“Unto the Hills”

"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (Ps. 121:1)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to lift up our eyes to the hills from whence comes our help is "Unto the Hills" (#648 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text, a paraphrase of Psalm 121, was written by John Douglas Sutherland Campbell, who was born at St. James, Staffordhouse, in Westminster, Middlesex, England, on Aug. 6, 1845. As chief of the Campbell clans, he was Marquis of Lorne and later became the ninth Duke of Argyll. After his education at Eton, at St. Andrews, and at Trinity College in Cambridge, he became a liberal member of Parliament for Argyll in 1868. Then in 1871, he married Princess Louisa Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria. This metrical version of Psalm 121 is sometimes dated 1866 or 1870, but it was first published in his 1877 Book of Psalms, Literally Rendered in Verse. The 1866 and 1870 dates could both be misprints for 1877, or, given Donald Hustad’s observation that "it was written…before he became a public figure," which occurred following his marriage, one of the earlier dates could be correct for the actual writing and it was just not published until 1877.

     After serving for three years as private secretary to his father, who was Secretary of State for India, Campbell was appointed Governor-General of Canada where he served in this capacity as the official representative of the Queen from 1878 to 1883. As he was quite popular with the Canadians, the province of Alberta was named for his wife. Also, he founded the Royal Society of Canada to promote the arts and sciences and authored two books about the country. At the end of his term in office, he returned to England and again served in Parliament as a Unionist member for South Manchester from 1895 to 1900 and as Governor and Constable of Windsor Castle. In addition, he was a good friend of the Poet Laureate Alfred Tennyson. Apparently Campbell, or someone, made a few alterations in "Unto the Hills" in 1909. Well known as a writer of both prose and poetry, in addition to being a strong and earnest churchman, Campbell died on May 2, 1914, of double pneumonia while vacationing at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

     All of our books use a tune (Sandon or Landon) which had been composed in 1860 by Charles Henry Purday (1799-1855). It was originally published in his Church and Home Metrical Psalter and Hymnal with the text "Lead, Kindly Light," written in 1833 by John Henry Newman. However, some of our books also use this same tune with another hymn, "Light of the World" written by Laura O. D. Chant. Many older books use another tune (Lux Benigna) composed in 1885 by Albert Lister Peace (1844-1912). Peace is perhaps best remembered as the composer for the standard tune used with George Mattheson’s "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go." Also he composed a tune that some of our books use with Charles Wesley’s "Must We Be to the Judgment Brought." The original Hymns for Worship contained the entire hymn with Purday’s original tune, but when the Revised edition came out with the tune arranged by Craig Roberts and editor R. J. Stevens, for some reason only two stanzas, the first and the fourth, were used.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Unto the Hills" appeared in the 1922 edition of 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 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  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 1983 edition of the 1978 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; in addition to Hymns for Worship, and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.

     The hymn exhorts us to look to God above for assistance in the trials and tribulations of life.

I. According to stanza 1, we find that our hel comes from God.
"Unto the hills around do I lift up My longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come, From whence arise?
From God the Lord doth come my certain aid,
From God the Lord, who heaven and earth hath made."
 A. Lifting up our eyes to the hills symbolizes looking to God above for our help: Ps. 121:2
 B. The Lord has promised to be our aid or helper: Heb. 13:6
 C. And we can trust His power to help us because He made heaven and earth: Gen. 1:1

II. According to stanza 2, we find that God will keep those who trust Him.
"He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be;
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, Who keepeth thee.
Behold, He sleepeth not, He slumbereth ne’er,
(The altered version reads, "Behold, our God, the Lord, He slumbereth ne’er")
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care."
 A. His promise to watch over and protect His people is symbolized by not suffering that their foot be moved: Ps.  91:11-12
 B. We know that God will keep us safe because He never sleeps nor slumbers: Ps. 121:3-4
 C. Thus, we can rest assured that He cares for us: 1 Pet. 5:7

III. According to stanza 3, we find that God is changeless in His care.
"Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true: Thy changeless shade;
Jehovah evermore on thy right hand Himself hath made.
(The altered version reads, "Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand")
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite,
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night."
 A. The Lord has promised to be our keeper if we follow Him: Prov. 3:26
 B. The idea of being on one’s right hand suggests present and ready to help: Ps. 16:8
 C. Because God will always protect us, we need fear neither the hot sun nor darkness: Ps. 121:5-6

IV. According to stanza 4, we find that God will prserve us unto eternity.
"From every evil shall He keep thy soul, From every sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, Thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forever more."
 A. Certainly, we look to God to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one: Matt. 6:13
 B. Therefore, we trust in His promise to preserve our going out and coming in: Ps. 41:1-2
 C. The Lord will guide us throughlut this life on our journey to heaven: Ps. 121:7-8

     CONCL.: The story is told that one day the pioneer preacher "Raccoon" John Smith returned from a preaching trip and found his cabin burned to the ground. His wife and children, except for one son who was visiting a neighbor, had been killed in the fire. Witnesses reported that in the face of this tragedy, he knelt to the ground, quoted Psalm 121, and prayed to the Lord as he lifted his eyes "Unto the Hills."


One thought on ““Unto the Hills”

  1. Please note that the tune "Lux Benigna" was written by John Bacchus Dykes, and not Albert Lister Peace, who did however write a tune called "Lux Beata" for the same original words (Lead, kindly Light)


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