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Psalm 58

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Warning to Magistrates

Judges, who rule the world by laws,
Will ye despise the righteous cause,
   When th’injur’d poor before you stands?
Dare ye condemn the righteous poor,
And let rich sinners ’scape secure,
   While gold and greatness bribe your hands?

Have ye forgot or never knew
That God will judge the judges too?
   High in the Heavens his justice reigns;
Yet you invade the rights of God,
And send your bold decrees abroad
   To bind the conscience in your chains.

A poisoned arrow is your tongue,
The arrow sharp, the poison strong,
   And death attends where e’er it wounds:
You hear no counsels, cries or tears;
So the deaf adder stops her ears
   Against the power of charming sounds.

Break out their teeth, eternal God,
Those teeth of lions dyed in blood;
   And crush the serpents in the dust:
As empty chaff, when whirlwinds rise,
Before the sweeping tempest flies,
   So let their hopes and names be lost.

Th’Almighty thunders from the sky,
Their grandeur melts, their titles die,
   As hills of snow dissolve and run,
Or snails that perish in their slime,
Or births that come before their time,
   Vain births, that never see the sun.

Thus shall the vengeance of the Lord
Safety and joy to saints afford;
   And all that hear shall join and say,
“Sure there’s a God that rules on high,
“A God that hears his children cry,
   “And will their sufferings well repay.”

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Psalm 58

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  • Isaac Watts was a scion of seventeenth-century Independent Dissent, a religious culture distinguished by its attention to local congregational authority, the education of preachers and people, and the cultivation of individual piety. The politics, pedagogy, and piety of Independency are all in evidence in Watts's early life and throughout his long career. He was at once a churchman, an educator, and an important minor poet. Watts's poetry is, however, more than an expression of this particular religious culture. His writing, poetry and prose, was widely read and used for at least 150 years by believers and educators of all convictions in both Britain and America. Indeed Watts's model of congregational song, the hymn, remains in current use throughout the English-speaking world. It is arguably the most lively vestige of the eighteenth-century understanding of what poetry can and ought to do.

    Born in Southampton on 17 July 1674, the...

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