Watts & J.S. Bach
All hail! The pow’r of Jesus’ Name;
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the Royal Diadem,
To crown Him Lord of all!
Crown Him with Many Crowns, the Lamb upon the Throne
Crown Him the Lord of Life, who triumphed o’er the Grave
Crown Him the Lord of Love, behold His hands and side
Crown Him the Lord of Peace, who’s pow’r a scepter sways….that wars may cease
Crown Him the Lord of Years, the potentate of time
Crown Him Lord of All!
11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.
Revelation 19:11 - 12
Isaac Watts is no stranger to congregational hymn singing. As a teenager, Watts struggled to enjoy the scripture and psalm chanting and singing that was typical of services during his early years of worship. Frustrated with the stilted inflection, Isaac was convinced there was a better way to sing scripture. Watts’ command of the scripture, along with combining a more natural speech pattern, gave congregations biblical teachings in a way that was accessible and easily remembered.
Jesus Shall Reign is paired with, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, a tune composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. The melody is pulled from a cantata selection written while Bach was working in Leipzig, Germany. He would use this melody again in seven other cantata compositions, and is today a popular melody performed at weddings.
J.S. Bach was born into a family which produced seven generations of musicians; 53 of whom would become significant contributors of sacred and secular music. He had four sons who were well-known during their lifetimes, influencing the musical community through treatises and compositions. Indeed, one of J.S. Bach’s sons would directly influence young Mozart in London!
Bach’s employment years were sometimes difficult. Musicians were employees of the townships, not the churches; Bach would battle his employment restrictions continuously. One requirement was to compose a cantata per week; over 200 cantata scores survived. To put this number in perspective, today, most composers write one cantata per year! Some of Bach’s most significant works were composed during times of conflict. Even during conflict, God provides great inspiration and guidance.
J.S. Bach was fortunate enough to own a three volume Bible translated into German by Martin Luther. Many times, Bach is described as a ‘theologian who just happened to work with a keyboard’. Approximately three quarters of Bach’s musical output was written for use in worship. One of Bach’s comments was:
"At a reverent performance of music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence."
Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring incorporates a poem written by German poet, Martin Janus, in 1661. Bach used three verses from Janus’ 18-verse celebration of Christ. This text was used for both Advent and Easter. The poem takes on a personal relationship with Christ. The following verses are used with his famous melody:
Jesus, my refuge and deliverer,
Jesus, the ground of my confidence,
Jesus, mighty trampler on the serpent,
Jesus, light of my life!
How my heart longs for you,
dear Jesus, painfully!
Come, ah come, I wait for you,
come, O dearest Jesus!
Happy am I, to have my Jesus,
oh how firmly I hold on to him
so that he may refresh my heart
when I am sick and sorrowful.
I have Jesus, who loves me
and gives himself to me.
Ah therefore I shall not abandon Jesus
even if my heart breaks.
Jesus Shall Reign and All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name expresses the width and breath of Jesus’ sovereignty and the corporate response required. Watts’ text compliments J.S. Bach’s poem selection:
Jesus reigns wherever the sun shines
Jesus’ Kingdom stretches from shore to shore
All people will worship Him
His Blessings abound where He reigns
13 The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, 14 and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.
2 Chronicles 5:13 - 14
Image information: Watts (left) Isaac Watts, from Edwin Long, Illustrated History of Hymns and Their Authors (ca. 1882), based on the portrait by Godfrey Kneller, National Portrait Gallery. JS Bach (right) painting by Johann Emanuel Gobel