Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ray Palmer

Ray Palmer (November 12, 1808 - March 29 ,1887) was a Congregational minister and hymnwriter who is remembered today primarily for one hymn, though he wrote many others.

Palmer graduated from Yale University in 1830 and two years later was licensed as a pastor. He served churches in Maine, New York, New Jersey, and later in life was corresponding secretary of the American Congregational Union.

His hymns, both original texts and translations of older works were much admired in his time and for many years later; many hymnographers pronounced him the best American hymnwriter of the nineteenth century, and this hymn his finest.

My faith looks up to thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray,
Take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
Be wholly thine!

May thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart,
My zeal inspire!
As thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be,
A living fire!

While life’s long maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread,
Be thou my Guide;
Bid joy return today,
Wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray
From thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold, sullen stream
Shall o'er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
A ransomed soul!

Ray Palmer, 1830; alt.
Tune: OLIVET (
Lowell Mason, 1830

The story goes that Lowell Mason, the acclaimed American hymn tune composer, met young Palmer one day and asked him to contribute a new text to a hymnal he was compiling. Palmer gave him this text, which he had written a few years earlier for his personal contemplation and had been carrying in his pocket ever since. Mason then wrote the tune OLIVET and published the new hymn, telling Palmer that he felt it was a once-in-a lifetime text that would far outlive him.

As it happens, this Sunday my church choir will be singing an anthem using Palmer's text Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts, which was a translation from the Latin of
Bernard of Clairvaux. Nothing to do with Palmer's two hundredth birthday, though.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such detailed research! When looking for some background on this hymn for Sunday's service, I never thought I would find a hit on Google, and you have provided me with the perfect understanding of the writing of this timeless hymn.

C.W.S. said...

You're very welcome! Come back again -- we do hymns all the time -- often 3 or 4 each week.