O God, Our Help in Ages Past


Performance Notes:

Text Information:

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Ps. 90:1
st. 2 = Ps. 90:1
st. 3 = Ps. 90:2
st. 4 = Ps. 90:4
st. 5 = Ps. 90:5
st. 6 = Ps. 90:1

Considered one of the finest paraphrases written by Isaac Watts, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" expresses a strong note of assurance, promise, and hope in the LORD as recorded in the first part of Psalm 90, even though the entire psalm has a recurring theme of lament. Watts wrote the paraphrase in nine stanzas around 1714 and first published the text in his Psalms of David (1719). The Psalter Hymnal includes the most well-known stanzas. The first line, originally "Our God, our help … ," was changed to "O God, our help… “by John Wesley in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns. (1738).

Liturgical Use:
Because it has great stature in the British Commonwealth and virtually serves as a second national anthem, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" is suitable for various civic occasions in addition to its more common.

Tune Information:

Though no firm documentation exists, ST. ANNE was probably composed by William Croft, possibly when he was organist from 1700-1711 at St. Anne's Church in Soho, London, England. (According to tradition, St. Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary.) The tune was first published in A Supplement to the New Version (6th ed., 1708) as a setting for Psalm 42. ST. ANNE became a setting for "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), and the two have been inseparable ever since.

ST. ANNE shares its first melodic motif with a number of other tunes from the early eighteenth century; one example is Bach's great fugue in E-flat, nicknamed "St. Anne," though it uses only the first motif of ST. ANNE. The original "gathering notes" (where the first note of each phrase is doubled in length) have been changed to equal the tune's prevailing quarter-note rhythms. ST. ANNE is a strong tune that must not be sung too rapidly. On the final stanza, sing in a stately manner and try unison singing on the alternative accompaniment by David Johnson, which was first published in Free Organ Accompaniments to Festival Hymns, Vol. 1 (1963).

Other Resources:

  • Visit hymnary.org for more information on this song and additional resources.
  • The following are alternative accompaniments for this tune, ST. ANNE

Alternative Harmonization for Organ and Descant Resources:

  • Archer, Malcolm. After the Last Verse. Kevin Mayhew ISBN 0 86209 502 6 [1995]
  • Burkhardt, Michael. Easy Hymn Settings General set 1.  Morningstar MSM-10-815 [1996]
  • Cassler, G. Winston. Organ Descants for Selected Hymns. Augsburg 11-9304 [1972]
  • Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations for Organ. bk. 1 Ludwig O-05 [1975]
  • Goode, Jack C. Thirty-Four Changes on Hymn Tunes. H W Grey GB 644 [1978]
  • Hancock, Gerre. Organ Improvisations for Hymn Singing. Hinshaw HMO-100 [1975]
  • McKinney, Howard D. Preludes for Fifty-Five Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 9770 [1967]
  • Noble, T. Tertius. Free Organ Accompaniments to One Hundred Well-Known Hymn Tunes. J. Fischer 8175 [1946]
  • Proulx, Richard. Hymn Intonations Preludes & Free Harmonizations. Vol. I Selah 160-720 [1991]
  • Rawsthorne, Noel. 200 Last Verses. Kevin Mayhew ISBN 0 86209 189 6 [1991]
  • Shaw, Geoffrey. The Descant Hymn-Tune Book bk 1. Novello 15207
  • Sowerby, Leo. Ten Hymn Tune Descants. H.W.Grey CMR 2838 [1965]
  • Wilkinson, John T. One Hundred and Four Descants for “The Hymn Book”. enThusia [1980]
  • Wyton, Alec. New Shoots from Old Roots. SMP KK 279 [1983]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:

  • Caraway, Jeff. Let It Rip! At the Piano. vol. 2 Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-7580-0 [2003]
  • Hopson, Hal H. The Creative Use of the Piano in Worship. Hope 8392 [2008]
Song Audio: 
Psalm 90
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