Our God, Our Help in Ages Past

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Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
Isaac Watts from NPG.jpg
Isaac Watts
Genre Hymn
Text Isaac Watts
Based on Psalm90
Meter8.6.8.6 (C.M.)
Melody"St. Anne" by William Croft

"Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" is a hymn by Isaac Watts that paraphrases the 90th Psalm of the Book of Psalms. It originally consisted of nine stanzas; however, in present usage the fourth, sixth, and eighth stanzas are commonly omitted to leave a total of six (Methodist books also include the original sixth stanza to leave a total of seven). In 1738, John Wesley in his hymnal, Psalms and Hymns, changed the first line of the text from "Our God" to "O God." Both Watts' wording and Wesley's rewording remain in current use.

Isaac Watts English hymnwriter, theologian and logician

Isaac Watts was an English Christian minister (Congregational), hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was a prolific and popular hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. He is recognized as the "Godfather of English Hymnody"; many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into numerous languages.


A paraphrase is a restatement of the meaning of a text or passage using other words. The term itself is derived via Latin paraphrasis from Greek παράφρασις, meaning "additional manner of expression". The act of paraphrasing is also called "paraphrasis".

Psalm 90 is the 90th psalm from the Book of Psalms. In the Greek Septuagint version of the bible, and in its Latin translation in the Vulgate, this psalm is Psalm 89 in a slightly different numbering system. Unique among the Psalms, it is attributed to Moses, thus making it the first Psalm to be written chronologically. The Psalm is well known for its reference to human life expectancy being 70 or 80, although the Psalm's attributed author, Moses, lived to 120 years, according to Biblical tradition.



The hymn was originally part of The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, published by Watts in 1719. In this book he paraphrased in Christian verse the entire psalter with the exception of twelve Psalms which he felt were unsuited for Christian usage.

Verse (poetry) single metrical line in a poetic composition

In the countable sense, a verse is formally a single metrical line in a poetic composition. However, verse has come to represent any division or grouping of words in a poetic composition, with groupings traditionally having been referred to as stanzas.

Psalter Volume containing the Book of Psalms and often other devotional material

A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art.

The hymn is often sung as part of the remembrance day service in Canada and festive occasions in England.

The hymn tune "St. Anne" (common metre 86.86) to which the text is most often sung was composed by William Croft in 1708 whilst he was the organist of the church of St Anne, Soho: hence the name of the tune. It first appeared anonymously in the Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, 6th edition in 1708. It was originally intended to be used with a version of Psalm 62. It was not until sometime later when set to Watts' text that the tune gained recognition.

Hymn tune musical setting of a Christian hymn; the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung

A hymn tune is the melody of a musical composition to which a hymn text is sung. Musically speaking, a hymn is generally understood to have four-part harmony, a fast harmonic rhythm, and no refrain or chorus.

Common metre or common measure—abbreviated as C. M. or CM—is a poetic metre consisting of four lines which alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with each foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. The metre is denoted by the syllable count of each line, i.e., 86.86, or 86 86, depending on style, or by its shorthand abbreviation "CM".

William Croft English composer and organist

William Croft was an English composer and organist.

William Croft from NPG William Croft from NPG.jpg
William Croft from NPG

Later composers subsequently incorporated the tune in their own works. For example, George Handel used the tune in an anthem entitled, "O Praise the Lord". J. S. Bach's Fugue in E-flat major BWV 552 is often called the "St. Anne" in the English speaking world, because of the similarity of its subject to the first line of the hymn tune, though there is some debate as to whether Bach used the actual tune after hearing it, or coincidentally created himself the very similar tune used as the fugual theme. Young Bach's inspirator and mentor Dieterich Buxtehude, churchadministrator and organist of St.Mary's in Lübeck in North-Germany, used the same first line of the hymn tune as theme for the (first) fugue of his Praeludium-pedaliter in E-major for organ.

Arthur Sullivan uses the tune in the first and last sections of his Festival Te Deum , first in a relatively standard setting, but eventually pairing it with a military march accompaniment. The American composer Carl Ruggles (1876–1971) used the text in his last composition, "Exaltation" (for Brass, Chorus, and Organ) in 1958, in memory of his wife Charlotte who had died the previous year. The hymn and words are also featured in Vaughan Williams's anthem "Lord, thou hast been our refuge", using both the Book of Common Prayer's words and those of Watts. Brother Colin Smith also arranged a setting of this hymn. [1]

Arthur Sullivan English composer of the Gilbert & Sullivan duo

Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan MVO was an English composer. He is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert, including H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. His works include 24 operas, 11 major orchestral works, ten choral works and oratorios, two ballets, incidental music to several plays, and numerous church pieces, songs, and piano and chamber pieces. His hymns and songs include "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "The Lost Chord".

Festival Te Deum

The Festival Te Deum is the popular name for an 1872 composition by Arthur Sullivan, written to celebrate the recovery of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales from typhoid fever. The prince's father, Prince Albert, had died of typhoid fever in 1861, and so the prince's recovery was especial cause for celebration.

Carl Ruggles American composer

Charles Sprague "Carl" Ruggles was an American composer. He wrote finely crafted pieces using "dissonant counterpoint", a term coined by Charles Seeger to describe Ruggles' music. His method of atonal counterpoint was based on a non-serial technique of avoiding repeating a pitch class until a generally fixed number such as eight pitch classes intervened. He wrote painstakingly slowly so his output is quite small.

Notable uses


Italicised lyrics denote verses not commonly in current use.

Our [6] God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under [7] the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again. [8]

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years. [8]

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night. [8]

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles [9] last,
And our eternal home.

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  1. "apmn - Donrita Reefman". Apmn.org.au. Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  2. Our God, Our Help in Ages Past
  3. Parker, WG. "An Historical link with 1941 – World War II". Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2008.
  4. The picturesque prison: Evelyn Waugh and his writing, Jeffrey M. Heath
  5. Cobain, Ian (27 June 2017). "Troubled past: the paramilitary connection that still haunts the DUP". theguardian.com . Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  6. John Wesley changed "Our God" to "O God" published in 1738
  7. Some versions substitute "under" with "beneath".
  8. 1 2 3 Verse omitted from both Hymns Ancient and Modern 1906 and Hymns Old and New 1996
  9. hymnary.org Lutheran hymnal 1814 has "while life shall last"