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A Sermon in Song based on the Hymn:

O God Our Help in Ages Past


In Hymns and the Faith, the noted English hymnologist Erik Routley calls O God Our Help in Ages Past the gravest and the most universal of English hymns. Isaac Watts wrote this hymn during perilous times in England, when religious people were thrown in jail for not conforming to the practices of the established church. This hymn was written shortly before the death of Queen Anne and at a time of acute national anxiety about the succession to the throne.

Our God Our Help in Ages Past in nine stanzas was first published in Watt’s Psalms of David (1719) with the formal title Man Frail and God Eternal. John Wesley altered the first line to begin “O God Our Help” by which the hymn is known today.

The hymn is Watt’s metrical version of Psalm 90:1–5. “It is true that some of Watt’s phrases are very close to those of the psalm as it appeared in the Authorized Version … more often the hymn amplifies a single line in the psalm and turns it into a piece of inspired poetry with a profound depth and great beauty.” (Bradley, The Book of Hymns 335)

The original title Man Frail and God Eternal suggests the dominant theme of the nine stanzas written by Watts. Three stanzas which dwell on human frailty have been dropped which makes the hymn less complete but easier to sing. This hymn reminds us “in language, both solemn and sublime, of the contrast between the brevity of human existence and the eternity of God. There is something majestic in the very simplicity of these words.”

Psalm 90 is a profound commentary on the mystery of Time: time passes and brings sorrow and joy, time that is filled with hope in God, and time that strikes the hour for decision. “God stands above human time, and in Him all our anxieties can be laid to rest . … When the events of the day bring worry, the God of the ages remains our eternal home.” (One Year Book of Hymns)

By universal consent this hymn is one of the greatest in English hymnody. It is found in practically every hymnal. No other embraces in such moving language the whole scope of history, faith in a God who realizes His purposes through history, and the solidarity of a nation, which in times of crisis places its hope in the Eternal. This hymn was among several chosen by George W. Bush for the National Day of Prayer on September 14, 2001, at a service to honor the 9/11 victims, held in the Washington National Cathedral.


Now we will sing songs based on phrases from this great hymn (either whole songs or just the pertinent verse):



Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! – “Thou on earth our help”

Beauty for Ashes – “help He provideth”

Jesus, Lover of My Soul – “All my help from Thee I bring”

I Must Tell Jesus – “in my distress He kindly will help me”

Abide With Me – “Help of the helpless, O abide with me”

God Is Love – “He is our help, our hope, our strength”

To Christ Be Loyal and Be True – “help you all your conflicts through”



Great is Thy Faithfulness – “bright hope for tomorrow”

Be Still My Soul – “thy hope thy confidence”

Beauty for Ashes – “hope for tomorrow:”

Since Jesus Came Into My Heart – “I’m possessed of a hope”

Jesus, Rose of Sharon – “giving needy mortals health and hope again”

Paradise Valley – “glorious hope on the way”

O Master Let Me Walk With Thee – “in hope that sends a shining ray”

Heaven Came Down – “now I’ve a hope”

One Step At A Time – “till hope grows stronger in me”



Be Thou My Vision – “Be Thou my soul’s shelter”

I’ll Never Forsake My Lord – “‘neath His sheltering arm”

Living By Faith – “from all harm safe in His sheltering arms”

Nearer, Still Nearer – “shelter me safe in that haven of rest”

Shelter In The Time of Storm

The Ninety and Nine – “in the shelter of the fold sheltered, protected”

There’s Within My Heart – “‘neath His sheltering wing”

Under His Wings – “sheltered, protected”



O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink – “an eternal home”

Beyond the Sunset

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand – “build your hope on things eternal”

Home of the Soul

I Know That My Redeemer Lives – “a home, a house not made with hands”

When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder



Sermon in Song prepared by Paul Brown (1929-2017)

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