us to His fold again."
 A. Jehovah God is a God of almighty power: Ps. 62.11
 B. This power was demonstrated in making man from clay: Gen. 2.6
 C. And this power is still available to bring wandering sheep to His fold: Lk. 15.4-7

III. The third stanza speaks of God’s people
"We are His people, we His care, Our souls, and all our mortal frame;
What lasting honors shall we rear, Almighty Maker, to Thy name?"
 A. God has made it possible for us to be His people: 1 Pet. 2.9-10
 B. And as His people, we are His special care because He cares for us: 1 Pet. 5.7
C. Therefore, we should seek to rear lasting honors to His name: Ps. 66.1-3

IV. The fourth stanza speaks of God’s praise
"We’ll crowd Thy gates with thankful songs, High as the heavens our voices raise;
And earth, with her ten thousand tongues, Shall fill Thy courts with sounding praise."
 A. The songs that we sing should be filled with thanksgiving: Ps. 95.1-6
 B. Our voices should be raised high in triumph: Ps. 47.1-2
 C. And our tongues should resound with his praise: Heb. 13.15

V. The fifth stanza speaks of God’s character
"Wide as the world is Thy command, Vast as eternity Thy love;
Firm as a rock Thy truth must stand, When rolling years shall cease to move."
 A. His character is indicated by His command: Ps. 119.96
 B. His character is demonstrated by His love: Ps. 42.8
 C. His character is defined by His truth: Ps. 117.1-2

VI. Watts’s original first stanza speaks of God’s adoration
"Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice, Let every land His name adore;
The British Isles shall send the noise Across the ocean to the shore."
 A. In adoring God, our voices should be cheerful: Ps. 67.4
 B. This adoration should be heard in every land: Ps. 22.27-28
 C. This stanza was probably dropped because of the reference to the British Isles; but it could be altered to "The whole wide world shall send the noise." Thus, this would be saying that God’s adoration should spread from sea to sea: Ps. 72.8

     CONCL.: Isaac Watts’s Psalms of David were not mere metrical versions of the Psalms, as had been used previously in Calvinistic churches of Geneva, England, and especially Scotland. Rather, they were paraphrased versions that included New Testament concepts, as he indicated in the title, "Imitated in the Language of the New Testament."  A few of them are still used today, but most of them are not as wildly and widely popular as they once were. However, hymns such as this can still be useful to remind us of the need to make sure that we give the Lord the glory, honor, and praise due His name when we come "Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne."


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