This hymn text by Timothy Dwight has the distinction of being the earliest American hymn text in use today. Dwight (1752-1817) was the grandson of the renowned New England theologian Jonathan Edwards. His mother, Mary Edwards Dwight, took responsibility for his early education, enabling him to read the Bible at age four. He entered Yale at 13 with a significant portion of his first two years completed. After graduating with highest honors in 1769, he served as a tutor at Yale.
During the Revolutionary War Dwight served as a chaplain in the Continental Army, becoming a friend of George Washington, writing patriotic songs. In 1783 he became pastor of the Congregational Church at Greenfield, Connecticut. In 1795 he became president and professor of theology at Yale. His chapel preaching helped ignite the revival on campus which was part of the Great Awakening. At the request of four Congregationalist ministers in Connecticut, Dwight revised Isaac Watts’ Psalms of David (1801), adding 33 of his own hymns, including “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”. Because of Dwight’s extended reading by candlelight and a smallpox inoculation, he was plagued by poor eyesight and pain. Of his 33 hymn texts, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord” appears in practically all American hymnals today.
I love thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blest 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.
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.
Sure as thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield
And brighter bliss of heaven.