If you asked me for a shortlist of my favorite hymns, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” would be somewhere near the top. And I wouldn’t be alone—this hymn is one of the most well-known and well-loved songs in Evangelical circles.
Unbeknownst to most hymn-singers, however, this hymn is actually a metrical psalm. It was written by Isaac Watts and published in his collection The Psalms of David, which you can access on Google Books in the revised corrected edition of 1889 or at CCEL in some edition or other. The hymn follows—with surprising faithfulness for a song that sings so smoothly—the progression of Ps. 72 from the prayer for a just ruler, to the prophecy of the king’s advent and the blessings of his reign.
There are 14 verses in Watts’s original hymn, of which only a handful are usually sung in churches today. Hymnals differ widely in their selection of verses from this hymn, as well as the order to put them in. Ironically, Watts’s original order did not open with the famous line “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun.” Rather, Watts divided the psalm into two parts and opened only the second half of the psalm with the verse that we now recognize as the leading verse and title.
I’ve decided to present the hymn’s verses here in the original order. I’ve also interspersed them with a KJV translation of the psalm, so you can see what Watts does with the material as he transforms it from prose to poetry. Keep in mind that Watts’s method when metricizing the psalms was explicitly to relate the “meaning” of the psalm to the New Testament and to the work of Christ. Of course, certain psalms lent themselves to that method more than others, and Ps. 72 lent itself more than most.
* * * * *
Jesus Shall Reign
Isaac Watts, The Psalms of David (1719)
Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.
(1) Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.
The scepter well becomes His hands;
All Heav’n submits to His commands;
His justice shall avenge the poor,
And pride and rage prevail no more.
(2) He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. (3) The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
With power He vindicates the just,
And treads th’oppressor in the dust:
His worship and His fear shall last
Till hours, and years, and time be past.
(4) He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. (5) They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
As rain on meadows newly mown,
So shall He send his influence down:
His grace on fainting souls distills,
Like heav’nly dew on thirsty hills.
The heathen lands, that lie beneath
The shades of overspreading death,
Revive at His first dawning light;
And deserts blossom at the sight.
(6) He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
The saints shall flourish in His days,
Dressed in the robes of joy and praise;
Peace, like a river, from His throne
Shall flow to nations yet unknown.
(7) In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
(8) He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
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 barb’rous nations at His word
Submit, and bow, and own their Lord.
(9) They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. (10) The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. (11) Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His Name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
(15) And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His Name.
(17) His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
Blessings abound wherever He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.
(16) There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. (12-14) For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
Where He displays His healing power,
Death and the curse are known no more:
In Him the tribes of Adam boast
More blessings than their father lost.
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
(18) Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. (19) And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.