“O My Soul, Bless Thou Jehovah”

“O MY SOUL, BLESS THOU JEHOVAH”

“Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which exhorts us to bless the Lord with all that is in us is “O My Soul, Bless Thou Jehovah.”  The text is a paraphrase of Psalm 103 in four eight-line stanzas by an unknown author.  Many books use a tune (Autumn) that was composed in 1785 by Francois H. Barthélémon and is often associated with Robert Robinson’s hymn “Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee.”  A similar metrical version of Psalm 103, perhaps derived from the original one, beginning, “O My Soul, Bless God the Father,” though in at least six and perhaps eight four-line stanzas, was made for the United Presbyterian Book of Psalms in 1871.  The tune (Stuttgart) usually used with it is attributed by Christian F. Witt, taken from his 1715 Psalmodia Sacra, adapted by Henry J. Gauntlett, and most often associated with Richard Mant’s “God, My King, Thy Might Confessing.”  The arrangement that I found goes like this:

1.”O my soul, bless God the Father;

All within me bless His Name;

Bless the Father, and forget not

All His mercies to proclaim.”

2. “Who forgives all your transgressions,

Your diseases all Who heals;

Who redeems you from destruction,

Who with you so kindly deals.”

3. “Far as east from west is distant,

He has put away our sin.

Like the pity of a father

Has the Lord’s compassion been.”

4. “As it was without beginning

So it lasts without an end;

To their children’s children ever

Shall His righteousness extend.”

5. “Unto such as keep His covenant

And are steadfast in His way;

Unto those who still remember

His commandments, and obey.”

6. “Bless the Father, all His creatures,

Ever under His control,

All throughout His vast dominion;

Bless the Father, O my soul.”

     Around 1929, Harper Garcia Smyth, author and composer of the gospel song “Channels of Blessing,” produced another paraphrase of Psalm 103, seeming to take portions of one or the other, or perhaps both, or maybe even a different but similar version, beginning, “O my soul, bless thou Jehovah,” with each stanza consisting of four lines followed by a chorus of four lines beginning, “For as high as is the heaven.”   It was published in The New Christian Hymnal of 1929 edited by Henry J. Kuiper for the William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. of Grand Rapids, MI.  It looks like this:

1. “O my soul, bless thou Jehovah,

All within me bless His Name;

Bless Jehovah, and forget not

All His mercies to proclaim.

For as high as is the heaven

Far above the earth below,

Ever great to them that fear Him

Is the mercy He will ever, ever show.”

2. “Who forgives all thy transgressions,

Thy diseases all who heals,

Who redeems thee from destruction,

Who with thee so kindly dwells.

For as high as is the heaven

Far above the earth below,

Ever great to them that fear Him

Is the mercy He will ever, ever show.”

3. “He will not forever chide us,

Nor keep anger in His mind;

Hath not dealt as we offended,

Nor rewarded as we sinned.

For as high as is the heaven

Far above the earth below,

Ever great to them that fear Him

Is the mercy He will ever, ever show.”

4. “Far as east from west is distant,

He hath put away our sins;

Like the pity of a father

Hath the Lord’s compassion been.

For as high as is the heaven

Far above the earth below,

Ever great to them that fear Him

Is the mercy He will ever, ever show.” 

     Smyth’s arrangement is set to a tune (Lucia) that is taken from the well-known Sextet (Chi mi frena in tal momento?) in Act 2 of the opera Lucia di Lammermoor by the famous Italian opera composer Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti, who was born on Nov. 29, 1797, at Bergamo’s Borgo Canale quarter located just outside the city walls in Lombardy, Italy, the youngest of three sons.  His family was very poor with no tradition of music, his father being the caretaker of the town pawnshop, but Donizetti received some musical instruction from Johann Simon Mayr, a German musician who had come to Bergamo, and was enrolled at his Lezioni Caritatevoli school.  After writing his fourth opera he was offered a contract to compose in Naples as well as Rome and Milan.   Donizetti’s wife, Virginia Vasselli, gave birth to three children, none of whom survived, and she later died from cholera.  By 1843, Donizetti began exhibiting symptoms of illness.  In 1845, he was sent to Paris, where he could be cared for by friends and then back to Bergamo where he died on Apr. 8 1848.  Best known for his 75 operas, which include Anna Bolena, L’elisir d’amore, Don Pasquale, Lucrezia Borgia, and La fille du regiment, Donizetti also wrote music in a number of other forms, including some church works, sixteen symphonies, several instrumental concertos, nineteen string quartets, 193 songs, and other pieces.  His most famous opera, Lucia di Lammermoor with its Sextet, is based on the Walter Scott novel The Bride of Lammermoor. The original paraphrase of Psalm 103 can be sung to this same tune.

     The song extols the merciful character of God toward His children.

I. Stanza 1 blesses Jehovah for His forgiveness

“O my soul, bless thou Jehovah,

All within me, bless His Name;

Bless Jehovah and forget not

All His mercies to proclaim.

He forgives all thy transgressions,

Heals thy sicknesses and pains;

He redeems thee from destruction,

And His love thy life sustains.”

 A. Even the name of Jehovah should be blessed because it is holy and awesome: Ps. 111:9

 B. But especially He should be blessed because of His willingness to forgive: Ps. 85:2

 C. Therefore, we look to Him for redemption: Ps. 26:11

II. Stanza 2 blesses Jehovah for His righteousness

“He with tender mercies crowns thee,

Satisfies thy full request,

So that, like the tireless eagle,

Thou with youth renewed art blessed.

Righteous is the Lord in judgment

Unto all that are oppressed;

To His people He has ever

Made His goodness manifest.”

 A. The Lord crowns us with tender mercies so that like the tireless eagle we can be renewed: Isa. 40:31

 B. We can be assured that He will exhibit righteousness in His judgment: Ps. 22:31

 C. And we can know that His goodness will be manifest to His people forever: Ps. 21:3

III. Stanza 3 blesses Jehovah for His love

“Yea, the Lord is full of mercy

And compassion for distress,

Slow to anger and abundant

In His grace and tenderness.

He will be not be angry alway,

Nor will He forever chide;

Though we oft have sinned against Him,

Still His love and grace abide.”

 A. God’s love is demonstrated by His mercy, of which He is full: Ps. 100:5

 B. His love is also demonstrated by His compassion towards those in distress: Ps. 86:15

 C. And His love is demonstrated by His grace in being slow to anger: Ps. 84:11

IV. Stanza 4 blesses Jehovah for His pity

“As the heavens are high above us,

Great His love to us has proved;

Far as east from west is distant,

He has all our sins removed.

As a father loves his children,

Feeling pity for their woes,

So the Lord to those who fear Him

Mercy and compassion shows.”

 A. The fact is that all of God’s ways are higher than the heavens are from the earth: Isa. 55:9

 B. This high God is willing to remove or cleanse our sins if we meet His conditions: Ps. 51:2

 C. The reason for this is that He pities us as a father pities his children: Ps. 68:5

     CONCL.:  The Sextet from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is perhaps one of the composer’s best-known melodies, next to “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from L’elisir d’amore.  It may not be the easiest melody to sing, but the arrangement for congregational singing is simple enough to be within the reach of most congregations.  Psalm 103 is one of the most beautiful expressions of God’s mercy to sinful mankind in the Scriptures and serves to encourage me to tell myself, “O My Soul, Bless Thou Jehovah.”

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