This song is about freedom from bondage. In the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt, God sent Moses to Pharaoh repeatedly to carry the divine message, “Let My people go,” but each time Pharaoh refused. Sometimes the bondage of the Israelites became worse, yet God told Moses to persist, and eventually, the Israelites were freed after God had shown His power through the ten plagues. True freedom never comes unless the power of God is behind it; yet when God moves, He is irresistible.
This hymn paints a picture of communion with God in which fear and gloom have disappeared, and delight and joy saturate one's existence. This attractive life, however, is not free. The Christian must totally surrender control of his life to God and commit to trusting obedience of God's wishes. As the final stanza says, “what He says we will do, where He sends we will go.” Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30 ESV).
The last psalm in the Bible, Psalm 150, ends with this invitation: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” German composer Joachim Neander gave us words to do just that when he wrote his most well-known hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” Hymnologist John Julian declares this to be “a magnificent hymn of praise to God, perhaps the finest production of its author, and of the first rank in its class” (Dictionary of Hymnology).
Several of the Psalms begin and end with fervent declarations of praise, such as this: “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord! … Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 113:1, 9b ESV). Likewise, from the opening lines of early morning praise to the final couplet about eternal praise before the throne of God in heaven, this hymn has the constant refrain, “May Jesus Christ be praised.”
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul warns him that the Christian life is a constant war against evil. He commands Timothy to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12, ESV). A few verses later, Paul describes the one for whose sake we fight: “he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15-16, ESV).
Harry E. Fosdick was a well-known and controversial preacher in the early twentieth century. After Fosdick left his positon at one church, John D. Rockefeller asked him to become pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, but Fosdick thought the church was too wealthy, and agreed only on condition that a new church would be built in a less fashionable place. The site selected for Riverside Church was on the banks of the Hudson, not far from Harlem. Fosdick wrote this hymn at his summer home in Maine in 1930 for the opening service of Riverside Church that fall.
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Ira Sankey, good friend of hymn author Fanny Crosby, once related this story about the comfort “Blessed Assurance” provides:
Psalm 72 is a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah – foretelling the reign of the King and what the Kingdom of that Messiah will be like. But perhaps more than a prophecy, Psalm 72 is a prayer. In these verses the psalmist calls upon God to give justice and righteousness to the King, perhaps the newly crowned earthly king of Israel, but also the heavenly king. It is a cry for the deliverance of a broken people, for the realization of peace and light. James Montgomery’s hymn text from 1821 beautifully captures the essence of that prayer.