Jesus Shall Reign

Author: Isaac Watts 1674-1748
Music:
John Hatton 1710-1793

“Jesus Shall Reign” was written by the “father of English hymnody,” Isaac Watts, in 1719. It is known as one of the first hymns with a missionary emphasis, written at a time before the great missionary movement led by William Carey in the late 18th century. As we know, “Jesus shall Reign” is only part of what was originally a 14-verse song based on Psalm 72. A large number of Watts’ songs were based on the Psalms of the Bible. He lamented that in his day the Psalms were sung just as they were written by David and others, centuries before the incarnation of Christ. They were never given a clear Gospel focus. In his own words, he wanted to see “David converted into a Christian.” He did not mean, of course, that David was an unbeliever; but that the psalms should be sung in light of their fulfillment in Christ! Psalm 72 is one example of how he accomplished that goal. The psalm was written to describe the righteous reign of Israel’s king, looking forward to the Messianic age, when that kingdom would extend over the whole earth. The song is written primarily in the future tense, not because Jesus is not already king over all creation, but because it is looking forward to the great day of Jesus’ return, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Stanza 1

Jesus shall reign wher’er the sun,
Does its successive journeys run
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more

Reflective Thoughts: The song begins with an emphatic declaration of the kingship of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, over all the earth. The verse expresses total confidence that wherever the sun shines on the earth, the kingdom of Jesus will one day spread. It looks forward to the glorious fulfillment of Jesus’ own great commission, when disciples will be made in every nation (Matt.28:18-20). The verse concludes with the awesome thought that this kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom. “May his name endure forever; may his name increase as long as the sun shines; and let men bless themselves by him; let all nations call themselves blessed” (Ps.72:17).

Stanza 2

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And endless praises crown His head.
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice

Reflective Thoughts: It is an awesome thing to think that as Jesus’ reign shall encompass every part of the earth, so there is never a moment when someone is not praying to Him, and never a moment when someone is not voicing joyous praises unto Him. Just as we experience new mercies from Him every morning, so all His people ought to respond each morning with a sacrifice of praise.

Stanza 3

People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name

Reflective Thoughts: The author continues on the same theme, contemplating both the old and the young from every language group worshiping Christ the King. They dwell, in particular, on the love of Jesus as they worship; a picture on earth of the glorious worship of heaven: “And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation’” (Rev.5:9).

Stanza 4

Let every creature rise and bring
His grateful honors to our King;
Angels descend with song again,
And earth repeat the loud “Amen!”

Reflective Thoughts: He moves, finally, from the notion of all peoples from every place praising Christ, to every creature giving honor to their eternal King Jesus. As Paul wrote in Colossians 1:16, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.” He envisions the angels descending in song and all peoples and creatures giving the appropriate response of “Amen!”

“And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen” (Ps.72:19).