Studies in Hymns
The Young Person's Guide to the Hymnbook
Post-Civil War American Hymns
by Wayne S. Walker
Mom looked in on the boys while she was fixing lunch and they were studying their history. Andrew was reading a G. A. Henty book about the Boer Wars in South Africa, and Seth was reading one of the American Adventure books about the end of the American Civil War. After going back into the kitchen, she rushed back into the family room where the boys usually did their work and told Seth to run over to Dad's office in the church building next door and ask Dad if he could come over for a few minutes while she ran out to the store to get some bread for their sandwiches. She had forgotten that they were all out.
As Mom was backing the car out of the garage, Seth and Dad came through the back door. Dad had been asking what Seth was doing and Seth was telling him about the story of the book and what the Allerton and Fisk families were doing in Cincinnati as the Civil War came to an end. Then he asked Dad if there were any hymns that originated in America during that period of time. Dad replied, "Oh, yes, many of the hymns that we sing come from those days when our nation was recovering from the war and continuing to grow to its 'manifest destiny.' For example, Phillips Brooks, who lived from 1835 to 1893, was a Harvard graduate and an Episcopal minister. During his years living and working in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he visited Palestine in 1865, and two years later wrote a very familiar hymn for the children of the church." He opened up one of the hymnbooks on the shelf and pointed to the hymn.
- O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
- For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
- How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
- O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
"The song leader of the church, Lewis Redner, provided a tune in 1868, and the song was first published in 1874. We usually hear songs like this only during a certain season of the year, but it is good to be reminded at any time how Jesus came to earth to save us from our sins. About this same time, Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, who lived from 1834 to 1923 and was born in London, England, the daughter of an Anglican minister, but came to America with her husband, wrote what was once a very popular 'missionary' hymn that encourages the church, under the figure of Zion, to be active in sounding forth the message of salvation."
- O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling, To tell to all the world
that God is light,
That He who made all nations is not willing One soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
- Behold how many thousands still are lying Bound in the darksome
prison house of sin,
With none to tell them of the Savior’s dying, Or of the life He died for them to win.
- Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation That God, in Whom they
live and move, is love;
Tell how He stooped to save His lost creation, And died on earth that we might live above.
- ’Tis thine to save from peril of perdition The souls for whom the
Lord His life laid down:
Beware lest, slothful to fulfill thy mission, Thou lose one jewel that should deck His crown.
- Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious; Give of thy wealth to
speed them on their way;
Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious; O Zion, haste to bring the brighter day.
- He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet Him, Make known to every heart
His saving grace:
Let none whom he Hath ransomed fail to greet Him, Through thy neglect, unfit to see His face.
"This was in 1868, but she left the hymn unfinished for a couple of years until she finally produced a refrain which says, 'Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace; Tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.' However, it was not published in a hymnbook until 1892. The tune almost always used with it was composed in 1875 by James Walch."
Andrew spoke up. "I remember studying in American history last year that the latter part of the nineteenth century was a time of great missionary emphasis in which Bible believers began in earnest to send the gospel message all over the world."
"Yes," Dad replied. "Another such hymn was written by Samuel Wolcott, a Congregationalist minister who lived from 1813 to 1896 and served as a missionary in Syria during his younger days but had to return because of ill health. In 1869, he was living and working in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended a Young Men's Christian Association convention held at Cleveland. A large banner declared the theme of the convention. It read, "Christ for the World and the World for Christ." As he walked home that evening, the words of a hymn started forming in his mind, and he finished it later that night."
- Christ for the world we sing, The world to Christ we bring, with
The poor and them that mourn, the faint and overborne, Sin sick and sorrow worn, whom Christ doth heal.
- Christ for the world we sing, The world to Christ we bring, with
The wayward and the lost, by restless passions tossed, Redeemed at countless cost, from dark despair.
- Christ for the world we sing, The world to Christ we bring, with one
With us the work to share, with us reproach to dare, With us the cross to bear, for Christ our Lord.
- Christ for the world we sing, The world to Christ we bring, with
The newborn souls, whose days, reclaimed from error’s ways, Inspired with hope and praise, to Christ belong.
"The text was intended to fit an already existing tune that had been composed in 1769 by Felice de Giardini. The song was first published a year later in 1870. Not long after this, a different kind of hymn was written by Edward Hopper, a Presbyterian preacher who lived from 1816 to 1888. Beginning in 1870, Hopper was minister with the Church of the Sea and Land, which had been established in New York City, New York, for the sailors who shipped in and out of the port there. In 1871, a poem which likened our need for Christ in life to the needs of sailors on the sea, appeared anonymously in The Sailor's Magazine.
- Jesus, Savior, pilot me Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
- While th’Apostles’ fragile bark Struggled with the billows dark,
On the stormy Galilee, Thou didst walk upon the sea;
And when they beheld Thy form, Safe they glided through the storm.
- Though the sea be smooth and bright, Sparkling with the stars of
And my ship’s path be ablaze With the light of halcyon days,
Still I know my need of Thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
- When the darkling heavens frown, And the wrathful winds come down,
And the fierce waves, tossed on high, Lash themselves against the sky,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea.
- As a mother stills her child, Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boisterous waves obey Thy will, When Thou sayest to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.
- When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar
’Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on Thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me, “Fear not, I will pilot thee.”
"It was so popular that later that same year a tune was composed for it by John E. Gould. It wasn't until 1880 that Hopper was asked to provide a new poem for a special service of the Seaman's Friend Society and he read this hymn, acknowledging it for the very first time as his. Another New York City resident, Annie Sherwood Hawks, wrote a well known hymn about this time. One day in 1872, she was going about her housework and felt the nearness of the Lord in her life which she expressed in a poem.
- I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
- I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
- I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.
- I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.
- I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.
"The following Sunday she hesitantly showed it to Robert C. Lowry, the minister of the church where she and her family attended, who pronounced it excellent, wrote a chorus which read, 'I need Thee, O I need Thee; Every hour I need Thee; O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee,' provided a tune, and published it later that year. Mrs. Hawks was quite unprepared for the almost immediate popularity of it, but after her husband died in 1888 she said that she understood how comforting the hymn could be in time of sorrow. At the same time Mrs. Hawks was writing her hymn, another kind of hymn was being written by the famous poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, a Quaker who lived from 1807 to 1892. It was originally part of a longer poem, 'The Brewing of Soma,' which contrasted the orgies of pagan religious rites with the simplicity of Christianity."
- Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
- In simple trust like theirs who heard, Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord, Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.
- O Sabbath rest by Galilee, O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!
- With that deep hush subduing all Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call, As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.
- Drop Thy still dews of quietness, Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
- Breathe through the heats of our desire Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.
"An English musician, Frederick C. Maker, provided the tune for it in 1887. Whittier once said that writing a hymn was the best use to which poetry could be put but that he did not claim to have composed one. Actually, he produce only one text intended for use as a hymn, but the truth is that many sections of his poems have been adapted as hymns and are much loved. About this time, the United States celebrated its centennial, and a hymn was written especially for the occasion by an Episcopal minister named Daniel Crane Roberts, who lived from 1841 to 1907. Roberts was living in the tiny village of Brandon, Vermont, and produced these words for the town's celebration.
- God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand Leads forth in beauty all the
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.
- Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee
our lot is cast,
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.
- From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever
Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
- Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.
"Roberts originally intended it to be sung to the same tune as the Russian national anthem, but when it was published in the 1894 Episcopal Hymnal, a new tune was composed for it by George Warren."
Seth said, "That sounds like a prayer that we should be praying for our nation even today."
"Indeed it does," Dad responded. "The vast variety of hymns that have been written deal with so many spiritual subjects--from praying for our nation to loving God's word. A year after the centennial, a song about the Bible was written by Mary Artemesia Lathbury, who lived from 1841 to 1918. She was attending the summer assembly at Chautauqua, New York, and was asked by the founder of the assembly, John Vincent, to give him a hymn to use in their Bible studies."
- Break Thou the bread of life, dear Lord, to me, As Thou didst break
the loaves beside the sea;
Beyond the sacred page I seek Thee, Lord; My spirit pants for Thee, O living Word!
- Bless Thou the truth, dear Lord, to me, to me, As Thou didst bless
the bread by Galilee;
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall; And I shall find my peace, my all in all.
"The tune was provided by the song leader at Chautauqua, William Fiske Sherwin. Some people have questioned what 'Beyond the sacred page' means, and many of our books have substituted 'Within the sacred page.' Several years later, around 1913, some other stanzas were added by Alexander Grove."
- Thou art the bread of life, O Lord, to me, Thy holy Word the truth
that saveth me;
Give me to eat and live with Thee above; Teach me to love Thy truth, for Thou art love.
- Spirit and life are they, Words Thou dost speak; I hasten to obey,
But I am weak;
Thou art my only help, Thou art my life; Heeding Thy holy Word I win the strife.
"A couple of years after Miss Lathbury wrote her Bible study hymn, a Congregationalist preacher named Washington Gladden, who lived from 1838 to 1918, wrote a poem that was intended just as a meditation. Gladden had served as a newspaper editor with the New York Independent from 1871 to 1874 and helped to fight the notorious Boss Tweed gang. But he returned to preaching in Springfield, MA, and in 1879 published these words in a magazine which he edited called Sunday Afternoon."
- O Master, let me walk with Thee, In lowly paths of service free;
Tell me Thy secret; help me bear The strain of toil, the fret of care.
- Help me the slow of heart to move By some clear, winning word of
Teach me the wayward feet to stay, And guide them in the homeward way.
- Teach me Thy patience; still with Thee In closer, dearer, company,
In work that keeps faith sweet and strong, In trust that triumphs over wrong.
- In hope that sends a shining ray Far down the future’s broadening
In peace that only Thou canst give, With Thee, O Master, let me live.
"A friend suggested that a portion of the poem would be useful as a hymn. One section was dropped that was considered not suitable for devotional purposes, and Mr. Gladden himself chose an already existing tune that had been composed by H. Percy Smith in 1874. The song was first published in 1880. Gladden went on to preach for many years in Columbus, OH, near the Ohio State University campus, and while he was known as a 'liberal' in his day, he did preach against the distortions of the infidel Robert Ingersoll and, as in this hymn, encouraged people to strive for a closer relationship with the Lord. One of our most famous closing hymns comes from this same time period. In 1880, Jeremiah Eames Rankin, a Congregationalist preacher in Washington, DC, who lived from 1828 to 1904, was looking for a hymn to close Sunday night prayer meetings and could not find one that he liked, so he looked up the word 'good-bye' in the dictionary, found that it means 'God be with you,' and wrote a stanza using those words as a 'Christian good-bye.' He sent it to a couple of musicians to provide a tune for it, and he chose one composed by William G. Tomer. Rankin then finished the hymn and published it.
- God be with you till we meet again; By His counsels guide, uphold
With His sheep securely fold you; God be with you till we meet again.
- God be with you till we meet again; 'Neath His wings protecting hide
Daily manna still provide you; God be with you till we meet again.
- God be with you till we meet again; When life’s perils thick confound
Put His arms unfailing round you; God be with you till we meet again.
- God be with you till we meet again; Sicknesses and sorrows taking,
Never leaving or forsaking; God be with you till we meet again.
- God be with you till we meet again; Keep love’s banner floating o’er
Strike death’s threatening wave before you; God be with you till we meet again.
- God be with you till we meet again; Ended when for you earth’s story,
Israel’s chariot sweep to glory; God be with you till we meet again.
"Many modern books are omitting the refrain, which says, 'Till we meet, till we meet, Till we meet at Jesus’ feet; Till we meet, till we meet, God be with you till we meet again.' However, I guess that I'm used to singing the refrain and feel that the song lacks something without it. It has been said that more religious services have been closed by singing either 'Blest Be the Tie that Binds' and 'God Be With You' than all other hymns combined. A few years later, in 1886, William Croswell Doane, an Episcopal minister who lived from 1832 to 1913 and was the son of George Washington Doane, who was an early American hymn writer, was asked to provide a hymn for the 200th anniversary of the founding of Albany, New York."
- Ancient of Days, who sittest throned in glory, To Thee all knees are
bent, all voices pray;
Thy love has blessed the wide world’s wondrous story With light and life since Eden’s dawning day.
- O Holy Father, Who hadst led Thy children In all the ages, with the
fire and cloud,
Through seas dry shod, through weary wastes bewildering; To Thee, in reverent love, our hearts are bowed.
- O Holy Jesus, Prince of Peace and Savior, To Thee we owe the peace
that still prevails,
Stilling the rude wills of men’s wild behavior, And calming passion’s fierce and stormy gales.
- O Holy Ghost, the Lord and the Lifegiver, Thine is the quickening
power that gives increase;
From Thee have flowed, as from a pleasant river, Our plenty, wealth, prosperity and peace.
- O Triune God, with heart and voice adoring, Praise we the goodness
that doth crown our days;
Pray we that Thou wilt hear us, still imploring Thy love and favor kept to us always.
"Doane asked his friend John A. Jeffery to compose a tune for it, and in 1892 altered the text somewhat to its present form for publication in a general hymnbook. A year after this hymn was written, in 1887, a young man named Ernest Warburton Shurtleff, who lived from 1862 to 1917, graduated from Andover Theological Seminary and was asked to write a hymn for his class."
- Lead on, O King eternal, The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong;
And now, O King eternal, We lift our battle song.
- Lead on, O King eternal, Till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
And holiness shall whisper The sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing, Nor roll of stirring drums;
With deeds of love and mercy The heavenly kingdom comes.
- Lead on, O King eternal, We follow, not with fears,
For gladness breaks like morning Where’er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted over us, We journey in its light;
The crown awaits the conquest; Lead on, O God of might.
"While written about would-be ministers preparing for their work, it expresses a battle-plan for all Christians. Shurtleff wrote the text to fit a tune that had been composed by Henry Thomas Smart in 1835. During World War I, Shurtleff and his wife were involved in relief work in Europe where he died during an epidemic. As we come to the dawn of a new century, one hymn stands out from the year 1900. Maltbie Davenport Babcock was a Presbyterian minister who lived from 1858 to 1901. A collegiate athlete who loved to take early morning walks, as he said, 'to see my Father's world,' he was also a poet, and it is believed that he produced these words perhaps a year or so before his untimely death while on a visit to Palestine."
- This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; His hand the wonders wrought.
- This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass; He speaks to me everywhere.
- This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied, And earth and Heav’n be one.
- This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son, Came—a pledge of deathless love.
- This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod. No place but is holy ground.
- This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not, My heart is still at home.
"The poem was first published in a collection of Babcock's works
entitled Thoughts for Every Day Living that appeared a few months after
his death. In 1915, a friend named Franklin Shepard took the first three
stanzas to use as a hymn and provided a tune. Shepard thought that it
was actually an old English melody carried over unconsciously from
childhood, but it is now believed to have been an original composition.
Some modern books are replacing the last four lines of stanza 3 with the
first four lines of stanza 5, but this seems to me to remove some of the
moral fortitude of Babcock's view of God's world. Another hymn writer
who wrote about this time was Frank Mason North, a Methodist minister who
lived from 1850 to 1935. He was very concerned about applying the principles of the gospel to the plight of the poor in the slums of New York city, and in 1905 produced a hymn about it for the Methodist
- Where cross the crowded ways of life, Where sound the cries of race
Above the noise of selfish strife, We hear Thy voice, O Son of man.
- In haunts of wretchedness and need, On shadowed thresholds dark with
From paths where hide the lures of greed, We catch the vision of Thy tears.
- From tender childhood’s helplessness, From woman’s grief, man’s
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress, Thy heart has never known recoil.
- The cup of water given for Thee, Still holds the freshness of Thy
Yet long these multitudes to see The sweet compassion of Thy face.
- O Master, from the mountainside Make haste to heal these hearts of
Among these restless throngs abide; O tread the city’s streets again.
- Till sons of men shall learn Thy love And follow where Thy feet have
Till, glorious from Thy Heaven above, Shall come the city of our God!
"Our books that have the hymn use a tune that is sometimes attributed to Ludwig van Beethovan but is more possibly the work of William Gardner in whose 1815 Sacred Melodies it was first published. Probably the best known hymn from early twentieth century America was written by preacher, poet, and author Henry Van Dyke, who lived from 1852 to 1933. While teaching at Princeton University beginning in 1900, he was a visiting professor at Williams College among the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts in 1907. One morning, he came to the breakfast table of the school's president, Mr. Garfield, handed him a manuscript, and said, 'Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethovan's "Hymn to Joy."'"
- Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day!
- All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth and heaven reflect Thy
Stars and angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.
- Thou art giving and forgiving, ever blessing, ever blessed,
Wellspring of the joy of living, ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, all who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.
- Mortals, join the happy chorus, which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us, brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.
"Several attempts had been made to use the 'Ode to Joy' theme from the Ninth or Choral Symphony of 1826 by Ludwig van Beethovan for a hymn, but none of the texts ever seemed to do it justice. Now, Van Dyke's poem is almost inseparably wed to it. The hymn was first published in 1911. Van Dyke went on to serve as American lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, in 1908 and 1909, President Woodrow Wilson's ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxemburg from 1913 to 1916, and a lieutenant commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps during World War I, before returning to Princeton. One of the last well-known hymns from early twentieth century American that is found in our books was written by a Presbyterian preacher named William Pierson Merrill, who lived from 1867 to 1954. In 1911, Merrill, who was active in the 'Brotherhood Movement' of the Presbyterian Church to encourage men to become more involved in religious activities, was asked by the editor of The Continent to write a hymn and, having read an article by Gerald Lee entitled 'The Church of the Strong Men,' came up with some words while returning to Chicago, Illinois, on a Lake Michigan steamer."
- Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength To serve the King of kings.
- Rise up, O men of God! The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood And end the night of wrong.
- Rise up, O men of God! The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task; Rise up and make her great!
- Lift high the cross of Christ! Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man, Rise up, O men of God!
"Most books use a tune that had been composed by William H. Walter in 1894. After appearing in The Continent, the hymn was first published with Walter's tune in 1912. Some modern books, in what I think is a cave-in to feminism, have changed the title to 'Rise Up, O Child of God' and made other alterations to have it sound more 'inclusive.' I guess the less I give my opinion about that, the less problem I'll have with high blood pressure. Anyway, I think that I hear your mother returning with the bread."
Mom came through the door and said, "I'm back. Is everyone ready for lunch?" So Dad and the boys joined her in the dining room for their sandwiches.