Thursday, November 18, 2010

R. Kelso Carter

Russell Kelso Carter, born today in Baltimore in 1849, was a man of several careers, including military cadet, professor of chemistry, civil engineering, and advanced mathematics, sheep rancher, Methodist deacon and evangelist, and finally physician. Somewhere in there he also wrote and composed several gospel songs and helped compile two hymnbooks.

Carter graduated from the Pennsylvania Military Academy (now Widener University) in 1867. He returned to the Academy shortly thereafter to begin his teaching career, but health problems interrupted it and he moved to California for three years to work an a sheep ranch, returning to the Academy again in 1879. Around this time he started to become involved with the Methodist Episcopal Church, attending camp meetings and starting to write gospel songs. He collaborated with John R. Sweney on Hymns of Perfect Love (1886) and with A.B. Simpson on Hymns of the Christian Life (1891).

The introduction to that second collection (which includes our previously-seen Carter song as #1) begins with a discussion that remains as topical today as it was then:

The musical taste of our day is in a state of transition. Beyond controversy, the people will have new tunes and hymns that move in a more spirited time than those which our fathers (and mothers! CWS) sang. But this fact should not send us to an extreme, and cause us to relegate all the old hymns to the dusty past. (...) Between the Scotch Psalter and the Salvation Army Song Book there is a wide stretch of territory in which the careful explorer will find much that is good, and possessing that rare quality, endurance.

How many hymnals and songbooks before and after Carter's time, right up to the present, contain a similar paragraph!

This is Carter's most well-known song, for which he wrote both words and music, and which first appeared in his earlier collection of 1886. It has been said that it evokes a martial mood similar to songs he might have known from his military school days.

Standing on the promises of Christ, my King,
Through eternal ages let the praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
List'ning every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

R. Kelso Carter, 1886
PROMISES ( with refrain)

Throughout his life Carter faced several serious health challenges, which led him to explore different theories and means of faith healing, which you can read more about here. It appears that a serious dispute developed in the 1890s which may have caused his moving away from his evangelistic work. He studied medicine and became a doctor sometime before 1900, practicing until his death in 1928. He came to believe that both medicine and prayer were necessary for healing, and that God provided both to us for that purpose.


AuntE said...

Wow! With a little change in the text, his comments could have been written today. Sometimes I forget that I'm not the only one who has faced decisions on different styles of music/hymnody in worship.

C.W.S. said...

I think this debate goes back as far as congregational singing does.

When David wrote his psalms there was probably someone who didn't like those newfangled verses.