Friday, February 26, 2016

George C. Stebbins

Evangelist and gospel song composer George Coles Stebbins was born today in 1846 on a farm in upstate New York. He moved to Chicago as a young man and became the organist at the First Baptist Church in 1870.  While in Chicago he met Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, as well as some of the other song writers that contributed to the Moody-Sankey revivals. 

Five years later he moved to Boston where he worked at more churches, including the Tremont Temple Baptist Church. When Stebbins encountered Dwight Moody again, the noted evangelist persuaded him to join the Moody-Sankey organization as a soloist, to lead the choir, and write songs, first in Chicago and later on various tours, traveling to Europe, India,  and the Middle East in addition to trips inside the US.  He was also one of the editors of Sankey's popular Gospel Hymns (first published in 1875 but proceeding through many subsequent editions) and other collections sponsored by Moody, including the Northfield Hymnal (1904).  He was also associated with YMCA conventions and other large religious gatherings where he led the music.

He retired from evangelistic work in 1908 when his hearing began to fail, but continued his composing and editing. In 1924 he published Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories, a book containing biographical sketches of many of the song writers and composers he had worked with over his career.  He had composed tunes for most of the major text writers of the day, including (of course) Fanny Crosby.  Today's song is one of their collaborations (with an added stanza from me).

Gather them in! for yet there is room
At the feast that our God has spread;
O gather them in! let this house be filled,
And the hungry and poor be fed.

Out in the highway, out in the byway,
Out to the far and the near,
Go forth, go forth, with a loving heart,
And gather the wanderers here!

Gather them in! for yet there is room
For the downtrodden in despair;
O gather them in! we will love them all;
For the outcasts a place prepare.

Gather them in! for yet there is room;
’Tis a message from God above;
O gather them into the fold of grace,
And the arms of the Savior’s love.

Fanny Crosby, 1883; alt.; st. 2 CWS, 2016
Tune: GATHER THEM IN (Irregular with refrain)
George C. Stebbins, 1883

Stebbins lived to the age of 99 and reportedly continued to compose songs nearly to the end of his life. His son, George Waring Stebbins (1869-1930), was also a musician and an organist in New York City, but composed far fewer works.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Ten Hymns We Should Stop Singing?

Article with arguments can be found here.

I don't think I'm taking a side here - like just about anyone who reads the piece, I agree about some and don't agree about others.

And when you're finished with that, here's a follow-up that should be just as controversial (but harder to absorb in full):

One Hundred Hymns Everyone Should Learn

Five Years Ago: Saint Matthias

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Glorious Beauty of Thy Name

For the Second Sunday in Lent I'm returning to Hymnal: A Worshipbook (1992), a collection that I wrote about last summer and intended to get back to at some point. Today's hymn appears in the section titled "Faith Journey: Confession/Repentance", which certainly seems appropriate for Lent.  The hymn first appeared in Hymns for Missions (1854), a small collection compiled by Henry Augustine Collins, who also wrote the text.

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All,
Hear me, blest Savior, when I call;
Hear me, and from thy dwelling place
Pour down the riches of thy grace;
Jesus, my Lord, I thee adore;
O make me love thee more and more.

Jesus, too late I thee have sought;
How can I love thee as I ought?
And how extol thy matchless fame,
The glorious beauty of thy name?
Jesus, my Lord, I thee adore;
O make me love thee more and more.

Jesus, what didst thou find in me
That thou hast dealt so lovingly?
How great the joy that thou hast brought,
So far exceeding hope or thought!
Jesus, my Lord, I thee adore;
O make me love thee more and more.

Jesus, of thee shall be my song;
To thee my heart and soul belong;
All that I have or am is thine;
And thou, sweet Savior, thou art mine;
Jesus, my Lord, I thee adore;
O make me love thee more and more.

Henry Augustine Collins, 1854
Tune: ADORO TE (
Joseph Barnby, 1871

Collins was ordained in the Church of England, but converted to Roman Catholicism in 1857, perhaps influenced by the Oxford Movement.  In 1860 he joined the monastic order of the Cistercians and went to live at Mount Saint Bernard Abbey until 1882, when he became chaplain to the nuns at the Holy Cross Abbey in Dorsetshire.

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Unto the hills around do I lift up

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Turn back, turn back

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Of Love, and Truth, and Heaven

While today is generally recognized as a celebration of love and romance, it also marks the day when Saint Valentine (one of them, at least) was beheaded.  I suppose that there may have been some ancient hymns for the day, but none of them are in use any longer, so we will settle for a wedding hymn instead.

I have not presented many hymns for weddings (only one that I recall) as most of them are "wife and husband" hymns and the definition of marriage is broader in our day.  Contemporary hymnwriters have responded to this change and are now writing texts that reflect our current needs.  There are a few older hymns, however, that might work in a modern setting. 

We join to ask, with wishes kind,
A blessing, God, from thee,
On those who now the bands have twined
Which ne’er may broken be.

We know that scenes not always bright
Must unto them be given;
But over all give thou the light
Of love, and truth, and heaven.

Still hand in hand, their journey through,
Joint pilgrims may they go;
Mingling their joys as helpers true,
And sharing every woe.

May each in each still feed the flame
Of pure and holy love;
In faith and trust and heart the same,
The same their home above.

Elizabeth Gaskell (?), 1868; alt.
Abram B. Kolb, 1902

The authorship of this hymn seems to be in some doubt. credits it to the English novelist Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865), but in some other sources it is credited to her husband, the Reverend William Gaskell (1805-1884) who was a Unitarian minister, and who wrote rather more hymn texts than his wife.  Apparently when it was first published in a hymnbook only the surname "Gaskell" appeared.

Composer Abram Bowman Kolb (1862-1925) was a Mennonite who worked for many years in various editorial capacities at the denomination's publishing house. He wrote both texts and tunes.  I have no reason to believe that this tune and text have ever appeared together before but they did seem like a good thematic match, at least.

Of course, today is also the First Sunday in Lent, and if you like that sort of thing there are links below to previous hymns for the day.

P.S. - the non-religious art above is from the fresco The Triumph of Love (1738) by Italian painter Antonio Balestra.

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Thirsting for a living spring

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: O Food to souls wayfaring

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Your forty days of trial

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: I heard the voice of Jesus say

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Another Lent begins, a difficult time of year for some, yet eagerly anticipated by others.  Today's hymn is a partial paraphrase of Psalm 51, one of the appointed psalms for the day.

Gracious God, my heart renew,
Make my spirit right and true;
Cast me not away from thee,
Let thy Spirit dwell in me;
Thy salvation’s joy impart,
Steadfast make my willing heart.

Those who seek shall learn from me
And return, O God, to thee;
Savior, all my guilt remove,
And my tongue shall sing thy love;
Touch my silent lips, O Lord,
And my mouth shall praise accord.

Not the formal sacrifice
Has acceptance in thine eyes;
Broken hearts are in thy sight
More than sacrificial rite;
Contrite spirit, pleading cries,
Thou, O God, will not despise.

Prosper Zion in thy grace
And its broken walls replace:
Then our righteous sacrifice
Shall delight thy holy eyes;
Free-will offerings, gladly made,
On thine altar shall be laid.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
William Dalrymple Maclagan, 1875

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lord, who throughout these forty days

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Awhile in spirit, Christ, to thee (now on Facebook)

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: O Christ, whose tender mercy hears

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: All those who seek a comfort sure

Monday, February 8, 2016

Revive Each Famished Soul

I've been thinking a lot about water lately, probably because of the terrible situation in Flint, Michigan, and the response which was undertaken by churches and religious organizations across the country long before their state government did anything.

Water is a pretty basic need for everyone, and maybe that's why water shows up often in scripture, as well as in the various religious arts, including hymns.  This one struck my attention today while doing some other research.

Flow down, O stream of life divine,
Your quick'ning truths deliver,
And flow throughout this soul of mine
Forever and forever.

Flow down and cause this heart to glow
With love to God the Giver;
That love in which all virtues grow
Forever and forever.

Flow down, as flows the sun and rain
In vital work together,
Refreshing roots and ripening grain
Forever and forever.

Flow down, revive each famished soul
That we may hunger never,
And we will praise you, God of all,
Forever and forever.

David Thomas, 1874; alt.
Traditional Irish melody
arr. Charles Villiers Stanford, c.1906

Author David Thomas (1813-1894) was a Congregational minister who led a large congregation in the Stockwell district of London, and also the founding editor of The Homilist, a "magazine of liturgical thought," where this hymn appeared.  It was also published in Thomas's A Biblical Liturgy (1874) which contained services for various occasions as well as 29 hymns by Thomas. 

I will probably be prospecting (or is that dowsing?)for more hymns about water in the weeks to come.

P.S. - Art here is from a painting by Lilla Cabot Perry, A Stream Beneath Poplars (c. 1890-1900).

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Feast of the Presentation

Forty days after Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, or Candlemas, an occasion described in Luke 2:22-40. Mary and Joseph have brought the infant Jesus to the temple to carry out the required rituals, and there they meet Simeon and Anna, two faithful servants of God who have been waiting for the fulfillment of God's promise.

This hymn by James Montgomery is probably most often sung at Christmas, but in fact it encompasses these whole forty days, moving on to Epiphany in stanza three and this feast day in stanza four. I must admit that I had sung this hymn for many years before realizing that the saints mentioned in the last stanza were actually Anna and Simeon.

Angels from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth.

Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

Shepherds, in the field abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing;
Yonder shines the infant Light:

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen his natal star.

Saints, before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear;
Suddenly the Christ, descending,
In the temple shall appear.

James Montgomery, 1816; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1867

REGENT SQUARE is probably the most well-known tune by Victorian composer Henry Smart (though LANCASHIRE would be a close second). In the course of writing this blog I have discovered that I like several other tunes by Smart which are no longer sung often, and have presented some of them here on the site (click Smart's tag below).

P.S. - The illustration above is detail from The Presentation in the Temple by Philippe de Champaigne (1648) done for the high altar of the Church of Saint-Honore in Paris.

Eight Years Ago: O Zion, open wide thy gates

Seven Years Ago: Hail to the Lord who comes

Six Years Ago: O Jerusalem beloved (now on Facebook)

Five Years Ago: In peace and joy I now depart

Three Years Ago: In the temple now behold him

Two Years Ago: Joy! joy! the Mother comes