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Wise words of Isaac Watts ring true in these uncertain times

By Alf McCreary

Published 23/07/2016

Brexit backing: First Minister Arlene Foster
Brexit backing: First Minister Arlene Foster

One of our best-known hymns by Isaac Watts is 'O God our help in ages past', which is sung at Remembrance Day services and at the New Year.

The words capture the reassurance of God's protection and guidance in times of upheaval, and they are particularly appropriate during this current period of deeply worrying uncertainty.

Since the Brexit vote of June 23, only a month ago, we have witnessed great political treachery and blood-letting on both sides of the Westminster Commons.

There is also the sheer naked political opportunism in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic as politicians feverishly stir over the embers on one of the greatest political upheavals in UK politics since the Second World War.

As if this were not worrying enough, there were the appalling killings in Nice and Germany, as well as the continued truculence of China in the waters of the Far East.

There is also the sinister scheming of Vladimir Putin, plus the unbelievable nomination of Donald Trump as the Republicans' US Presidential candidate. Who would have expected that, a year ago?

Given the current political mess everywhere, and the potential for further trouble, many faint hearts may fear the worst.

However, that is not the message from the great hymn-writer Isaac Watts who put his faith in a God who has seen it all, knows it all, and still offers endless reassurance ...

Ironically, the hymn 'O God Our Help in ages past' used to be a favourite of the late Reverend Dr Ian Paisley, the founder of the DUP, which amazingly backed Brexit and laid the way open for a border poll to become more likely.

The DUP leader Arlene Foster, who looks and talks like a tetchy headmistress when she is crossed politically, will not like to be reminded that her party's support for Brexit has given the Shinners an unexpected opening to clamour for a border poll, at a time when the issue had been firmly wrapped in mothballs. Surprisingly, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who usually has a safe pair of hands, lost his sure touch this week, by speculating also that Brexit might certainly lead to increased demands for a border poll.

This is a reminder that despite the sweet words about the Good Friday Agreement, the nationalist politicians north and south will never, ever, give up on a united Ireland.

Whether Mrs Foster likes it or not, the vote for Brexit has changed the scene totally in Ireland, and the demand for a border referendum will not go away, despite the latest put down by the new Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

Martin McGuinness, Gerry Adams and the rest of the Shinners do not miss a trick to embarrass the London establishment, and if the Scots are allowed a referendum, the pressure on northern unionists will increase. This will destabilise Stormont at a time when it looked as if both sides were beginning to work together in a much better way.

However, Mrs May is no push-over, and she will not look kindly at a referendum for Scotland, which like its football team, has an altogether elevated opinion of its own importance.

So for the medium-term, the border is safe, but for how long? This is the age of surprises when lowly Leicester City won the Premier League, and equally lowly Iceland beat England in the European Championships.

In the next months there will be much more wild speculation in the political world but one thing is clear - those people who voted for Brexit have opened a cans of worms they didn't even know had existed, and all the genies are now out of the bottles.

Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall, and cannot be put together again. Meantime we could do well to study those magnificent words of Isaac Watts (1674-1748). 'O God our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Be Thou our guard while troubles last, And our eternal home.'

In a deeply uncertain world, that is one great certainty to take to heart.

Belfast Telegraph

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