Known best as the "summary of the law" (Mark 12:28-31; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8), the text derives from two Old Testament passages: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19: 18. The almost direct quotation of these biblical texts comes from the hand of Isaac Watts (b. Southampton, England, 1674; d. London, England, 1748), who published his paraphrase in a relatively unknown volume, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715). Watts originally wrote the poem in four stanzas of varying meter for the children of the Thomas Abney household, where he lived much of his life. The Psalter Hymnal uses only stanza 1, which is the only Scripture stanza and the only one in common meter.
Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References
It is vitally important that worshipers understand the role of God’s law among us. God gives his law to us, not so that we can earn his favor by full obedience, for even those converted to God cannot obey this law perfectly. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44, Question and Answer 114 says, “In this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience.” Instead, says Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 2, Question and Answer 3, through this law “we come to know [our] misery.”
Yet in their new life of gratitude, God’s children “with all seriousness of purpose, do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44, Question and Answer 114). They measure their good works of gratitude as “those which are done out of true faith, conform to God’s law, and are done for God’s glory” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 33, Question and Answer 91).
In other words, though Christ has fulfilled the law for us, “The truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ…[and] we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God according to the will of God” (Belgic Confession, Article 25). Therefore, the Ten Commandments with explanation are included in the third section, “gratitude,” (Lord’s Days 34-44) of Heidelberg Catechism.
Strengthen our loves, O God. Shore them up, stake them down, push them out to you and to neighbors. We want to love you with everything we have. We want to love our neighbor as ourselves. We want to be better lovers today than we were yesterday. O God, strengthen our loves through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This song is so short and simple that it will need no special introduction. In fact, some might think it too short. But there are two good reasons for using short congregational responses that can be repeated from week to week. First, our children can easily learn short songs and join in singing them with the entire congregation during worship. This song was even written specifically for children. Second, it is good for us as congregations to learn to worship God with fewer words sometimes. Our hymn tradition is rich in theology and teaching, and we need to retain that richness. But there are also riches in a short simple expression of need, gratitude, or praise.
Every congregation has heard the words of this song many times, traditionally after the reading of the Ten Commandments. Christ quoted these words when he was asked what was the most important commandment. Usually the minister reads this summary of the law to the congregation. This song provides the congregation with an opportunity to join in the dialogue. The minister reads a guide for holy living—whether the Ten Commandments or another passage—and the people respond by singing "Love God with All Your Soul and Strength."
Week 1: Introduce the song before the service by mentioning its history as a children's song. Reprint the song in the bulletin at the appropriate spot in the liturgy. That way, the congregation can sing this response immediately after the reading of the Ten Commandments, without pausing to look up the number. Families can also take the song home with them and sing it together during the week.
Weeks 2—4: Again have the congregation sing (from memory if possible) this song as a response to the reading of God's law. By the fourth week, the congregation will anticipate singing the song at this point in the service; they may even wish to continue its use. Short, simple things bear repetition.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 8)
Love God with All Your Soul and Strength
Known best as the "summary of the law" (Mark 12:28-31; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8), the text derives from two Old Testament passages: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19: 18. The almost direct quotation of these biblical texts comes from the hand of Isaac Watts, who published his paraphrase in a relatively unknown volume, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715). Watts originally wrote the poem in four stanzas of varying meter for the children of the Thomas Abney household, where he lived much of his life.
FARRANT is adapted from the anthem "Lord, for Thy Tender Mercies' Sake," which is sometimes attributed to Richard Farrant (thus the tune's name) but is more likely written by his contemporary John Hilton, a seventeenth-century English composer. Edward Hodges adapted the tune to Common Meter around 1835, and since its publication in Frances R. Havergal's Old Church Psalmody (1847), FARRANT has been in common use. In its current simple form, the tune is well suited to either part or unison singing.
Isaac Watts (b. Southampton, England, July 17, 1674; d. Bunfill Fields, England, November 25, 1748) was a precocious student and voracious reader. As a youth he studied Latin, Greek, French, and Hebrew. He declined an offer to study at Oxford and chose instead to attend an independent academy in Stoke Newington (1690-1694). From 1696 to 1701 Watts was tutor for the family of Sir John Hartopp, and in 1702 he became the pastor of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in London. However, ill health, which he had suffered for some years, took a serious turn in 1712. After that time he served the Mark Lane Chapel only on a part-time basis and moved in to the estate of Sir Thomas Abney to became the family chaplain, a position he held for the rest of his life. During the following thirty-six years Watts was a prolific author–writing books about theology, philosophy (including an influential textbook, Logic), and education, as well as conducting a voluminous correspondence.
Today, Watts is best remembered for his psalm paraphrases and hymns. Many of his contemporaries were exclusive psalm singers. After complaining about the poor quality of many of the psalm paraphrases, the teenager Watts was challenged by his father, "Give us something better!" So he began to write new psalm versifications in which he deliberately chose not to follow closely the King James text but instead to interpret the Old Testament psalms through contemporary British Christian and New Testament eyes.
The next step was to write hymns rather than Scripture paraphrases. What he called "hymns of human composure" established him as the creator of the modern English hymn; he is known as the "father of English hymnody." Altogether, Watts wrote more than six hundred psalm and hymn texts, which were published in his Horae Lyricae (1706), Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707), Divine Songs . . . for the Use of Children (1715), The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719), and Sermons and Hymns (1721-1727). Most of Watts' texts use the traditional British ballad meters (Short Meter, Common Meter, and Long Meter) and state their theme in often memorable first lines. His work became immensely popular in the English-speaking world, including the United States, where, following the American Revolution, Watts' texts were edited by Timothy Dwight in 1801 to remove their British connotations. Several of his versifications and hymns are still found in most hymnals; especially loved are the paraphrase of Psalm 90, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," and the hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."
Edward Hodges (b. Bristol, England, 1796; d. Clifton, England, 1867) received a Doctor of Music degree from Cambridge in 1825. Throughout his life he combined his interest in organ building and organ playing. He was organist in St. James Church and in St Nicholas Church in Bristol, and he helped to remodel the organs in both churches. In 1838 he immigrated to Canada and was organist in Toronto's St. James Cathedral for one year. After he moved to New York City, he served as organist at St. John's Church (1839-1846) and Trinity Church (1846-1859) and designed the organ in the new Trinity building. A skilled organist, Hodges was known especially for his extemporaneous playing and for his interpretation of J. S. Bach's music. He composed anthems, liturgical music, and hymn tunes (he also adapted ODE TO JOY from Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as a hymn tune), and wrote several essays on church music.