Baxter was one of those puritan ministers of the Commonwealth period who refused to accept the changes in the church when Charles II came to the throne in 1661, and the 1662 Prayer Book was authorized. He was expelled from the parish where he was vicar and lived thereafter in poverty. Among his many books was The Poor Man’s Family Book
, which came out in 1674 and contained the verses that are the foundation of this utterly joyful hymn. A number of editors have cut and altered it. Gurney, not usually successful in his re-writing of other people’s hymns, inserted verse three, which gives us now the very satisfying sequence ‘angels, souls at rest, saints, ourselves’, all swept up into praise. The metre contributes greatly to this, with the four short lines that move us swiftly to the end of each verse.
Baxter directed that it should be sung to the tune of the 148th psalm. This particular tune to that psalm, however, came a century later. Darwall, the vicar of Walsall, had written a set of tunes for each of the 150 psalms, and this one took the attention of Aaron Williams who included it in his New Universal Psalmist (1770). It seems to have been connected with the present words in the nineteenth century.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2004