Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Our Confidence and Joy Shall Be

Break forth, O beauteous heav'nly light,
And usher in the morning;
Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright,
but hear the angels' warning.
This child, now weak in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The pow'rs of evil breaking,
Our peace eternal making.

Johann Rist, 1681;
tr. John Troutbeck, c.1887, alt.
Johann Schop, 1641;
harm. Johann Sebastian Bach (?), 1734

Ten Years Ago: Once in royal David's city

Nine Years Ago: Where is this stupendous stranger?

Six Years Ago: Hark! the herald angels sing

Four Years Ago: What child is this?

Three Years Ago: Angels we have heard on high

Two Years Ago: Good Christian friends, rejoice!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Samuel Francis Smith

Baptist minister and hymnwriter Samuel Francis Smith (1808-1895) was born today in Newton, Massachusetts (where he is also buried). Ordained to the ministry in 1834, he was pastor for several churches in Massachusetts and Maine over his long career.

While still a student at Andover Theological Seminary, he began to write poetry and other literary work to support himself. In 1831, his friend, composer and editor Lowell Mason, gave him a songbook in German and asked him to either translate or rewrite some of the texts so that Mason could include them in his musical publications. Smith was supposedly interested a particular tune in the book, which accompanied a German national song and decided to write an American national song for it. This was to be his most lasting legacy: My country, 'tis of thee, first sung at the Park Street Church in Boston for a children's service on July 4, 1831. It's said that he was unaware that the tune had already been used for the English national anthem, God save the King.

Smith would go on to write many more hymns, which have not yet all been documented online at the usual sites. The most complete list probably appears in The Hymn, the journal of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Baptist hymnologist David W. Music's article The Hymns of Samuel Francis Smith in The Hymn volume 59 number 2 (Spring 2008) includes an extensive list of 193 hymns (and other texts which might have been sung as hymns) as well as a detailed bibliography. He also acknowledges that there may well be other hymns by Smith that have not been discovered yet.

Smith was also one of the editors of The Psalmist (1843), a hymnal which quickly became widely used in Baptist churches. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Dictionary of Hymnology by John Julian still described it as "the most creditable and influential of the American Baptist collections to the present day."

Today's hymn by Smith is far less known and does not seem to have appeared in any American hymnals.  Earlier this year I was working at the First Baptist Church in Needham, MA, and discovered this text in one of their written histories. It was sung there on June 5, 1872 at the dedication service for their new building (which they still occupy). At this time, Smith was the pastor of the Needham church, which was not far from his home in Newton. Somewhat surprisingly, the tune they sang in 1872 was documented, and so the congregation in 2018 sang this hymn on the first Sunday in June to commemorate their building's dedication, as it had been sung in 1872.

Come, O divine Shekinah, come,
With glory fill this new abode;
Come, in our waiting souls there's room!
Display thy pow'r, a present God.

Come to our shrine, a God of love,
Come as a God of love and pow'r;
Refresh thy people from above
As dews refresh the drooping flow'rs.

Come as a spring and fount of grace,
Our temple with thy light adorn,
As crimson rays thy glory trace
The gorgeous rising of the morn.

Come as a dove, with wings of peace,
The sad to cheer, the bruised to heal;
The wounds that sin has made, to ease,
The covenant of our life, to seal.

Dispolay thy pow'r, a present God,
Come, in our waiting souls there's room;
With glory fill this new abode,
Come, O divine Shekinah, come!

Samuel Francis Smith, 1865 (?)
Tune: HOLLEY (L.M.)
George Hews, 1835

Shekinah is not a word many hymn lovers have encountered before. I have seen it in a few contremporary texts, but not those of 150 years ago.

In the recorded history of the Needham church, they believe that Smith wrote this text specifically for their dedication service in 1872. However, it appears in David Music's list of Smith's hymns as having been used in a similar service in Taunton, MA, on October 10, 1865, because their dedication service was published that same year. Was that then the first time it was sung, or did Smith perhaps write it even earlier, for another dedication that hasn't yet been documented? There are probably hundreds of similar hymns still undiscovered, written by authors both famous and unknown for various local occasions around the country.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Thou Land of the Free

Perhaps we can avoid the debate over using patriotic hymns in worship since Independence Day falls on a Wednesday this year and not on a Sunday. Some churches sang one or more of these on Sunday, some did not. 

The choice of which to sing (if any at all) has narrowed considerably over the last century.  I would venture a guess that America the beautiful may be the most-often sung, though a few others certainly appear as well: My country 'tis of thee by Samuel Francis Smith, Mine eyes have seen the glory by Julia Ward Howe, and of course, the national anthem, written by Francis Scott Key, who among his many accomplishments was also a member of the committee that produced the Episcopal hymnal of 1826 (and wrote a few other hymns as well). One other possibility, which was written to mark the 1876 centennial, might not even be recognized as a patriotic hymn as it is probably sung at other times of the year.

Like Christmas songs and hymns, there were many other patriotic hymns written that are included in the hymnals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including several specifically for children. Also like those written for Christmas, relatively few have survived to the present day.

Not surprisingly, among her thousands of song texts, Fanny Crosby also contributed a patriotic song of her own (and this is probably not the only one).

Our country, our beautiful country,
Thy rock-girded mountains sublime
Look over the wide spreading forests
That stand like the pillars of time.
Thy rivers majestic roll onward
To meet the glad waves of the sea;
Columbia, the home of our forebears,
God bless thee, thou land of the free.

Thy valleys are smiling with verdure,
Thy hilltops with plenty are crowned,
And sweetly the songs of thy children
From ocean to ocean resound;
God grant that our nation forever
United and happy may be,
And Peace, with its white-crested pinions,
Abide in the land of the free.

Fanny Crosby, 1873; alt.
Tune: DOWNEY (
Daniel B. Towner, 1899
Fanny's text appeared in Songs of the Bible for the Sunday School (1873) with a different tune by Alonzo J. Abbey, one of the editors of the collection who was a prolific composer of Sunday School music (only a fraction is listed at his Cyber Hymnal entry - and not the original tune for this text). Since there is no sound file for the original, I have matched it to a later tune by Daniel B. Towner. The original included one more stanza (even more unlikely to be sung today than the rest), as well as the following refrain:

Our country, our country, our beautiful country,
The fairest and dearest of earth,
God keep the old flag of the Union,
And prosper the land of our birth.

Of course, the Civil War was less than a decade before Crosby wrote this.

The reference to "Columbia" as a name for the United States is also rather obscure today. Columbia also referred to a female personification of the country (as in the picture above) until the early twentieth century when she came to be replaced by the Statue of Liberty.

P.S. The picture above is from the cover of The Theatre magazine for January 1917 (during World War I), depicting actress Hazel Dawn as Columbia with doves of peace.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost

Come, Holy Ghost, my spirit fill,
Till every trembling chord
With love’s ecstatic music thrill,
In full and sweet accord!

Open the beautiful windows of heav’n,
The best of thy bountiful blessings send down;
Come, let the Spirit’s anointing be giv’n,
The faith of thy people crown.

Thy will, O God, be done in me;
Attune my will to thine,
That so my life a song may be
Of harmony divine.

Then shall my life make melody,
And testify to thee,
Till other hearts enraptured be,
And thy salvation see.

Come, Holy Ghost, come in! come in!
Inflame my waiting soul!
Forever dwell and reign within,
With love’s supreme control.

Henry B Hartzler, 1891; alt.
Tune: BOUNTIFUL BLESSINGS (C.M. with refrain)
Ira O. Hoffman, 1891

Ten (Liturgical) Years Ago: Joy! because the circling year

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago:  O prophet souls of all the years

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Above the starry spheres 

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail thee, festival day

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail festal day! through every age

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: O God, the Holy Ghost

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Spirit of grace and health and pow'r

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: Come, O come, thou quick'ning Spirit

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Come, Holy Ghost

Friday, September 29, 2017

Saint Michael and All Angels

The (unfortunately) fading feast of Michaelmas is still celebrated in some places, and of course we have hymns for the occasion. Today's text is one translation of the Latin office hymn Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris, which was written by Benedictine scholar and theologian Rabanus Maurus (c.780-856), who later became Archbishop of Mainz. He is also known for his "mathematic and geometric" poetry, built around the Cross, which can be seen here.

Life and strength of all thy servants,
Brightness of our Maker’s light;
We with angels, earth with heaven,
In thy praise our songs unite.

Thousand thousand guardian seraphs
In thine angel army stand;
Flames the victor cross before them,
Grasped in Michael’s dauntless hand.

Angel-ruler, Christ, we pray thee,
Bid them aid us in our strife,
Grant protection from all evil,
Till we reach the land of life.

Our Creator, God immortal,
Jesus Christ, for us who died,
With the Comforter, the Spirit,
Evermore be glorified!

Rabanus Maurus, 9th cent.
tr. Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1889; alt.
Tune: MERTON (
William H. Monk, 1850

Nine Years Ago: Around the throne of God

Eight Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Seven Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Five Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

Three Years Ago: High on a hill of dazzling light

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gushing From the Rock Before Me

Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) is definitely in the running to be the most well-known woman to write texts for congregational singing, even today when the musical style that accompanied most of her songs is somewhat out of fashion in many places.

Several contemporary composers around the world have written new tunes for some of her texts, and more than one recording has been made (though this is the only one that seems to be readily available). Since most of her songs were written in the contemporaneous gospel song/Sunday School style, including a refrain that helped with memorization, they don't generally match well to existing tunes. 

There are exceptions. I've always thought that this is one of her most accomplished texts (still unused here in the past nine years), and since it does not include the usual refrain, it could be paired with a more conventional hymn tune, and sung in places that might never consider singing one of her songs.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Christ to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of his love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my heav'nly home above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

Fanny Crosby, 1875; alt.
Tochter Sion, 1741

This hardly replaces the original setting by Robert Lowry, which will continue to be sung. However, this text could also work with HYFRYDOL, IN BABILONE, HOLY MANNA, NETTLETON, and other familiar tunes.

The gravestone above (erected in 1955 at her burial site) refers to Crosby's "more than 3000 hymns and poems," which is true as far as it goes, but the real number could be more than twice as many, especially when her unpublished texts are included.

Of course, her songs are still usually sung in their original form, not only as the occasional selection in Sunday worship, but also at special events, such as a Fanny Crosby hymn sing recently held in her home town of Southeast, New York, sponsored by the local historical society. Sometimes churches will use one writer's texts for an entire service, and today's service at MCC of the Coachella Valley in California includes all Crosby songs. Many people would still happily sing the playful refrain:

Pastor, Pastor, hear my irate cry --
When you pick the hymns for Sunday,
Don't pass Fanny by!

(Scroll down at this link for the whole text.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saint Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, the "apostle to the apostles," is honored today on some calendars of saints. The longest account of her presence in the Resurrection story is in John 20:1-18, which tells how she was the first one to visit Jesus' tomb on Sunday morning and to find it empty. Later, she returns and speaks with two angels who tell her what has happened.  In each of the gospel stories she then goes back to share the news with the other disciples. It's only in Luke 24:11 that we hear their response to her report: "But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."

Other information about Mary Magdalene has accrued over the centuries but much of it doesn't come from scripture. I now prefer to move on and not repeat the accusations that have been made (though I've written about them in previous years, which you can see below if you must).

This hymn is translated from a Latin text believed to be from medieval times but no definite origin has been found.

Weep no more this holy morning,
Mary, put away thy fears;
In this feast there is no scorning,
No repentance for thy tears:
Joy, O joy, a thousand pleasures,
All thy soul’s recovered treasures—
Alleluia!—Christ appears.

Joy to thee, he soars ascending,
He who all thy sins forgave;
All thy sorrows now are ending,
Magdalene, he comes to save;
Whom thou soughtest lost and dying,
Welcome now with angels crying
Alleluia!—o’er his grave.

Life in all his life’s resuming,
Mary, all thy light restore,
All thy heart with joy illuming,
Death is driven from the door:
Night has had its night of sorrow,
Joy returneth with the morrow—

Latin, date unknown;
tr. Herbert Kynaston, 1862; alt.
Tune: FIDES (
Clement Cotterill Scholefield, 1874

P.S. - The art above is from Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (1622) by Anteveduto Gramatica.

Nine Years Ago: Mary Magdalene, to whom (now on Facebook)

Eight Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott

Seven Years Ago: When Mary, moved by grateful love

Five Years Ago: Creator blest, one glance of thine

Four Years Ago: I come to the garden alone

One Year Ago: Mary to her Savior's tomb

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

With golden splendor and with roseate hues of morn,
O gracious Savior, Light of light, this day adorn,
Which brings to faithful servants hopes of that far home
Where saints and angels sing the tale of martyrdom.

Good Shepherd, Peter, unto whom the charge was given
To close or open ways of pilgrimage to heaven,
In sin's hard bondage held may we have grace to know
The full remission thou was granted to bestow.

O noble Teacher, Paul, we trust to learn to thee
Both earthly converse and the flight of ecstasy;
Till from the fading truths that now we know in part
We pass to fullness of delight for mind and heart.

Twin olive branches, pouring oil of gladness forth,
Your prayers shall aid us, that for all our earthly worth,
Believing, hoping, loving, we for whom ye plead,
This body dying, may attain to life indeed.

Latin, 6th cent.; tr. Thomas Alexander Lacey, 20th cent.?; alt.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1872

The Latin text of this office hymn (Aurea luce et decore roseo) for the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was once attributed to Elpis, the daughter of Festus, a consul of Rome, but more recent scholarship finds no supporting evidence of this.

The second half of the second stanza gave me some pause, suggesting that Peter was the one to grant remission of sin, but I decided this refers only to his position as "keeper of the keys" to heaven.

Seven Years Ago: Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Samuel Longfellow

Samuel Longfellow (1819 - 1892), a Unitarian pastor, hymnwriter, and hymnal editor was born today in Portland, Maine, and lived most of his life in New England.  He is probably best known for two Unitarian hymnals he edited with his close friend Samuel Johnson: A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion (1844) and Hymns of the Spirit (1864). Both of these collections include several texts by Longfellow and Johnson, as well as poets whose verse had not previously been sung (such as John Greenleaf Whittier) or had not previously appeared in an American collection (such as Nearer, my God, to thee) Most of the material was edited to make it conform to Unitarian belief.
Longfellow and Johnson met as students at Harvard Divinity School and remained friends for the rest of their lives, carrying on a long and affectionate correspondence. When Johnson died in 1882. Longfellow spent the next year writing a memoir of his friend. A biographer of Longfellow's would later describe his friendship with Johnson as the most significant relationship of his life. The exact nature of the relationship remains unclear, but it's possible that Longfellow was thinking about it in a rather sad poem called "Love" (1851), which concludes:
To love, nor ask return,
To accept our solitude,
Not now for others' love to yearn
But only for their good;
To joy if they are crowned,
Though thorns our head entwine,
And in the thought of blessing them
All thought of self resign.
Is this the lament of a man who has decided that his feelings will never be returned in the way he wants? We will probably never know for sure.
Today's hymn was written toward the end of Longfellow's life, just a few years before the photograph above (from 1890), and on the occasion of the dedication of the new Cambridge Hospital, in the Massachusetts town where he was then living, and working on a three-volume biography of his brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

O Lord of life, our saving Health,
Who mak’st thy suffering ones our care;
Our gifts are still our truest wealth,
To serve thee our sincerest prayer.

As on the river’s rising tide
Flow strength and coolness from the sea,
So through the ways our hands provide,
May quickening life flow in from thee;

To heal the wound, to still the pain,
And strength to failing pulses bring,
Till stumbling feet shall leap again,
And silent lips with gladness sing.

Bless thou the gifts our hands have brought!
Bless thou the work our hearts have planned,
Ours is the hope, the will, the thought;
The rest, O God, is in thy hand.

Samuel Longfellow, 1886; alt.
Tune: ELY (L.M.)
Thomas Turton, 1844

The final stanza here has often been taken out of this hymn and used separately in many hymnals as an offertory response, but that actually changes its meaning. In that usage, the text is consecrating the offerings of the people for the work of the church.  However, the complete hymn has a different theme and meaning: that we can be healers through the gifts of God, flowing though us. This idea feels quite modern, even though the language is archaic.

Nine Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Eight Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Six Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Four Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi, commemorating the Blessed Sacrament, is observed either on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, or on the following Sunday (generally for convenience).

The feast dates from thirteenth century Belgium, where Juliana of Liege had long believed that such a commemoration should be observed outside Maundy Thursday, during Lent. When she became prioress of the religious community where she lived, she was able to spread her idea more widely through her contact with her (male) confessor, and eventually it was adopted by Pope Urban IV in 1261. It is not part of the Protestant tradition because it was suppressed during the Reformation.

Bread of heav'n, on thee we feed,
for thou art our food indeed.
Ever may our souls be fed
with this true and living bread,
day by day with strength supplied
through the life of Christ who died.

Vine of heav'n, thy love supplies
this blest cup of sacrifice.
'Tis thy wounds our healing give;
to thy cross we look and live.
Thou our life! O let us be
rooted, grafted, built on thee.

Josiah Conder, 1824; alt.
Theodore Aylward, 1869

Said to be the most widely-used of Conder's texts (though we have previously seen others here - click on his tag below), this one first appeared in his collection Star of the East (1824) and later in his Congregational Hymn Book (1836).

Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Here, O my God, I see thee face to face

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Sweet Sacrament divine

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Ave verum corpus - Saint-Saens (video)