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WS 742, LSB 793 “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven”


The most famous hymn Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1874) ever wrote was Abide with Me! Fast Falls the Eventide, but not far behind is Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven. With this poem, Lyte gave the world a text that not only praises God with high alleluias but also recounts His loving mercy toward us in phrases filled with comfort.
This hymn appears most frequently in hymnals under the heading Worship and Praise. The hymn writer understood both. Christian worship is more than just praise. In fact, our praises to God come second. Before we are able to praise our Lord, we must first be the recipients of His divine grace. This is the greater part of our worship services too: God’s coming to us and serving us with the Gospel. First He gives us gifts that are worthy of praise, and then we proclaim the wonders He has done.
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; / To His feet your tribute bring. But why bring such tribute? What moves us to lay our best before the Lord and praise Him as our King? It is answered: Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Could there be four words together that better describe what God has done for us? Could there be four words that better call forth an everlasting outpouring of praise from our hearts? We are ransomed from sin, death, and hell by the cross and empty tomb of Jesus (Mark 10:45; Romans 4:25). We are healed because Christ took our weaknesses and infirmities on Himself (Isaiah 53:4). We are restored to life forever (John 10:10). We are forgiven (Roman 4:7), for our sins have been lifted up and carried away. Alleluia, alleluia! / Praise the everlasting King.
The hymn’s second stanza highlights God’s readiness to help us in our days of distress. Psalm 50:15 is where we find that famous invitation, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” (NIV84) It seems as if Henry Lyte had that very passage in mind when he wrote, Praise Him for His grace and favor / To His people in distress; / Praise Him still the same as ever, / Slow to chide, and swift to bless . . . Glorious in His faithfulness.
God’s mercy toward us is the subject of stanza three. If the Lord were to turn away from us, we would not last a moment. We are ever so weak and ever so frail, but a bruised reed He does not break and a faintly burning wick He does not snuff out! Fatherlike He tends and spares us; / Well our feeble frame He knows; / In His hand He gently bears us, / Rescues us from all our foes.
Finally, God’s mercy and love toward us is unchanging. The closing stanza echoes one of the beloved themes from Abide with Me! (“O Thou, who changest not . . .”). Never will our Lord fail us! Alleluia! Frail as summer’s flow’r we flourish, / Blows the wind and it is gone; / But while mortals rise and perish / God endures unchanging on.
Such a mighty text of worship and praise deserves an equally mighty hymn tune. The organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, John Goss (1800-1880), does not disappoint us. In 1868 he wrote a melody called LAUDA ANIMA to go with these verses. It has been called one of the finest tunes ever to come out of the Victorian era. A musical reviewer in 1869 wrote, “It is at once the most beautiful and dignified hymn tune which has lately come under our notice.” When you hear it, you will find it hard to disagree even 150 years later.
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the “Bread of Life” devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.