At the tender age of seven, Isaac Watts began writing hymns. (He wrote more than eight hundred in his lifetime!) Most hymn writers in Watts’ time paraphrased Psalms to create new hymns, staying as closely as possible to the original text. But Watts, a non-conformist in religious affiliation and writing style, took a different path.
In his collection Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719), Watts not only chose to pen hymns using a loose interpretation of the Psalms, he also decided to view the Psalms through the eyes of the New Testament. His novel approach created Jesus Shall Reign Where’re the Sun, a hymn based on Psalm 72.
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
does its successive journeys run,
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Believed to be one of the earliest hymns to promote mission work, the original text was published with eight verses. Since three of those had a political bent and included phrases such as “barbarous nations”, they are omitted in modern hymnals (thank goodness.)
Jesus Shall Reign is usually paired with the hymn tune Duke Street – a tune first published anonymously with the text “The spacious firmament on high” in Henry Boyd’s Select Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1793). It was in William Dixon’s Euphonia (1805) that the tune was attributed to John Hatton, an Englishman whose details are unknown other than that he lived on (you guessed it) Duke Street.
Since Jesus Shall Reign is very regal in nature, traditional convention – and most music experts – dictate that the hymn be played majestically with strong accompaniment. But if you listen closely to the piano arrangement Christ the King Medley, you’ll find an unconventionally gentle version of Jesus Shall Reign sandwiched between three other stately hymns celebrating Christ’s majesty.
Just a small hat tip to fellow rebel Issac Watts. Enjoy!