Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (based Psalm 103/150), 1680
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty is one of the very best hymns (thinking of the combination of text and tune) written in the last three hundred fifty years, and it is no surprise that it is a favorite of our congregation. The text of the song is based on Psalms 103 and 150. In the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary of 1929, it finds itself aptly located in the section delineated “God: His Being, Works, Word.” The song’s author was Joachim Neander, the grandson of a musician and the son of a teacher. He studied theology at Bremen, Heidelberg and then Frankfurt, where (at the age of 23) he met the great German Pietist scholars Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) and Johann Jakob Schütz (1640-1690). Neander died at the young age of 30, perhaps of the plague, having served in his short life as a school principal and as a minister. He wrote this hymn when he was 20.
Julian, the great hymnologist says “A magnificent hymn of praise to God, perhaps the finest production of its author (the German hymn-writer, Neander), and of the first rank in its class.” “Praise to the Lord” is the opening phrase of each stanza of this song that draws on Psalms 103 and 150. It was translated by the remarkable Catherine Winkworth who “lived most of her life in Manchester, England. The notable exception was the year she spent in Dresden, Germany. Around 1854, she published Lyra Germanica, containing numerous German hymns translated into English. She went on to publish another series of German hymns in 1858. In 1863, she came out with The Chorale Book for England, and in 1869, Christian Singers of Germany. More than any other single person, she helped bring the German chorale tradition to the English speaking world.” (Cyberhymnal.org)
Each stanza begins with “Praise to the Lord.” Stanza one praises the almighty Lord who is the Creator God for his blessings of both health and salvation. It begins with a self-exhortation, as we speak to our own souls (“O my soul, praise him”), echoing Psalm 103:1-2, exhorting our own selves to praise the Lord, and concludes with an exhortation to all within earshot (“All ye who hear”) to draw near to God with joyful adoration.
Stanza two openly, gladly and unapologetically acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all things, especially as it is seen in his protective care of us (“Shelters thee under His wings,” “gently sustains us”). By the way, notice how we are still talking to ourselves – “Shelters thee,” thee being you talking to your own soul! It reminds you of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ suggestion that Christians ought to argue with and preach to themselves! The second stanza concludes with a self-reminder that God has often granted our heart’s desires in his providential unfolding of his plan in our lives.
Stanza three again recognizes that it is the Lord who “prospers the work of our hands” (see Psalm 90:17) and who protects us from our enemies. Once again, this stanza has us exhorting our souls to give praise to God because of his blessings to us (“Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee”). The third stanza acknowledges that “His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee” (reminding one of Lamentations 3:22-23), and then goes on to exhort our heart to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do, If with His love He befriend thee.” That is, just think of what God can do, if he pours out his saving love on you?
Stanza four acknowledges God has our own maker, the giver of our health, the loving providential guide and support of our life. It’s powerful language crescendos with the bold and believing declaration: “How oft in grief hath not he brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’er shade thee!” I have often sung this phrase in tears of trust, in the bonds of suffering, in confident peace, in our congregation.
Stanza five, once more, asks our self to give God our all in praise (“O let all that is in me adore Him!”), and then transitions to the words and exhortation of Psalm 150:6 “All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him,” concluding with a call to God’s people to add their “so be it,” their “Amen,” to the praise, and to continue this happy praise forever.