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O God, Our Help in Ages Past

Representative Text

1 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home;

2 under the shadow of your throne
your saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is your arm alone,
and our defense is sure.

3 Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received its frame,
from everlasting you are God,
to endless years the same.

4 A thousand ages in your sight
are like an evening gone,
short as the watch that ends the night
before the rising sun.

5 Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the op’ning day.

6 O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

Source: Voices Together #203

Author: Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts was the son of a schoolmaster, and was born in Southampton, July 17, 1674. He is said to have shown remarkable precocity in childhood, beginning the study of Latin, in his fourth year, and writing respectable verses at the age of seven. At the age of sixteen, he went to London to study in the Academy of the Rev. Thomas Rowe, an Independent minister. In 1698, he became assistant minister of the Independent Church, Berry St., London. In 1702, he became pastor. In 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney, at his residence of Abney Park, and at Sir Thomas' pressing request, made it his home for the remainder of his life. It was a residence most favourable for his health, and for the prosecution of his literary… Go to person page >

Text Information

First Line: Our God, our help in ages past
Title: O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Author: Isaac Watts (1719)
Language: English
Copyright: Public Domain


Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 90:1
st. 2 = Ps. 90:1
st. 3 = Ps. 90:2
st. 4 = Ps. 90:4
st. 5 = Ps. 90:5
st. 6 = Ps. 90:1

Considered one of the finest paraphrases written by Isaac Watts (PHH 155), "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" expresses a strong note of assurance, promise, and hope in the LORD as recorded in the first part of Psalm 90, even though the entire psalm has a recurring theme of lament. Watts wrote the paraphrase in nine stanzas around 1714 and first published the text in his Psalms of David (1719). The Psalter Hymnal includes the most well-known stanzas. The first line, originally "Our God, our help … ," was changed to "O God, our help… “by John Wesley in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns. (1738). For further commentary on this psalm see PHH 90.

Liturgical Use:
Because it has great stature in the British Commonwealth and virtually serves as a second national anthem, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" is suitable for various civic occasions in addition to its more common. See also PHH 90.

--Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Our God, our help in ages past. I. Watts. [Ps. xc.] this is the first part of his C.M. rendering of Ps. xc, in 9 stanzas of 4 lines, which appeared in his Psalms of David, &c., 1719, p. 229, and entitled “Man Frail, and God Eternal.” This version of Ps. xc. Has come down to modern collections in the following forms:--
(1) The original, in a few instances in full, but oftener in an abbreviated form of stanzas i., ii., iii., v., vii., and ix.
(2) The altered text by J. Wesley, first published in his Collection of Psalms & Hymns, 1737, where it begins, “O God, our help,” &c. In this text alterations are introduced in stanzas i., ii., vi., and vii. This arrangement in 7 stanzas was included in the Wesleyan Hymn Book, 1780, No. 39, and has been retained in all subsequent editions of that collection. A collation of any hymnal with the original and these changes by J. Wesley, will shew that in nearly every case the stanzas taken are i., ii., iii., v., vii., ix., and the alterations, if any, are by J. Wesley. In Bigg’s Annotated Hymns Ancient &Modern, 1867, a rendering into Latin by C. S. Calverley, 1866, “Auxilium quondam, nunc spes,” is given of the Hymns Ancient & Modern text, which is the original, with J. Wesley’s “O God” for “Our God.”
(3) A curious arrangement of Watts with Tate & Brady was given by Toplady in his Psalms & Hymns, 1776, No. 308, in 10 stanzas of 4 lines. This cento is unknown to modern collections.
(4) In Stowell’s Manchester Collection, 1831, Ps. xc. is composed of stanzas i., ii., from this version by Watts; and iii.-v. by another hand. It is repeated in the 1877 edition by his son. It is a most unequal cento, with a grand opening and a most feeble finish.

Of Watts’s original it would be difficult to write too highly. It is undoubtedly one of his finest compostions, and his best paraphrase. In the commonly accepted form of six stanzas it is seen to the fullest advantage, the omitted portions being unequal to the rest, and impede the otherwise grandly sustained flow of thought. It has been rendered into many languages, and its use is universal. Original text in modern editions of Watts.

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)



Though no firm documentation exists, ST. ANNE was probably composed by William Croft (PHH 149), possibly when he was organist from 1700-1711 at St. Anne's Church in Soho, London, England. (According to tradition, St. Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary.) The tune was first published in A Suppleme…

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