Words by Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847
Music by John Goss
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,
To his feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
Who like me his praise should sing?
Praise the everlasting King.
Praise him for his grace and favour
To our fathers in distress;
Praise him still the same as ever,
Slow to chide, and swift to bless:
Glorious in his faithfulness.
Father-like, he tends and spares us,
Well our feeble frame he knows;
In his hands he gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes:
Widely as his mercy flows.
Angels, help us to adore him;
Ye behold him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before him,
Dwellers all in time and space:
Praise with us the God of grace.
This hymn praises the Lord for His eternal reign and is based on Psalm 103. The text was written by Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847). Henry Francis Lyte, the author of this hymn, didn’t have an easy life. His father abandoned the family while Henry was still a boy. Then Henry’s mother and brother died, leaving Henry an orphan at age nine. When a Christian couple, Dr. and Mrs. Robert Burrows, learned of his circumstances, they took him in, and supported him through his education.
Lyte studied for the ministry, was ordained, and served several small churches –– the last in Brixham on the English Channel –– a pleasant fishing village where he served for 23 years. While at Brixham, he formed a Sunday school that enrolled 800 children. It was while still at Brixham, that Lyte wrote a great many hymns based on the Psalms. “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven,” based on Psalm 103, is one of those. It is said that Queen Elizabeth had it sung as the processional for her coronation. Another of Lyte’s hymns, “Abide with me,” was the favourite hymn of King George V of England.
The wedding of Queen Elizabeth II on November 20, 1947, took place on the hundredth anniversary of Lyte’s death. At (then Princess) Elizabeth’s request, the hymn was used for the Processional. For couples preparing for marriage this is an option worth considering. What is commonly known as “Here Comes the Bride” has become the traditional music for the bridal procession. But that is actually the Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, a secular opera by Richard Wagner–and the marriage in the story is a failure! If the tune Lauda Anima is used for Lyte’s hymn, and played at a stately walking pace, the song can serve to emphasize the spiritual dimension of a Christian wedding.
Unfortunately, Lyte suffered ill health for most of his life, and died at age 54. He had never been anything but a village pastor, but he enriched the lives of all those in his community –– and the 800 children in his Sunday school –– and the sailors to whom he carried on a special ministry ¬–– and all of us who enjoy his hymns today.
I suspect that no one would have been more surprised than Henry Lyte to learn that one of his hymns was the favourite of King George and another was sung at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. But that is often how God works –– using people whom we might think to be ordinary to give us extraordinary blessings.
Lyte captures the measure of the Psalm in unforgettable verses. It has time, eternity, God and man all locked in its embrace, and its last verse has the soaring quality of high religion. In one grand sweep the writer brings the whole created universe into the act of praise.
Angels, help us to adore Him,
Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him.
Dwellers all in time and space:
Praise Him! praise Him!
Praise with us the God of grace!
The song offers praise to the King of heaven for all His blessings.
Stanza 1 praises God for His Kingship: Jehovah is the King of heaven: Ps. 10.16 and as our King, He has ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven us: Ps. 51.12. Therefore, we should praise Him as our everlasting King: Ps. 22.25-26
Stanza 2 praises God for His grace: Sometimes it is claimed that the “God of the Old Testament” was one of severity while the “God of the New Testament” is one of grace, but they are the same God and the Old Testament also reveals God’s grace and favour: Ps. 84.11. Because of His grace and favour, His is swift to bless those who obey Him: Ps. 5.12 and the result of His grace and favour is that He is glorious in His faithfulness: Ps. 40.10.
Stanza 3 praises God for His mercy: God’s mercy is like that of a Father who tends and spares His children because He knows their frame: Ps. 68.5. As a result of His mercy, He gently bears His children and protects them by His hand: Ps. 10.12 and therefore, we should praise Him because His mercy endures forever: Ps. 106.1.
Stanza 4 praises God for His unchangeableness: Mankind is frail as summer’s flower and grass that lasts only for a little while: Ps. 90.3-6. In contrast, God is unchangeable: Ps. 102.25-27. Therefore, we should praise Him as the one who is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting: Ps. 90.1-2
Stanza 5 praises God for His creation: All the angels of God worship Him: Ps. 148.1-2. Even the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens declare the glory of God: Ps. 19.1-6. Therefore, all creation and those who dwell in time and space should praise Him: Ps. 78.2-4
Finally, many books replace the “Praise Him, praise Him, Praise Him, praise Him” of each stanza with “Alleluia, Alleluia,” probably because it is somewhat less repetitive and does seem to fit the music a little better. It is interesting to read through Psalm 103 and compare the original wording with the thoughts expressed by Lyte. Whether I sing the words “Praise Him” or “Alleluia,” I can use such a glorious hymn as this to say, “Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven.”