“Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing”

“O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 136:1)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourage us to give thanks to the Lord because He is good and His mercy endures forever is “Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing.” The text was written by Henry Stevenson Washburne (or Washburn), who was born at Providence, RI, on June 10, 1813, and spent his early years in Kingston, MA. After he had finished his education at the local grammar school, he worked in a bookstore at Boston, MA. Then he later attended Worcester Academy and entered Brown University to study law; one source says that he received no degree because of health problems but another said that he graduated in 1836. The following year he married Maria Carlisle Loring, and to their union were born five children. Active in various enterprises of the Baptist Church, he later became the director of publications with the New England Sabbath School Union for a time, where he originated the Young Reaper of which he was the editor for seven years, and then entered business at Worcester and Boston. Ultimately, he was employed by the Union Mutual Life Insurance Company where he rose to become president of the firm. Also, he served on the Boston School Board for nine years, was state representative from 1871 to 1872, and served one year as state senate in 1873 where he was the chairman of the committee on education. In 1876, he made a three year trip to Europe where he surveyed the condition of the insurance business for his company. His wife died in 1900, and Washburne himself died at Boston in 1903.

     Washburne produced many poems and hymns which were widely circulated in his day. Little is known about the origin of “Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing.” It is dated 1842. Sometime during or after the Civil War, he wrote a poem entitled “The Vacant Chair” to commemorate the death of an eighteen year old Union Army lieutenant who was killed in action around Thanksgiving of 1861. It, along with several other of his poems, were published as The Vacant Chair and Other Poems in 1895. That volume contained the following poem by Washburne entitled “Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing” with the note that it was “Sung by children of the Sabbath Schools of Boston in Fanueil Hall, July 4, 1842.” However, it is somewhat different from the hymn as we have it.
1. “Let every heart rejoice and sing, Let the swelling chorus rise:
Ye reverend men and children, bring To God your sacrifice:
Whilst the breath of the morning floateth Along our valleys fair,
And the song of gladness riseth, Upon the dewy air–
While the rocks and the rills, While the vales and the hills,
A glorious anthem raise– Let each prolong
The grateful song, And the God of our fathers praise!”
2. “Where first the voice of freedom Was heard in days of yore,
Now let the children’s children Repeat that song once more;
While our country’s banner o’er us Still waveth proudly free,
Oh, let the exulting chorus Ascend, great God, to thee:
While the rocks and the rills, While the vales and the hills,
A glorious anthem raise– Let each prolong
The grateful song, And the God of our fathers praise!”

     Forrest M. McCann in Hymns and History says that the text, presumably as we know it, was first published in The Psalmist, A New Collection of Hymns for the Use of Baptist Churches edited by Baron Stow and S. F. Smith at Boston for Kendall and Lincoln in 1843. Perhaps Washburne himself, or someone else, altered his original text to make it more suitable for general worship. The tune (Washburne) was composed by George Job Elvey (1803-1887). It is dated 1848, but I have found nothing about the circumstances of its composition. Some have suggested that it might have been a singing school exercise. Among hymnbooks published by brethren during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, 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; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; and the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons. Today, it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised 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. All of these have but two stanzas and a rather long chorus. I have taken the first four lines of the chorus to make a third stanza, and then begun the chorus with “While the rocks and the rills,” which seems to be in harmony with Washburne’s original poem.

     The song suggests several ideas related to praising God.

I. Stanza 1 indicates who should praise
“Let every heart rejoice and sing, Let choral anthems rise;
Ye aged men and children bring To God your sacrifice.”
 A. Every heart is encouraged to sing praise to the Lord: Ps. 150:6
 B. This includes both aged men and children: Ps. 148:12-13
 C. In doing so, we bring to God the sacrifice of praise continually: Heb. 13:15

II. Stanza 2 indicates how we should praise
“He bids the sun to rise and set; In heaven His power is known;
And earth subdued to Him shall yet Bow low before His throne.”
 A. Even the sun rising and setting in obedience to God’s will declares the glory of God: Ps. 19:1-6
 B. God wants the earth likewise to be subdued to Him: Ps. 66:1-4
 C. Thus, one way way that we praise the Lord is to bow low before His throne: Ps. 95:1-6

III. Stanza 3 indicates why we should praise
“For He is good, the Lord is good, And kind are all His ways;
With songs and honors sounding loud, The Lord Jehovah praise.”
 A. We should praise the Lord for He is good: Ps. 100:4-5
 B. Also, we should praise the Lord for His ways are kind: Ps. 117:1-2
 C. Therefore, Jehovah should be praised with songs and honors sounding loud: Ps. 69:30

     CONCL.: The chorus then encourages both the inanimate and the intelligent creation to prolong the grateful song of praise to God.
“While the rocks and the rills, While the vales and the hills
A glorious anthem raise;
Let each prolong the grateful song,
And the God of our fathers praise, And the God of our fathers praise.”
This song sounds very Psalm-like, but other than the general scripture references that some hymnbooks use with hymns, I could find no confirmation that it might have been based on a specific Psalm (although it does sound a little like the first few verses of Psalm 136). When we think of all that God has done for us–both the physical blessings of this earth that He has bestowed upon the whole world to provide for all our needs and the redemption that He offers to sinful mankind through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross–we should certainly want to lift our voices in praise to Him as we “Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing.”


One thought on ““Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing”

  1. I just discovered this hymn this morning and now found your thoughts about it. I like the way you set up your response with the text and the scriptures which support it directly after each line. Brilliant. Would to God, we’d see more of this in not just every song but in every text, period, so that such freedoms in our land truly might be known amongst our dear little children. I hope to see this hymn more often and would even like to see someone produce a version that those in radio land might grab on to so that others might discover it, too. Thank you for the scriptural supports. God bless you for those!


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