God Keeping Watch

Behind The Dim Unknown, Standeth God Within The Shadow, Keeping Watch Above His Own.

- James Russell Lowell
God Keeping Watch - Prayer Poetry Epitaphs

Variations and History: 

This epitaph is taken from a poem titled The Present Crisis, written by James Russell Lowell as a 90 line protest to America’s war with Mexico. The poem was first published in the Boston Courier, on December 11, 1945; but it was later adapted as a hymn by W. Garrett Horder, titled Once To Every Man And Nation and set to the tune of Thomas John Williams' Ebenezer. Horder printed the hymn in his Hymns Supplemental to Existing Collections, in 1896.

Once To Every Man And Nation

Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
’Twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
Till the multitude make virtue
Of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
With the cross that turns not back;
New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward,
Who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.

The hymn was quoted by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th, 1967; at the conclusion of his speech: Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence. The speech was given at a meeting of the "Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam" at Riverside Church in New York City.

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