O God, Our Hope in Ages Past

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Hymn Stories

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

This hymn is one of the many which flowed from the pen of Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748), and is often associated with the New Year. It looks back to the goodness of God in times past, and so can look forward with confidence to the future.

The hymn, as with so many of Watts’ works, is based upon a psalm, this time the ninetieth. It was written at a time when the help of God was needed by so many in the church. There had been a wave of persecution against non-conformists (non-Anglican protestants) which had seen many chapels burnt to the ground. This was in part prompted by the fact that the heir to the throne - George I of Hanover - was a Lutheran, and some High Church Anglicans would prefer Roman Catholicism! Watts, a non-conformist himself, would have looked with alarm at these events and seen them as a prompt to prayer.

When George ascended to the throne, a long procession of non-conformist ministers made a procession to present to the monarch a congratulatory address. They were freed from this persecution, and once more could worship in (relative) safety. God was their hope in ages past, and once more had brought them relief.

We too worship that same God, and so we to shouldn’t be shy in allowing his faithfulness in the past to give us confidence in our future.

1 O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

2 Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.

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

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

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

6 O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.


But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19) - Here is a good model of what to do when we are faced with some act of God, some words of God which make little sense. We chew it over in the secret of our heart, and pray for understanding. How quick we can be to dismiss things which initially make little sense! Better to follow Mary and slowly ponder.

The Stable and the Tomb

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7) - At both ends of his earthly life we are invited to wonder that one so majestic should lain in something so humble, and so it is today. It is to humble hearts that Jesus comes, to those who trust him for who he is.

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