Come, We that Love the Lord: A History
Isaac Watts (1674-1738), also known as “Father of English hymnody,” wrote the text for “Come, We that Love the Lord.” Isaac was raised in the Independent Congregational Church. He was dissatisfied by the strict poetic versification of the psalms for congregational worship and the established standard practices of metrical psalms. He introduced a new approach by composing hymns that “Christianized” the texts of the Psalter. “Come, We that Love the Lord” wasn’t based on a psalm; however, Isaac still adapted the from the Scripture. He practiced incorporating the scripture on all his work for use as devotional poetry.
The hymn can be found under the title “Heavenly Joy on Earth” in Watt’s Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Book II in 1707. It was printed in ten, four-line stanzas and was later used by John Wesley in 1737 as a part of his Psalms and Hymns called ‘Charlestown’ Collection. “Heavenly Joy on Earth” was the first hymnal of Wesley published in America during his trip to the colony. He omitted stanzas two and nine and published the text in eight-line stanzas. Many alterations of the hymn were written since then. One notable version was written by gospel songwriter Robert Lowry (1826-1899). Lowry used a four-line, four-stanza version and added refrain. Furthermore, there was a revision made in the British Methodist hymnal “Hymns and Psalms” to modernize the text to fit it more to a new generation. The ‘Ye’ in the first line of the original hymn was changed to ‘We.’
Two tunes are being associated with the hymn. The first tune is called St. Thomas, written in 1763 by Welsh composer Aaron Williams (1731-1776). The second tune is called Marching to Zion, written in 1867 by Robert Lowry.
The hymn was referenced from the Scripture, specifically from the book of Revelation 14:1-3, 7:17, and 21:21. The joys of the saints, singing as they “surround the throne,” can be found from these passages. Watts described the presence of joy that can be found not just in heaven but also here on earth in stanzas eight and nine of the original text.