One of the great hymns of the faith that has stood the test of time is Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.” Dwight lived from 1752 to 1817 and was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards. He was a young man in his twenties during the American Revolution. Licensed to preach in 1777, he served until the fall of 1778 as a chaplain in the Connecticut Brigade of the Continental Army. Later he became pastor of a Congregational church in Fairfield, Connecticut and from 1795 to 1817 served as the 8th President of Yale College.
While serving at Yale, Dwight revised and reprinted Psalms of David (1719) by Isaac Watts, and included several of his own hymns that paraphrased the Psalms. “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” first appeared in print in the 1801 edition of Dwight’s revision. It is the earliest known hymn by an American writer still in common use.
Dwight’s original title to hymn was “Love to the Church.” In the lyrics he celebrates our allegiance to the Kingdom of God and our love for Christ and His church. The hymn is based in part on two verses from Psalm 137:
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy
If you know the hymn, the connection with the psalm may not be immediately evident. Most hymnals include only four verses; Dwight originally composed eight. Unfortunately, the verses most often left out include the ones that tie the hymn to the psalm. Here are the original eight verses to the hymn:
I Love Thy Kingdom Lord
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
If e’er to bless Thy sons
My voice or hands deny,
These hands let useful skills forsake,
This voice in silence die.
Should I with scoffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.
For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
Jesus, Thou Friend divine,
Our Savior and our King,
Thy hand from every snare and foe
Shall great deliverance bring.
Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield
And brighter bliss of Heaven.
Timothy Dwight, 1801
Download a PDF of the hymn “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” to the tune ST THOMAS with all 8 verses.
Download a setting of the tune ST THOMAS for Classical Guitar