“I have now entered upon a new year, little knowing what it shall bring forth. A great burden is laid upon me; perplexity and difficulty lie before me, but I hope God will carry me through.” This is an excerpt from the memoirs of the late Rev Theophilus Lindsey, when he gathered his thoughts after celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the evening of 21 Jan 1873.
I believe many of us share the same anxiety and perplexity of the late Rev Lindsey when we greet a new year with no knowledge of what the future will bring. It has been said that no thinking person ever regarded the beginning of a new year with indifference. All of us have many concerns as we stand on the threshold of the unknown future.
‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’, perhaps the best known of 600 hymns by Isaac Watts, is certainly one hymn that can calm our fears and jitters as we step into the New Year. A paraphrase of Psalm 90, this age-old hymn is considered by many as one of the finest ever written.
Living in a time when only ponderous metrical psalms were used in congregational singing, Watts was challenged by his father to write something for the English-speaking churches to sing. Young Watts thus began to create his own versions of the psalms in an inspiring and expressive style and published them in his Psalms of David hymnal (1919).
For this hymn, Watts based his text on the first seven verses of Psalm 90, which begins: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” The words expressed a strong note of assurance, promise and hope in the Lord.
In our present age, whenever another terrorist strikes, or an earthquake occurs, or a loved one dies, where can our hearts find hope and shelter from the stormy blast (stanza 1)? In the midst of these natural or man-made disasters, we are crippled by fear and wonder if we will ever survive. Nevertheless, even when events fly past and are forgotten (stanza 5), our God is forever the same (stanza 3) and He will be our shelter and guide through all the storms of our lives (stanzas 1 and 6).
Therefore, take heart. Our God who has been faithful in the past will keep His promises as we face the future.
 Thomas Belsham, Memoirs of the Late Reverend Theophilus Lindsey, M.A.: Including a Brief Analysis of His Works … Also, a General View of the Progress of the Unitarian Doctrine in England and America. (London: Williams and Norgate, 1873), 336.
 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 12.
 Ibid., 12.
 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 250.
O God, Our Help in Ages Past (The United Methodist Hymnal, #117)
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home!
Under the shadow of thy throne,
still may we dwell secure;
sufficient is thine arm alone,
and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
or earth received her frame,
from everlasting, thou art God,
to endless years the same.
A thousand ages, in thy sight,
are like an evening gone;
short as the watch that ends the night,
before the rising sun.
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
bears all who breathe away;
they fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come;
be thou our guide while life shall last,
and our eternal home.
Words: Isaac Watts, 1719 (Ps. 90)
Music: Attr. to William Croft, 1708; harm. by W. H. Monk, 1861
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.
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