There are many gems to be found in the old hymnals. They shine with God’s praise from past generations. They remind us that His work reaches far beyond what we see Him doing in our own day. We are but a part of a concert of praise that has been ringing throughout history.
We should sing hymns of the past. And we should learn from hymns of the past. They provide insights not just into the sounds of past praise, but into the thoughtfulness and craft of forming praise.
One such example is “Sovereign Ruler of the Skies” by the English Baptist pastor and hymn writer John Ryland (1753–1825). The hymn was written in 1777 and included in Rippon’s Selection (1787) #545. It originally had nine verses. Unfortunately, as with many hymns, it is often shortened to four or five verses when included in hymnals. Even the Baptist Psalmody (1850) #51 includes only five verses.
The longer composition is worth singing. It reveals Ryland’s intentions in thought and structure. The hymn begins with doctrine that overflows into devotion. As in a well-crafted sermon, he takes time to proclaim truth and then apply truth. In the first six verses he declares what is true about God and about himself. Then in verses 7–9 he responds to that truth. His response is a model for us in how we should respond:
He prays, entrusting himself to God: “In Thy hands my life I trust.”
He examines his heart and motives, wanting nothing to surpass God in his life, asking himself: “Have I somewhat dearer still?”
He commits himself to God’s will, acknowledging that all he has and is belongs to God.
He praises God, desiring to bless Him “at all times”
And he closes the hymn by preaching to his own soul. God is sovereign over all. If I have Him, I have all I need. He will never leave me or forsake me. So how could I ever be orphaned or abandoned?
Take time to read Ryland’s hymn—all nine verses. He has much to teach us about savoring truth and crafting praise.
Sovereign Ruler of the Skies
“My times are in Your hand” (Psalm 31:15a).
1. Sovereign Ruler of the skies!
Ever gracious, ever wise!
All my times are in Thy hand,
All events at Thy command.
2. His decree, who formed the earth,
Fixed my first and second birth;
Parents, native place and time,
All appointed were by Him.
3. He that formed me in the womb,
He shall guide me to the tomb;
All my times shall ever be
Ordered by His wise decree.
4. Times of sickness, times of health,
Times of penury and wealth;
Times of trial and of grief,
Time of triumph and relief.
5. Times the tempter’s power to prove,
Times to taste a Savior’s love:
All must come, and last and end,
As shall please my heavenly Friend.
6. Plagues and deaths around me fly,
Till He bids I cannot die:
Not a single shaft can hit
Till the God of love thinks fit.
7. O Thou Gracious, Wise and Just,
In Thy hands my life I trust:
Have I somewhat dearer still?
I resign it to Thy will.
8. May I always own Thy hand
Still to the surrender stand;
Know that Thou art God alone,
I and mine are all Thine own.
9. Thee, at all times, will I bless;
Having Thee, I all possess;
How can I bereaved be,
Since I cannot part with Thee?
“Sovereign Ruler of the Skies”
Words by John Ryland (1777)
Music by William Henry Monk (1823-1889)
Words and Music ©Public Domain
Download free sheet music (PDF), including a guitar chord chart and an arrangement of the hymn tune INNOCENTS for classical guitar.