Unto the Hills Around Do I Lift Up -John D. S. Campbell


On two different occasions, Paul spoke of singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:18-19 and Colossians 3:16). The apostle admonished believers to sing, using those three words to identify the variety of musical expressions to be used. Scholars don’t all agree on what Paul meant by these three different terms, but psalms was certainly one of them. The book of Psalms was the “hymnal” used in Jewish worship for centuries. Psalms were written as poetry, but ancient Hebrew poetry was quite different from today’s poetry. It rarely used rhyme and never used what is considered meter. It’s also not known what ancient Hebrew music actually sounded like. 


Until the time of Isaac Watts (1674 -1748), the established Church and independents in the English-speaking world had sung rhymed, metrical translations of the Psalms. These were published in books called Psalters and used a few simple tunes for all the Psalms. Watts sensed the need to improve the churches’ poor singing and changed the course of congregational singing. He paraphrased the Psalms into hymn-like poems that were easily sung to well-chosen tunes. Watts wrote hundreds of hymns and greatly influenced many hymn writers who came after him.


Written in 1877, “Unto the Hills Around Do I Lift Up” is a fine example of a Psalm paraphrased for congregational singing. This paraphrase of Psalm 121 was written by John D. S. Campbell and was included in his “Book of Psalms.” Campbell was a British nobleman whose father was the Duke of Argyll, a title he assumed on his father’s death. He served as a member of Parliament in the House of Commons and, in 1871, married Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria. He was appointed Governor General of Canada for five years and then returned to England to again serve in Parliament. He died of pneumonia in 1914 while vacationing on the Isle of Wight.


The tune “Sandon” that was commonly used for “Unto the Hills Around Do I Lift Up” was composed by Charles H. Purday and first used for another hymn in his 1860 hymnal. Purday possessed an excellent singing voice and was the presenter, or song leader, for many years at the Scottish Church of Drury Lane in London. He sang for Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1837. He was a music publisher and, with Francis Havergal, published “Songs of Peace and Joy” in 1879.


The four stanzas of Campbell’s paraphrase faithfully follow Psalm 121:1-8, encouraging believers to look to God above for help in the trials of life. The Psalm is filled with the promises of God, Who is in charge of all creation and yet lovingly cares for sinners who put their trust in Christ. How comforting to know He never sleeps nor takes a vacation. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).


Unto the hills around do I lift up My longing eyes:
O whence for me shall my salvation come, From whence arise?
From God the
Lord doth come my certain aid,
From God the
Lord, who heav’n and earth hath made.
He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall his eyelids close Who keepeth thee.
Behold, he sleepeth not, he slumb’reth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in his holy care.
Jehovah is himself thy keeper true - Thy changeless shade
Jehovah evermore on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite:
No moon shall blind thee in the silent night.
From ev’ry evil shall he keep thy soul, From ev’ry sin:
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, Thy coming in.
Above thee watching, he whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, for evermore.


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