Hail to the Lord's Anointed


Other Resources

  • Visit hymnary.org for more information on this song and additional resources.

Performance Notes:

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was one of the earliest and most prominent hymn writers to "Christianize" the psalms. In fact, he is known as the Father of English hymnody. In Watts's day most churches permitted their congregations to sing only psalms— no hymns. Watts became impatient with some of the poor poetry based on the psalms and with being unable to sing about the Christian faith in New Testament terms, so he decided to "Christianize" some of the psalms.

His "Christianized" psalms opened the door in many churches to accepting hymns in public worship. Most Christians are familiar with his "Jesus Shall Reign," but perhaps not all are aware that this is Watts's free paraphrase of Psalm 72.

"Hail to the Lord's Anointed" is another paraphrase of Psalm 72, written almost a century later by James Montgomery (1771-1854). Although not as popular as "Jesus Shall Reign," "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" is a closer paraphrase of Psalm 72, especially with Bert Polman's revision for the Psalter Hymnal.

James Montgomery was born of Moravian parents who later served as missionaries to the West Indies. When both his parents died, Montgomery was sent to a Moravian school in England. He began studying for the ministry but soon became frustrated and turned to his first love, poetry. For most of his life, Montgomery worked as a journalist and editor of a small newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, which published many of his over four hundred hymns. Among the most famous of his hymns are "Angels from the Realms of Glory" and "According to Thy Gracious Word."

Many churches celebrate mission emphasis during Epiphany, a most appropriate time to demonstrate that God reveals himself to the world through his people. "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" focuses on the mission aspect of the Epiphany theme. It speaks of God's rule over all the nations (st. 2 and st. 6) and the desert tribes and foreign kings who pay tribute to him (st. 3).

Your congregation will enjoy learning this hymn. The opening measure is very proclamatory, and the bright melody has the necessary repetitions to facilitate learning. The hymn concertato (see insert in this issue of RW) includes a soprano descant, a brass accompaniment, an alternate harmonization, and a brass fanfare that can be used in whole or in part throughout the month to provide variety from Sunday to Sunday.

Text Information:

James Montgomery (b. Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1771; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1854) wrote this text for Christmas 1821 as an ode based on Psalm 72. It was first published in its entirety (eight stanzas) in 1822 in Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, and later that year Montgomery also published it in his Songs of Zion.

The son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school, Montgomery inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He was editor of the Sheffield Iris (1796-1827), a newspaper that sometimes espoused radical causes. Montgomery was imprisoned briefly when he printed a song that celebrated the fall of the Bastille and again when he described a riot in Sheffield that reflected unfavorably on a military commander. He also protested against slavery, the lot of boy chimney sweeps, and lotteries. Associated with Christians of various persuasions, Montgomery supported missions and the British Bible Society.

He published eleven volumes of poetry, mainly his own, and at least four hundred hymns. Some critics judge his hymn texts to be equal in quality to those of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Many were published in Thomas Cotterill's Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1819 edition) and in Montgomery's own Songs of Zion (1822), Christian Psalmist (1825), and Original Hymns (1853).

Liturgical Use:
Advent; Epiphany; Ascension celebrations; also suitable as a missionary song.

Tune Information:

ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVOGELEIN, a German folk tune, was first published in an early-seventeenth-century manuscript collection from Memmingen, Germany. It later became a setting for Christopher Wordsworth's "O Day of Rest and Gladness" in George R. Woodward's Songs of Syon (1910 edition). The tune shares its opening motive and also its bar-form structure (AABA') with LOBE DEN HERREN. ES FLOG's combination of a sturdy tune and an able harmonization calls for energetic art singing that remains vibrant but not rushed.


Song Audio: 
Psalm 72
Song Number: 
Projection and Reprint Information: 
  • Words and Music: The Words and Music are in the Public Domain; you do not need permission to project or reprint the Words and Music.
Public Domain