We’re Marching to Zion - Isaac Watts/Robert Lowry


This hymn, written by Isaac Watts, was first published in 1707 and was entitled “Heavenly Joy on Earth.” Watts authored over 600 hymns and is known as “The Father of English Hymnody.” He profoundly influenced other hymn writers, including John and Charles Wesley, who studied his hymns and often used them in their meetings. In 1737, while ministering in America, John included it in the first hymnal published in America, “Psalms and Hymns, Charlestown Collection.” Wesley omitted two of the original stanzas and gave the hymn a different title, “Heaven Begun on Earth.”

Since then, the hymn has survived many changes, and most hymnals today use only four or five of the original ten stanzas. The title “Come, We That Love the Lord” is derived from the first line.  The most common tune is “St. Thomas,” composed in 1763 by Aaron Williams, an 18th-century Welsh singing teacher and music engraver. Williams published several choir music collections for use in rural churches.

In 1869, more than 100 years later, Robert Lowry composed a new tune and refrain for Watts’ verses. Lowry was a Baptist pastor in Brooklyn and a well-known author and composer of gospel hymns. However, he often said he’d “rather preach than write.” He’s probably most famous for writing the words and music for “Shall We Gather at the River?”

Lowry was ministering and teaching during the Civil War, which was also a time when revivalism was rising in America. He was impressed with Watts’ text, but he wanted a musical setting that expressed the enthusiasm of the American revival movement. He adapted the text, composed a new tune, and called it “We’re Marching to Zion.” Taking “marching” from the words of Watts’ final stanza, Lowry created a refrain that gave the new setting its name:

“We’re marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We’re marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.”

The repetitive nature of Lowry’s version makes the text more easily sung in less formal situations such as revival meetings, rural churches, and children's meetings. Lowry often added refrains to existing hymns. A common practice was for the adults to sing the verses written by Watts, and then the children would join in on the refrain.

Both settings of Isaac Watts’ hymn text appear in many hymnals, one expressing the Christian’s joy in a stately manner and the other in the enthusiastic spirit of a revival. Lowry’s version changed the emphasis from a reverent recognition of “Heavenly Joy on Earth” to that of a community of believers on the journey to eternity, joyfully anticipating when they’ll be at home in heaven, singing praises around the throne of God. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away (Isaiah 35:10).

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.
The sorrows of the mind
Be banished from the place!
Religion never was designed,
Religion never was designed
To make our pleasures less,
To make our pleasures less.
Let those refuse to sing
That never knew our God,
But fav’rites of the heav’nly King,
But fav’rites of the heav’nly King
May speak their joys abroad,
May speak their joys abroad.
The God that rules on high,
And thunders when he please,
That rides upon the stormy sky,
That rides upon the stormy sky,
And manages the seas,
And manages the seas.
This awful God is ours,
Our Father and our love,
His Son shall come with heav’nly pow’r,
His Son shall come with heav’nly pow’r,
To carry us above,
To carry us above.
There we shall see his face,
And never, never sin;
There from the rivers of his grace,
There from the rivers of his grace
Drink endless pleasures in,
Drink endless pleasures in.
Yes, and before we rise
To that immortal state,
The thoughts of such amazing bliss,
The thoughts of such amazing bliss
Should constant joys create,
Should constant joys create.
The men of grace have found
Glory begun below,
Celestial fruits on earthly ground,
Celestial fruits on earthly ground
From faith and hope may grow,
From faith and hope may grow.
The hill of Zion yields
A thousand sacred sweets,
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Before we reach the heav’nly fields,
Or walk the golden street,
Or walk the golden street.
Then let our songs abound,
And ev’ry tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground,
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high,
To fairer worlds on high.


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