We hear a lot about the goodness, grace, and mercy of the Lord from the hymns. We sing about His kindness, and we rejoice in His endless love. The hymns are, after all, hymns of praise, or else what are we doing singing them? But for whatever reason, I don’t feel as much that the hymns emphasize the strength and stability of the Lord. Oh, we have those hymns, certainly (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” comes to mind, as well as almost any hymn that mentions the word “mountain”), but I imagine for every mention of the word “strong” in the hymns, you hear words like “good” and “joy” many times over.
This is a strong hymn. We are directed to sing “with dignity,” befitting the resolute strength and majesty of the Lord we sing about. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics in the 1700s. This was a time when God was not a figure to be loved so much as revered and feared. He inspired awe, not joy. That’s not to say that those gentler aspects weren’t understood, but they weren’t emphasized. The period was much more Johann Sebastian Bach than Janice Kapp Perry.
The Lord is strong and unmoving. When all other things are changing and unsteady, we can always depend on the Lord to be reliable. And so we begin our hymn by singing about His unchanging nature. He is our help in ages past as well as our hope for years to come. He has ever been there for us. He ever will be. It is never He who departs from us. He is always there, protecting and defending us, so long as we allow Him to.
This is how it’s always been, says verse three:
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.
And so it ever will be. He is our shelter and our home. He is four walls and a roof that will never shake or crumble. The image is a vivid one, and maybe especially now that it’s winter. I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but where I am, it’s cold and windy. The rain is hitting the windows hard enough that it sounds like sand. The walls creak and groan under the gusts of wind, but they never give. Of course, they might, but then again, mine isn’t the house we’re talking about. If your house is the Lord, then you can be sure that it won’t collapse, no matter how strong the stormy blast. We can count on Him, and always count on Him, no matter what we’re up against. In the second verse, we sing that “sufficient is [His] arm alone, and our defense is sure.” If God is for us, who can be against us?
And as if several paragraphs of me making the same point over and over again wasn’t enough to convince you that the theme of this hymn is “unchanging,” we arrive at the fourth and final verse, which is nearly identical to the first:
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
The first and fourth verses almost serve as a chorus. In the verses, we get specifics, but in the chorus, we return to the general theme of the song, echoing the constancy of the Lord. And it’s fitting that in a hymn about constancy, the hymn itself is bookended with the same message. God always was our hope. He always will be. He is our refuge, and He will never fail us. He is our home.