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Praise the Lord! O heav’ns adore him
Praise him angels, in the height.
Sun and moon, rejoice before him;
Praise him, all ye stars of light.
Praise the Lord! for he has spoken;
Worlds his mighty voice obeyed;
Laws which never can be broken
For their guidance he has made.Anon (1796)
THE HYMN STORY
The streets of London were crowded. People were bustling about on a cold, damp, Sunday morning as Thomas Coram (1668–1751) stepped carefully past garbage and nauseating filth strewn carelessly along the streets. He made his way to the church service at St. Andrew’s in Holborn. Thomas couldn’t help but hold his sleeve to his nose and wince at the gruesome sights he saw along the way–poor souls suffering from poverty and illness, people despondent and uncared for. Thomas was used to adventure, difficulty and the tough life of a sailor as an honorary captain in the American colonies, but there was something here on those London streets that broke his heart and made his blood boil. As he looked around him, he saw children. They weren’t happily playing and skipping down the London lanes. They were sick, abandoned children, without parents or anyone to take care of them. There were infants too, barely able to survive the elements, left on doorsteps and in latrines by mothers who could not keep them or care for them. Thomas approached the steps of St Andrew’s in a hurry, longing to shut the doors behind him and exchange the horror and ugliness of London’s grime for a bit of peace and quiet in the chapel.
And thus began the greatest adventure of Thomas Coram’s life. For the next 17 years, he worked tirelessly to establish The Foundling Hospital, the first charity to take in infants and children whose parents were unable to look after them. He petitioned help from all over England to make a safe place for foundlings. Support came from the leading women of the aristocracy, and well known artists and musicians. George Frideric Handel held concerts to benefit the home, and donated an organ to be used in the chapel. The artist William Hogarth supplied portraits for auction and to decorate its halls. On March 25, 1741, the Foundling Hospital became a safe haven for the unwanted and “illegitimate” children of London.
But then he saw her. Her little hands. Her big, brown, watching eyes. There she lay, wrapped in filthy blankets, abandoned on the church steps. The ache Thomas felt on this morning walk now increased a hundredfold as he looked at this helpless baby. And he knew he could not leave this poor creature to suffer from neglect any longer. With clenched fists he thought to himself, “What a wretched world you have entered, that would turn on you so quickly after your arrival to discard you to dung heaps. We cannot leave these foundlings to such a horrible fate. Something must be done.”
One of the top priorities of Foundling Hospital was children’s health, as many of their admittees suffered from smallpox, fevers, consumption, and dysentery. The home also provided shelter, clothing, food, safety and education for both boys and girls. Invaluably, the Bible was taught and the children all sang hymns during the Sunday morning service. The first two verses of Praise the Lord! Ye Heav’ns Adore Him appeared in a four-page tract that was pasted in the back of the hymn book published by Thomas Coram for use by the The Foundling Hospital. We will never know the true author of this hymn. But we know its beautiful, God exalting words were sung by foundlings–children who had many needs, but above all else, needed to know the great and sovereign God who is worthy of all praise and honor. With the words of this hymn they rejoiced in the truth that all who have trusted Jesus have prevailed over sin and death forever.
While Thomas Coram and his wife never had children of their own, through the Foundling Hospital, he saved the lives of more than 25,000 children. When we sing this hymn, we too can remember how God cares for the fatherless and praise him for being our great and powerful God.
THOUGHTS WHILE YOU SING
While the story of this hymn’s origin is particularly moving, the foundlings of London and the plight of the fatherless have little to do with its content. Rather, the hymn is a straight forward song of praise, and a paraphrase of Psalm 148. Here is what Barbara and David Leeman write about this song in their excellent Student Hymnal “Hosanna, Loud Hosannas.”
“As you sing this hymn, you join in the cosmic chorus of sun, moon, stars, and all creation in giving praise to God. Don’t think for a minute that if humans fail to worship God, no praise will ascend to heaven. According to Psalm 148, all that God has created, from angels to animals, from mountains to morning mist, proclaims the wonders of the Creator. Even the laws of nature like gravity and the orbit of planets, observes stanza one, are a declaration of praise…Stanza two recounts the story of redemption. God’s greatest act was to buy back for himself a creation marred by sin. Since he is gracious, he gives his people victory over sin and death. In his redemption is our greatest song of praise. The final and “newer” stanza summarizes the call to worship for young and old alike. It speaks of bending the knee, pointing to the right heart posture or attitude for worship. It’s not finally just inanimate creation that should praise God; we must.”
HOW WE DO HYMN OF THE MONTH
If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You may or may not be familiar with this hymn. Either way, we invite you to spend this month meditating on its truths.
To get you started, we’ve provided free printable lyrics, music and copywork — all found here!
You can find fresh versions of the hymn on our YouTube channel that you and your family can sing along with. There are loads of fresh versions of our favorite hymns on our hymn of the month playlist.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When we began singing hymns with our littles about 11 years ago, we kept it simple… We prayed and sang one hymn together every night at bedtime for a whole month. At the end of that month, our toddler knew just about every verse of the hymn and was even able to join us in singing it at church! Everyone’s family rhythm is different, so we welcome you to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (following your daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. We would so love to know how learning this hymn is going for you! If you have a moment, let us know how it’s going by posting either a video or a photo on Instagram. Just tag it with #happyhymnody! As always, if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your heart with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out! God bless you all this month as you worship and follow Jesus together as a family!
With so much love,
Bailey, A E. The Gospel in Hymns: Backgrounds and Interpretations. New York: Scribner, 1950.