Hymnology: Jesus Shall Reign

Hymnology: Jesus Shall Reign
Featured Photo by Jim Forest – This fresco entitled “Christ in Glory” was painted in 1744 on the ceiling of Koutloumousiou Monastery in Mount Athos, Greece. It depicts Christ reigning on the throne of heaven over all the world.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever."
Revelation 11:15

Hymn Story

The year 2019 marked the 300th anniversary of the publication of Isaac Watts' Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This fourth and last of his collections of congregational songs was quite controversial in the early 18th century! At the time, English-speaking churches almost exclusively sang metrical psalms—the biblical Psalms translated into English rhyme and metre.

Watts, however, took great liberties in paraphrasing the Psalms, rather than seeking to retain as much as possible of the specific meaning and original wording of the biblical text. Believing that the Old and New Testaments told a unified story and were both vital to the worship and study of the Christian, he interpreted ("imitated") the psalms in the light of the Gospel and used New Testament language which, in essence, converted the Old Testament psalms into New Testament hymns. He defended this practice in the preface to this collection, saying that he had written these songs "as David would have done, had he lived in the days of Christianity."

Jesus Shall Reign is a Christological interpretation of Psalm 72, in which Solomon prays that the heirs of his father David will rule with wisdom, justice, and righteousness, protecting the poor and needy, and bringing blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Watts rightly places Jesus in this song as the fulfillment of Solomon's prayer. He is the Righteous King from the line of David, whose eternal kingdom brings blessings to all who submit to His reign.

We have been enjoying the Norton Hall Band arrangement of this song recently:

The Gettys have recorded a new arrangement recently as well, with a few slight lyric changes and an added chorus:

Of course, this hymn is also well served by a more regal accompaniment: 


Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does its successive journeys run
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
'Til moons shall wax and wane no more

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on his name

Blessings abound where'er he reigns
The prisoners leap to lose their chains
The weary find eternal rest
And all who suffer want are blest

Let every creature rise and bring
The highest honors to our King
Angels descend with songs again
And earth repeat the loud "amen!"

Hymn Study

Originally published in 8 stanzas under the title, Christ's Kingdom Among the Gentiles, the version we sing at Faith has been reduced to 4 verses which highlight the global nature of the spread of the Gospel and of Christ's kingdom. Interestingly, the stanzas which are rarely sung today replace the nations mentioned in Psalm 72:10 (Tarshish, Sheba, and Seba, which represented far reaches known to King Solomon's people) with nations more commonly known to citizens of the British Empire in the early 18th century. Here are a couple of those stanzas:

Behold the islands with their kings
And Europe her best tribute brings
From North to South the princes meet
To pay their homage at His feet
There Persia glorious to behold
There India shines in Eastern gold
And barbarous nations at His Word
Submit and bow, and own their Lord

While this language may be less familiar to us now than it would have been as the British Empire was rapidly expanding—Watts and his contemporaries in England would have seen the wealth of nations around the world being brought in through trade and tribute to the British crown—we know from Scripture that one day every earthly ruler will bow in submission to Christ Jesus, and the wealth of nations will be brought into the New Jerusalem, the seat of Christ's eternal rule (Revelation 21:26).

Every verse of this hymn underlines the inevitable truth that Jesus shall reign. His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore (Psalm 72:8; Isaiah 2:2-3), for as long as the sun and moon endure (Psalm 72:5). Indeed, His kingdom will never end (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 11:15)!

This hymn leads us to some important observations and objectives for our corporate worship today. Because Christ's kingdom will include "people and realms of every tongue" (Revelation 5:9), there is value for us in learning from expressions of worship coming from other parts of the world. There is a rich treasure of hymnody originating in the English language, but we also sing many beloved hymns composed in other languages (including A Mighty Fortress, How Great Thou Art, O Holy Night, and more). And, of course, believers around the world continue to "dwell on His love with sweetest song" (Colossians 3:15), composing new songs in many languages. (Click here for a wonderful interview and performance from Indonesian hymn writer Stefanie Limanputri.)

We also see in this hymn motivation for investing in things like family worship and children's choir, training our kids to sing God's praises. Jesus himself welcomed the praise of children, quoting from Psalm 8:2 when the religious authorities complained about children crying out in the temple (Matthew 21:16). Even before they are able to fully comprehend the truths they are proclaiming, there is great beauty and worth in "infant voices" singing "their early blessings on His name." (The English word "infant," by the way, long meant "child" as opposed to "baby," as it still does in the French enfant.)

As young and old alike sing together in corporate worship, we receive already a portion of what we will inherit as joint heirs with Christ in His eternal kingdom. His blessings abound (John 1:16; Philippians 4:19), prisoners celebrate being released from their bonds of slavery to sin (John 8:32; Romans 6:17-18), the weary find rest (Matthew 11:28), and we join with the angels in their praise of the King (Hebrews 1:6)!

John Gardner

John is the pastor over Music Ministry at Faith Bible Church. He is a coffee aficionado who loves most kinds of music, but has a particular fondness for big band (especially when he's playing trumpet in the band). He and his wife, Laurie, have 3 kids who enjoy reading, hiking, and the symphony.

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