Well, it’s Wednesday again. Are you ready to go to the mountaintop to worship the Lord?
Today is a hymn written by one of the most endearing, enduring, and prolific writers of worship songs—Isaac Watts. He’s known as the “father of English hymnody” and credited with almost 520 songs. You probably know him best through his songs “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “At the Cross (Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed).” Today we’ll worship with one of his lesser known but oh so good songs. It’s called “How Sweet and Aweful Is the Place.”
Watts wrote this hymn in 1707 and set it to an unnamed ancient Irish melody. I first worshiped the Lord with this back in 2008 at the Together for the Gospel conference and was deeply moved by lyrics and melody. There’s just something about Irish tunes that move the heart!
Enjoy the Lord by singing along!
How sweet and aweful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice
And enter while there’s room
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”
’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin
Pity the nations, O our God
Constrain the earth to come
Send Thy victorious Word abroad
And bring the strangers home
We long to see Thy churches full
That all the chosen race
May with one voice and heart and soul
Sing Thy redeeming grace
Verse 1 seems to picture a place of worship, perhaps a church building full of worshipers on the Lord’s Day. Jesus has promised that wherever two or three gather in His name, He will be in their midst, and that’s exactly what’s pictured here: the place where worshipers gather, and Jesus manifests His presence. Watts uses the words “sweet” and “aweful” to describe that place. “Aweful” strikes our modern ears as odd, but most likely Watts is using aweful in an archaic sense. He’s using aweful the way we use awesome. So, think “how sweet and awesome is the place with Christ within the doors.” Now that makes more sense to 21st-century American Christians and actually communicates what he meant!
Verses 2, 3, and 4 marvel at the grace God in the life of the one who believes on Christ. The Father has brought us to a great feast, which causes us to marvel “Why me? Why was I made a guest? Why was I made to hear and enter in?” The answer is nothing other than God has chosen to be gracious to you. You don’t deserve to be a guest at the Lord’s banquet, but you are, which causes thankfulness to rise in you. The same love that prepared the banquet drew you into the banquet.
Verses 5 and 6 move from the inward wonder at being at the banquet to the outward longing to see others come in as well. It’s the grace shown to us in our own lives that pushes us to want others to experience the same. So, Watts ends with begging God to move through the nations and bring many into the banquet until all the chosen race is gathered to sing of salvation and the Savior.
May the presence of Christ be thick as you worship Him! May it be sweet and awesome!