We’re Marching to Zion

By Isaac Watts

marching to zion1

Come, we that love the Lord,
and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord,
join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne,
and thus surround the throne.

We’re marching to Zion,
beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we’re marching upward to Zion,
the beautiful city of God.

Let those refuse to sing
who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King,
but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad,
may speak their joys abroad.
The hill of Zion yields
a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heavenly fields,
before we reach the heavenly fields,
or walk the golden streets,
or walk the golden streets.

Then let our songs abound,
and every tear be dry;
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground,
to fairer worlds on high,
to fairer worlds on high.

Recently I shared some thoughts about How to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land based upon a passage of Scripture found in Psalm 137. And in my research about this subject I have been intrigued by verses 1-6.  I also consulted the writings of Jeff Mowery who also meditated on the same scripture. I have gained further insight from his works which has blessed mine.

To start with, the story behind the writing of this hymn is rather an interesting one because times really change and given the days we live in another similar song can be composed. In many places, we have abandoned hymns in an effort to accommodate the current tastes of the congregation.  In some instances, churches have also brought in secular songs because of their popularity of the song or because of a song’s”positive” message.  As one who loves hymns, this is disheartening.  Although there are some good modern choruses, I believe these great old hymns are packed full of encouragement, doctrine, and many times full of Scripture or Scripture references.  This is one area that is lacking often times in modern choruses.

There was a time when the question of whether to sing Psalms or hymns in church services was an issue. Isaac Watts was the lifelong champion of the humanly composed hymns while the majority of the English speaking churches insisted on the more traditional Psalms singing. It is said that tempers actually frequently flared and some churches actually split in the heat of the decidedly inharmonious musical conflict. In some churches however, a compromise was reached. Because of the controversy between singing of Psalms and the singing of hymns, the church decided to sing Psalms at the beginning of their service and then after the preaching, they would sing hymns. Many people who were still against the hymns would get up and leave the service at this time. Yes – Many people would walk out of the church when the hymns were sung in protest. Isaac Watts wrote the hymn, “We’re Marching to Zion,” to refute this practice of people walking out during the hymn singing. Just read the words especially stanza two again and you will understand the author’s indictment of those people who he says ”refuse to sing.”

Let those refuse to sing
who never knew our God;
but children of the heavenly King,
but children of the heavenly King
may speak their joys abroad,
may speak their joys abroad.

I personally hope that we have a “revival” of old hymns like “We’re Marching to Zion” since they are such an important part of our Christian history, and because they are full of solid Biblical truth.  I also hope we don’t join the camp that folds our arms, and in protest, refuse to sing praise to the Lord.  That too, is not the right Christian response.  We have lots of things to be grateful for, and lots of things to sing about.  So let’s continue to encourage one another.  Let’s take our harps out of the poplars, and sing the “songs of Zion.”  We have so much to sing about.

Couple of comments on the Hymn:

  • The Hymn was written from the point of view of those Israelites who had been taken captive into a foreign land.  They are so mournful and depressed that they hang their harps in the poplars.  They wonder – “Will we ever be able to sing the songs of Zion?”  Their captors mocked them and made fun of them urging them to sing the songs of Zion, but they could not.  I wondered if that passage of Scripture represents us sometimes.  Have the trials and tribulations we are dealing with on a daily basis stolen our song?  Have we hung up our harps in the trees because we think there is nothing left to sing about?  I also wonder if this passage of Scripture gives us some insight into finding our song again.  Maybe if we return our focus to “Zion” or to the “New Jerusalem” –  return our focus to Heaven – if only our songs would be different.  If only we focused on Heaven – a place where there are no problems, no pain, I think we would change our tune.  If we focused on the place where there is rejoicing forever, a place where there is singing – singing of praise to the One that saved us from our sins, I am confident we would be different.  I think it is hard to think about the beauty and benefits of Heaven without singing a song in our heart.
  • “Marching upward to Zion” – Two key words here.  Marching and upward.  We shouldn’t be “strolling” to Zion or “wandering” to Zion.  No we should be marching – with purpose, with intensity because we know where we are going.  Secondly, we should be marching upward.  Upward to a better place.  Upward to a higher place.  We aren’t heading downhill.  We are marching upward to the beautiful city of God.
  • “Before we reach the heavenly fields” – Because of God’s love for us, He not only has prepared a wonderful place for us when we die, or when we meet Him in the air.  He also provides “sacred sweets” before we reach the “heavenly fields.”  Those “sacred sweets” are the daily blessings we receive while on earth.  Another day of life.  Another day to share with one another.  New babies that are born everyday.  New joys of helping someone find Christ.  Each of those things are blessings that happen before we get to Heaven, and we ought to be truly grateful for those “sacred sweets.”

marching to Zion

About The Hymn Writer Isaac Watts

It is said that what the Psalmist David was to ancient Israel — Isaac Watts was to England and Colonial America.

The writing and singing of hymns and spiritual songs have been a major part of the worship of the church since the days of ancient Israel. In fact, singing as an expression of worship and adoration of the LORD has also been a spiritual weapon in the life of the Christian Church and a source of inspiration and encouragement to thousands of saints throughout the ages of time.

No doubt ever since our ancient Israelite forefathers engaged in the act of worship toward the true and living God, singing of hymns has been an expression of the human soul, for who God is and for what He has done. This is clearly seen in the experience of Moses and the children of Israel after the crossing of the Red Sea in their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 15:1-21).

It is very evident in God’s dealing with His people that He has always had special chosen servants whom He has anointed in writing hymns and spiritual songs that have been long-lasting significant tokens of God’s grace to His people. Among the many saints that the Lord anointed for this special purpose was Isaac Watts, the father of English hymnody.
Isaac Watts was born on July 7, 1674, in Southampton, England. He was the eldest of nine children born into the home of Deacon Enoch Watts, a Puritan who ministered in the Congregational Church. As a religious dissenter not adhering to the established church order and doctrine of that day, Enoch Watts spent much time in prison and was not home at the time of his son Isaac’s birth. At a very early age, Isaac showed exceptional aptitude for study and learned Latin at the age of five, Greek at nine, French at eleven and Hebrew at thirteen. For twelve years, his mother taught him the writing of rhyme and verse. Isaac developed a habit of rhyming his everyday conversation that became very annoying to his father. Being very irritated with young Isaac’s incessant rhyming, one day his father severely scolded him and young Isaac responded with, “Oh father, do some pity take, and I will no more verses make.”

Being raised in a Christian home by very Godly parents, Isaac learned to deeply appreciate the Word of God and the doctrines and services of the church, but was very disappointed and concerned about its music. Thinking that the traditional music was very droning, dull and lifeless, he constantly complained to his father who irritatingly exclaimed, “Why don’t you give us something better, young man!”

Accepting his fathers reprimand as a challenge, Isaac Watts set about to “modernize” the Psalms and to give to the Church hymns that were of deep meaning and quality, yet were singable for church congregations. The following Sunday, Isaac presented to his father his first attempt at hymn writing which included these lines:

Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst His Father’s throne;

Prepare new honours for His name,

And songs before unknown.

From that humble beginning in 1692, the pen of Isaac Watts has brought about a revolution in the singing of the Christian Church that still resounds after three centuries of praise and worship. In 1707 he published his first book of hymns entitled HYMNS AND SPIRITUAL SONGS, which had sixteen editions in his lifetime.


Altogether he wrote more than 600 hymns for the church plus rhyming verse and poetry for educational tutoring. These hymns were widely accepted throughout the English-speaking world and were welcomed by the early American colonists, as they were brought over from the old world by new English immigrants. The hymn books of the churches of New England during the time of the American Revolution were largely filled with the songs of Isaac Watts. During the war, while American colonists were engaged in battle with British soldiers, they ran out of ‘wad’ for their muskets. A local pastor who was nearby ran into the church and gathered up the hymn books. He then proceeded to tear out the pages and give them to the soldiers to be used as wadding in their muskets, as he yelled out “give ’em Watts, boys!”  Thus is the origin of the modern term of anger, “to give them ‘watt’ for.”

Among some of Isaac Watts’ most well-beloved and popular hymns are: Joy to the World; 0 God Our Help in Ages Past, based on Ps. 90; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, from St. Paul’s admonition in Galatians 6:14; I Sing the Mighty Power of God; When I Can Read My Title Clear; Alas and Did My Savior Bleed also known as, “At the Cross”; Am I a Soldier of the Cross?; and Come We That Love the Lord also known as, We’re Marching to Zion.

Isaac Watts was educated at Stoke Newington Academy and afterward worked as a private tutor for several years. At the age of twenty-eight he became the senior pastor of the nonconformist Mark Lane Church of London, which position he held for the rest of his life.

Having suffered from smallpox when he was fifteen years old, Isaac Watts remained sickly and in poor health his entire life. In spite of this disability he became an outstanding theologian and master pulpiteer which attracted the Lords and Ladies of London to become part of his congregation. He was so loved by his church that to prevent him from resigning they hired an assistant to preach when he was physically unable.

Besides suffering from frailty of health all his life, Isaac Watts only stood five feet tall with an oversized head and large nose which gave him a very ugly and grotesque appearance. In spite of his physical disadvantages, he was a brilliant, mild-mannered, loving and magnetic personality that transformed the musical worship of the Christian Church for the last three centuries.

His powerful gospel preaching and inspirational hymns earned him not only a monument in his honor in Westminster Abbey, but a special reverence in the hearts of millions of saints.

Regardless of his popularity and success as an intellectual genius, poet, educator, pastor and reformer, because he was a nonconformist and dissenter of the Church of England, he was not allowed to be buried within the city limits of London. Therefore, he was laid to rest in Bunhill Fields with his fellow churchmen outside of the city walls in 1748 at the age of seventy-four.

The general themes of most of the songs composed by Isaac Watts are the sovereignty of God, the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ for man’s salvation and the consecration of the believer.

This entry was posted in Honey for the Heart – Lessons from the Psalms, Hymns Alive. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to We’re Marching to Zion

  1. Daniel Ekwamoah Entsie says:

    I luv your writings
    GOD richly bless you
    am inspired


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