Song Reflection: “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”

Zac HicksHistory of Worship and Church Music, Personal Stories & Testimonies, Worship Resources, Worship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment

In preparation for the release of our album, Without Our Aid, on September 13, 2011, we’re beginning a series of posts reflecting on the hymns incorporated into the project. 

Many do not realize that the Protestant Reformation was just as much about worship as it was about doctrine.  In fact, reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin would have seen little division between the former and the latter.  Luther championed three emphases in particular, which all serve the goal of elevating the congregation’s participation in worship against the backdrop of the passive, clergy-driven liturgy of the medieval Church:

(1) The priesthood of all believers
(2) Worship in the vernacular
(3) Scripture and doctrine in the hands of the laity

As the Reformation spread, a revolution in songwriting occurred, and Christian musicians began reaping the harvest of writing songs in their native tongue.  It was an exciting time.  In England in the 1500s, the dominant strain of the Reformation was that of Calvin, whose own worship emphases strongly advocated the singing of Psalms.  And in 1562, a fresh edition of newly Anglicized hymns appeared, commonly referred to as “Sternhold and Hopkins,” the editors’ names.  Many of those metrical psalms (psalms set to poetic meter) have fallen into disuse, but one has endured and can still be found in some hymnals today–“All People That on Earth Do Dwell,” by William Kethe.  This hymn is a metrical version of Psalm 100, one of the most popular psalms in the Bible.  Our album, Without Our Aid, gets its title from the second line of the second verse, emphasizing the sovereignty and power of God over against the helplessness and inability of humanity.

Our setting of the psalm is a driving, mid-tempo arrangement, with an added chorus that is nearly completely derived from Psalm 100 (NIV).  Of our songs, it has been one of our congregation’s favorites for several years now.  The song’s ending repeats the psalm’s final words (“for the Lord is good and His love endureth forever…”) over and over again.  It is a “surprise refrain” in the sense that it introduces a new melodic and harmonic section of the song, painting the picture that God’s eternal, heavenly love and faithfulness are like nothing we’ve experienced before.  We sing it repeatedly to emphasize this eternality and to offer a moment of meditation on this portion of Scripture.

Here are the words:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;
Him serve with joy, His praise forth tell,
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Know that the Lord is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
Worship Him with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful songs!
Praise the Lord, all the earth!
Enter with thanksgiving;
Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

O enter then His gates with praise,
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? The Lord our God is good,
His mercy is forever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

For the Lord is good,
And His love endureth forever,
And His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Words: William Kethe, 1561; Zac Hicks, 2009 (add’l lyrics adapted from Psalm 100)
Music: Zac Hicks, 2009
©2011 Unbudding Fig Music (ASCAP)
Winner of the Church of the Servant 2010 New Psalm Contest

In memory of Ben Fackler

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