Friday, November 7, 2008

James Montgomery

Hymnwriter James Montgomery was born on November 4, 1771 in Ireland. His parents were missionaries in the Moravian Church, and when James was very young they were sent to the Caribbean, leaving him behind in a Moravian comunity. Both parents died within a few years without returning to their son. Montgomery was raised and educated by the Moravians, but left the church in young adulthood.

Unsuccessful at various occupations, he eventually found some measure of success as the editor of a newspaper, the Sheffield Iris, though he was imprisoned twice for publishing articles that were considered inflamatory. He later published Prison Amusements, a book of his poetry written while in jail. He continued to write poetry and also became an abolitionist duroing this time.

At the age of 43 he applied to the Moravians to be readmitted to their fellowship, including this poem with his appeal:

People of the living God,
I have sought the world around,
Paths of sin and sorrow trod,
Peace and comfort nowhere found.
Now to you my spirit turns--
Turns a fugitive unblest;
Brethren, where your altar burns,
O receive me into rest.

Upon rejoining the church, he bacame an active member of the Bible Society and supporter of mission work. He wrote more than 400 hymns (many still familiar today), published in three volumes: Songs of Zion: Being Imitations of Psalms (1822), The Christian Psalmist (1825) and Original Hymns for Public, Private and Social Devotion (1853). This short hymn sung by many denominations is from Psalm 27, not a full paraphrase but using the same theme.

God is my strong salvation:
What foe have I to fear?
When fearful of temptation,
My light, my help is near.
Though hosts encamp around me,
Firm in the fight I stand,
What terror can confound me,
With God at my right hand?

Place on our God reliance,
My soul, with courage wait,
God's truth be thine affiance,
When faint and desolate.
God's might thy heart shall strengthen,
God's love thy joy increase,
Mercy thy days shall lengthen;
For God will give thee peace.

James Montgomery, 1822; alt.
Southern Harmony, 1844

We have seen another well-known Montgomery hymn here. Another of his hymns is very similar to Who are these like stars appearing (derived from the same passage in Revelation), though ultimately not as satisfying, I think.

Montgomery died on April 30, 1854, having overcome the difficulties of his earlier life and gained the affection of his adopted hometown of Sheffield, which honored him in a number of ways after his death. Once asked which of his poetic works would be remembered, he replied "None, sir, nothing except perhaps a few of my hymns."

1 comment:

Dorothy said...

I love that hymn of James Montgomery's and the promises it expresses! Given his life, perhaps he recognized his need to cling to those promises more than some do.