Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Feast of Christ the King

Today is the last Sunday of the church year in Western denominations that follow the liturgical calendar, and is celebrated as a special day honoring the sovereignty of Jesus Christ. Next week begins a new year with the first Sunday of Advent.

There are many hymns on today's theme, and this is perhaps one of the more familiar ones, by Isaac Watts.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth its successive journeys run;
Christ's reign shall stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

To thee shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown thy head;
Thy Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on thy love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on thy Name.

Blessings abound where thou dost reign;
Prisoners shall leap to lose their chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all who suffer want are blessed.

Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud "Amen!"

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
John Hatton, 1793

Watts originally wrote fourteen verses, but these five are the ones usually sung today. One that I considered putting back in (still undecided):

The saints shall flourish in thy days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from thy throne
Shall flow to places yet unknown.

I like the imagery, but it's not earth-based, like the others.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I think if I were doing the alterations on this one I would be likely to alter "peculiar" to something less peculiar. Like Jehovah's "awful" throne, "peculiar" has (I think) acquired enough of an aroma of the pejorative for a large enough percentage of today's anglophone congregants to warrant if not demand emendation. What the best alternative might be I'm not so sure, and I'd welcome suggestions at my blog.

I'd also be interested in tune ideas. The association between this text and this tune (DUKE STREET) is one of the strongest in the business. In the 25 hymnals I've catalogued it in so far, all 25 have it—on average 4.5 stanzas—set to Duke Street, with no alternate texts given. does give three other suggestions, but I have yet to see one of them in a print hymnal.

Leland aka Haruo

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I would also love to know more of the "King George, the sable, of the South Sea Islands" referred to in the Cyberhymnal notes. I was not aware that there ever had been a "paramount chief" in post-Wesleyan times ruling over "Tonga, Fiji and Samoa". What does "the sable" mean here? "Of colour"?

C.W.S. said...

You are probably right that "peculiar" should be changed; we no longer think of it as meaning "unique" or "individual." But I do have a certain affection for some of these archaisms. It's the ones I have no particular attachment to that I change. Arbitrary and capricious, I know (but really, what editor isn't, to some extent?)

I have some vague memory of singing this text to TRURO, but I can't recall where or from what hymnal.