The Lost Verses of “Jesus Shall Reign”

The hymn “Jesus Shall Reign” was written by Isaac Watts based on Psalm 72 and  was published in 1719. Today most churches sing only 5 verses of what was originally 14. Here’s verses 9, 10 and 11.

Great God, whose universal sway
The known and unknown worlds obey,
Now give the kingdom to Thy Son,
Extend His power, exalt His throne.

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.

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.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to write about how we need to resume singing all 14 verses (or all the verses to every hymn). I am interested in looking at why some verses remain over other verses. Obviously, verses 9,10, and 11 emphasize the rule of Jesus as a kingdom of justice and righteousness for the poor. The verses that you would find in the Trinity Hymnal  that my denomination prefers, are 1, 4, 5, 6, 8. Most of these verses represent the spread of Jesus reign as being primarily about the confessional worship of people all over the world (Amen!). However, the focus of justice (one that is pretty clear in Psalm 72) doesn’t come through as strong. There is one verse that is in the Trinity Hymnal that retains the theme of justice:

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.

I realize that condensing 14 verses into 5 means that you might have to use one verse to convey the sentiment of several verses. But, do we often slant the language of this verse (chains, weary, sons of want) to reflect spiritual poverty instead of physical poverty. The psalmist does not limit his scope to the spiritual reign of the king. He is clearly speaking a blessing on the king to uphold justice for the oppressed.

“For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
    the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
    and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
    for precious is their blood in his sight.” (Psalm 72:12-14)

So what should be done with Watts’ lost verses? Should we pick different verses each time we sing them? I might try to switch out one or two, but I love the 5 we sing currently. Maybe someone should write a new melody using some of the 9 left over verses of “Jesus Shall Reign”.

One this is for certain: there will never be an end to the songs that can be composed about the glory of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom!

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