"Jesus Shall Reign" was once a staple of church worship, but it is unfamiliar to many of us today. Written by Isaac Watts, this hymn celebrates two things. First, it celebrates the work of the gospel in the life of all Christians, uniting them in worship and drawing them into a closer fellowship with God. Second, it celebrates the promise of what is to come when the gospel has run its course and Christ returns again.
How is this old hymn relevant today? Its beautiful poetry is built entirely from the gospel, and the gospel is the most relevant thing to both the lost and the Christian.
Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
Verse one opens with the declaration that Jesus will have dominion over all things for all time. The singer is reminded there is nothing that doesn’t belong to this Man. And if you are truly a Christian, this Man calls you His friend! This stanza alone is enough to fill a Christian with thankfulness and praise. (Psalm 72:5, 8, 17)
For him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown his head;
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.
Verse two makes the connection between our praises and Christ’s glory. When you praise Him, He becomes more attractive both to you and those who hear you. You don’t need to add or take anything away from Him to make people like Him… you simply praise Him for who He is, and He will be glorified. (Psalm 72:15)
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on his love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on his name.
Verse three unites believers all around the globe who have answered the gospel’s call, each one taking part in a great song of praise. “Infants,” who are newly converted Christians as well as Christians who are young in age, add their voices to this song. (Psalm 72:10-11)
Blessings abound where'er he reigns;
The prisoner leaps to loose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.
Verse four describes what it is like to be a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus. The Christian is surrounded by blessings. Sometimes these blessings are in disguise, such as persecution or the opportunity to glorify God in the midst of trials, but we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). As a Christian, you know what it is like to be freed from the power of sin, just as the prisoner who leaps and loses his chains. You know what it is like to be weary of the emptiness of the world and find eternal, lasting rest in the promises of God. You know what it is like to have all your wants and needs satisfied by the grace of God. Christian, even in weakness and pain you are blessed. There is no reason for us to complain. (Psalm 72:12-14)
Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honors to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the loud amen!
Verse five invites all creation to redouble Christ’s praises in light of all that has been stated before in the hymn. A word in this verse may seem out of place to a modern Christian. “Peculiar” here does not mean strange or odd. In the day this hymn was written, “peculiar” was understood to mean “specific to” or “unique to.” These honors are unique to our King; they belong to Him and no one else. This reminds you to be careful when you praise God. Are your praises “peculiar” to Him, or are you praising Him with praises that are less than He deserves? He deserves our utmost when we praise Him. (Psalm 72:19; Revelation 5:11-14)