Reference: Hymns of Grace (Los Angeles: The Master’s Seminary Press, 2015)

Sources: Hymnary website, Hymns of GraceBlackfriars Oxford

Introduction

In 1665, the German chorale-book Ernewertes Gesangbuch was published at Stralsund, which included the musical piece LOBE DEN HERREN (“Praise the Lord” in German). To this piece (14.14.4.7.8) Joachim Neander, in 1680, wrote lyrics. Neander was a Reformed teacher and hardly thirty years of age when he died. In the mid 19th century, Catherine Winkworth translated Neander’s hymn into English (1863) and W. Sterndale Bennett provided harmonization. Typically published with three of four verses, Neander originally wrote at least six.

In the following commentary, all quotations from the hymn will be italicized.

Verse One

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear,
Now to His temple draw near;
Praise him in glad adoration!

This hymn is characterized by Psalm 103:2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” This is the pattern of Christian worship. We do not worship God arbitrarily or without order. We rehearse the being and benefits of our God, and upon these our praises rise.

God is the Almighty, the King of creation. There is no other Sovereign. “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?” (Deuteronomy 3:24). All earthly and spiritual authorities sit underneath His throne. “Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above’” (John 19:10-11). The greatness of God is damnation for the wicked, but joy for His church – so we praise Him in glad adoration.

We praise Him, for He is our health and salvation. The blessings of God are cause to praise Him. “Bless the Lord, O my soul… who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:2-3). Prosperity Evangelists teach that God will heal our illnesses if we have enough faith. Salvation does include deliverance from sickness, but this will not happen until our resurrection and glorification. God is our health by way of promise, and promise is the natural habitat of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So today we have wounds, but today we also have a deposit, a first-fruit of health and final salvation. This deposit is the Spirit of the living God, who has applied the grace of God to us.

There is no literal temple to which we draw near. We are the church of the New Covenant, whereas that church of the Old Covenant had the tent of meeting and the temple. Christ is our great temple (John 2:19-22), the perfect mediation of God’s presence, the ultimate condescension of God. We are temples of God as well, though not as replacements of the Old Testament temple, for the Holy Spirit dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). With that in mind, this hymn does not mean to diminish New Covenant glory with the Old, but rather to manifest New Covenant foreshadows within the Old. The Old Testament church drew nigh unto God in a gold-furnished temple, but the New Testament church draws near in the person of Jesus Christ. Still, our gatherings are akin to the Old gatherings in many ways, principally in that we are gathered as the covenant people of God to worship Him according to His commandments. “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary” (Psalm 150:1; cf. 134:2).

Verse Two

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen
How thy desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

Again, we are called to praise the Lord who reigns o’er all things. In these last days, God reigns in the person of Jesus Christ. Many Christians live as though Satan rules supreme over the earth. Many churches quarantine themselves in prayer meetings, fearful of “end times.” It is disgraceful that any New Covenant congregation would be reduced to such anxiety. Peter said that God has already made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36). Paul wrote that, though every tongue has yet to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, He is already highly exalted and given the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9-11). The Lord Himself prefaced the Great Commission with these words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). We plead with men, not to make Christ their Lord, but to submit to His present rule.

God shelters us under His wings. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust…. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:1-2, 4). More wonderful is the manner of this protection, that He so gently sustaineth. If the King of kings would not break the Pharisees, who were but bruised reeds, nor quench the Romans, who were but flickering candles, then I daresay He shall be gentle with His wife (Isaiah 42:1-4). “Christ love the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Two doctrines are paired in the final sentence of this verse. First, we note the ordination of God. The Lord ordains all things that come to pass. There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and God is the One Who makes it so (v.11). Of God’s decisions, “nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (v.14). Second, we note the gladness of this decree. God “has made everything beautiful in its time” (v.11), which means “that there is nothing better for [us] than to be joyful and to do good as long as [we] live” (v.12). God’s people live in a universe where every molecule works for their good (Romans 8:28). Therefore, He may command us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Hast thou not seen, dear Christian, how thy desires have been granted in what He ordains? His sovereignty is your joy. His victory is your crown.

Verse Three

Praise to the Lord, who will prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely his goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew
What the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.

It almost feels improper to say that the Lord, the King of creation, will prosper our work and defend us, but is He not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exodus 3:6; 32:13)? Is He not the God Who made a covenant with lowly Abraham (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 17:1-2)? “I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever” (Exodus 32:13; cf. Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13). The substance of that covenant is eternal, or else He is the God of the dead. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32), and those asleep in Him are at no loss (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). They sleep in Christ (Romans 14:9), having passed a mild threshold (1 Corinthians 15:55) into His presence (Philippians 1:23). Therefore, we surely must praise the Lord who has stooped down to prosper the work of mere men, who has promised to defend simple creatures.

By what right has this God to make such a covenant? “Injustice!” might the accuser cry, “that a holy God would break bread with such transgressors!” (Mark 2:13-17). Paul answered:

Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:24-26

The death of Christ was a demonstration of God’s righteousness. It proved that God is not unjust to covenant with sinners, because in the place of said sinners Christ was slain (2 Corinthians 5:21). Therefore, as surely as the death of Christ appeased the wrath of God, so surely does God’s goodness and mercy attend thee – and daily! No friend pursues our interests like this God. The smog of indwelling sin cannot cloud the Father’s delight in His church, for a steady breeze of righteousness blows swiftly from Golgotha. It is here, and nowhere else, that his goodness and mercy daily attend thee. In Christ, the blessings of God abound (Ephesians 1:3-14), but outside of Christ, there is only ruin (Revelation 22:14-15).

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel was called upon to renew their covenant with God (e.g. Joshua 24). It is fitting that we, partaking in a greater covenant, should do likewise. We worshiped God yesterday, but what of today? We committed ourselves to the Lord last morning, but what of this morning? Ponder anew, Christian, what the Almighty can do if with His love He befriend thee. Notice that our reflection is not to be on our love for God, but upon His love for us. The Christian faith has very little to do with our faith, but with Christ’s faithfulness. God’s love is the lynch pin of salvation. If He befriend thee, then you may have His benefits. “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:15-16).

Verse Four

Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again:
Gladly forever adore Him.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalm 103:1). That we may even consider praising God with our whole self is an immeasurable grace, for we are totally depraved in Adam (Romans 3:9-18; 5:12-21). The first, original sin fell upright Adam like pine falls before a chainsaw, and into the valley of death and misery he tumbled. This ruin has been passed down to all his children as a costly inheritance, to the effect that every member and faculty we possess is ruined by sin. Yet in Christ, in the Gospel of our blessed Lord, our bodies and souls are recreated, and we may hope in praising the Lord with all that is in us. “Amen” is transliterated from Greek, meaning “truly; let it be.” Of God’s decree, His people speak well. Of God’s mighty deeds, His people say, “Truly these are good works. Let them be!” Let the Amen sound from His people again.

All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him! The Psalmist parts with a commission: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6). Have you breath? Have you ears and feet and lungs? Have you an earth with which to rest, water with which to live, a mind with which to ponder? Then why have you not done as the Psalmist demands? Lift up your heart to the God Who paves celestial highways with stars that we have yet imagined, Who grows flowers for His glory that we have yet seen, Who has no competitor or rival. Gladly forever adore Him, and all the treasures of men will not so much as glisten before your eyes.

Other Verses

Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease,
Turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth his light,
Chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with his mercy surrounding.

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