In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Marching to Zion

Perhaps it's time to step away from weighty issues for a bit and indulge in something happy and uplifting. It's March, gateway to spring--and few things are more happy and uplifting than a good "march." Maybe that's one reason you're so fond of Marching On! And among the happiest marches I know is the rousing hymn Marching to Zion. This delightful piece was written and first published in 1707 by the great English hymnodist Isaac Watts; it was later put to music by the American gospel composer Robert Lowry (1826 -- 1899) (who composed another of my favorite hymns, How Can I Keep from Singing?). I was introduced to this hymn several years ago while practicing with the Fear Not Choir before the annual Civil War reenactment at the Genesee Country Village & Museum in Mumford, NY. To me, it unashamedly proclaims the joy of faith and our confidence in eternal life with God--and declares our right, even our duty, to "speak our joys abroad," something the atheistic elites are trying hard to discourage or prevent us from doing.

The original composition had several more verses, but these are the most widely sung today:

Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known,
Join in a song with sweet accord,
Join in a song with sweet accord
And thus surround the throne,
And thus surround the throne.

We're marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We're marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.

Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God,
But children of the heav'nly King,
But children of the heav'nly King,
May speak their joys abroad,
May speak their joys abroad.


The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets
Before we reach the heav'nly fields,
Before we reach the heav'nly fields,
Or walk the golden streets,
Or walk the golden streets.


Then let our songs abound
And every tear be dry;
We're marching through Immanuel's ground,
We're marching through Immanuel's ground,
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.


If you're wondering just what the second verse is all about, the following explanation from the Scrpture and Music web site may be helpful:
Should we sing psalms or hymns in our church services? This was the controversy stirring many congregations during the 17th and 18th centuries. Isaac Watts was the life-long champion of the “humanly composed” hymn, while the majority of the English-speaking churches insisted on the traditional psalm settings. Tempers frequently flared, and some churches actually split in the heat of this decidedly inharmonious musical conflict. In some churches a compromise was reached. The psalm setting would be sung in the early part of the service with a hymn used at the close, during which time the parishioners could leave or simply refuse to sing.

Isaac Watts may have written this hymn to refute his critics, who termed his hymns “Watts’ Whims.” This hymn first appeared in Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707 and was titled “Heavenly Joy on Earth.”
Below is a very enjoyable rendition of this sweet hymn, apparently sung by a real congregation in a real church:

Try singing Marching to Zion whenever you're discouraged or have a bad case of the blahs--it will lift your spirits high!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this hymn! I remember singing it lustily (!) during a visit to Israel in the 1980s, as our tour bus 'ascended' to Jerusalem: 'the beautiful city of God'. Thank you for sharing your love for this wonderful hymn!!