I have no idea what prompted me to choose this hymn today. It’s not a particular favourite, I don’t actually know it that well. As I sit here thinking about these words and this tune, I find myself wondering if I made the right selection. What’s odd, is that the words weren’t even written by one person. The first two verses by the famous Isaac Watts in 1719, the last two added later around 1781, possibly by the editor of A Pocket Hymn-Book, Robert Spence. They are based on Psalm 117 – which is very short at about three sentences. A simple act of praise, in gratitude for kindness and truth, faithfulness and love. And, well, maybe that’s just what I needed.
From all that dwell below the skies,
let the Creator’s praise arise;
let the Redeemer’s name be sung,
through every land by every tongue.
Eternal are thy mercies, Lord;
eternal truth attends thy word.
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore,
till suns shall rise and set no more.
Your lofty themes, ye mortals, bring,
in songs of praise divinely sing;
the great salvation loud proclaim,
and shout for joy the Savior’s name.
In every land begin the song;
to every land the strains belong;
in cheerful sounds all voices raise,
and fill the world with loudest praise.
It is interesting that these words are based on a Psalm of David, and yet speak so fervently about New Testament themes of salvation and a saviour. I’m not particularly interested in that, and find it quite strange, actually. But I do like the idea that it is possible for the entire world to look upon creation and raise our voices in praise. That all who dwell below the skies, can sing with cheerful sounds. The last verse is quite lovely. Not only does every land begin to sing, but the song also belongs to every land. Think about that. If we were to accept the songs offered by our neighbours across this world, if we were to sing together in our various voices, what a tremendous sound could fill the air.
Is that what we are doing? Every day we hear about how the choices of people unaffected by this virus are protecting those who are vulnerable. I sit here healthy, at home, so someone else doesn’t catch this thing; so a hospital near me isn’t stretched beyond its capacity. It is a song I am singing in unison, in harmony with people all over this planet. Millions and millions of people are choosing to raise this powerful sound; choosing to accept a difficult truth and act accordingly, from one shore to the next. It is imperfect, but it is happening.
I understand this is not what the Psalmist intended. The origins of these words are about praise to a loving, faithful God. They are about asking all on this earth to join in that praise. But as always, I think there is more to this. It is also a broader concept. If God, or nature, or spirit, or sacred, can be bigger than our personal definitions, this is about everything on this earth and how connected we all are. There is something about the ideas of love and truth and kindness and faithfulness that tie us together. Being joined by these things allows the whole to flourish, whereas choosing self merely devises our end. These things are worthy of our praise. It is folly to to praise selfishness, and its ability to deceive us, for it only sacrifices both the singers and the song.
There is tremendous strength in our voices, in our actions. All of them. Every land, every tongue. When they are joined in praise of what is good, what is right, they are a powerful force. There are eternal truths below the skies. They are those things that offer the greatest love, kindness, hope, faithfulness, joy, beauty, and generosity to all without discrimination or expectation. If what we say and do doesn’t meet that standard, it just isn’t worthy of praise. But when it does, it will sound from shore to shore, till suns shall rise and set no more.