How Sweet and Aweful is the Place

For the last couple of weeks, during the Sunday school hour at our church , one of the men in the congregation has been teaching our whole assembly how to sing in four-part harmony. While I was a bit skeptical at first, it has been really fun, and we have learned a lot. By the end of the Sunday school hour, we sound really beautiful. And when we sing the songs we have practiced (and others) during our worship service, it has been a blessing to catch at least a faint strain of an aspect of the beauty of holiness (Psalm 29:2).

One of the songs we have been practicing on is How Sweet and Aweful is the Place by Isaac Watts. The lyrics are very rich, and the tune we are singing this hymn to is St. Columba (an Old Irish hymn melody). If you click on the link, you can hear this tune though we’re not singing with an organ accompaniment. The hymn book our church uses, the Trinity Hymnal: Baptist Edition, has inserted Luke 14:16 above this hymn, which reminds me of the short story I wrote earlier this year.

1. How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

2. While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

3. “Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

4. ‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

5. Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

6. We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

by Isaac Watts, 1707 (Public Domain)

In the first stanza, the word aweful is used in an archaic or literal sense, full of awe. Awesome would be an adequate equivalent.

The fifth stanza of this hymn is especially dear to me. ‘Pity’ here takes the old sense of ‘have mercy on’. Recently, I heard an accusation that the old hymns don’t speak much about missions. There may be a lack, but ever since I heard this, I have been noticing the many references and commands to take the gospel to the four corners of the globe throughout various old hymns. This verse, is one such example.

The base line, which is what I am fated to sing, has been resonating through me the last several days. Now I just need to memorize the words!


2 thoughts on “How Sweet and Aweful is the Place

  1. I liiiiike it! The hymns of elder times do my heart a great deal of good. I also enjoyed reading your related short. Now if only you could post a recording of your quartet singing the song…


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