This article was written in 1976 and still speaks of relevance to the church today.
HAVE you ever looked at your church hymnal? I mean, really looked at it? You’ve used it many times, of course, but there is a lot more to our hymnal than just hymns and responsive readings.
For instance, your hymnal contains several indexes. The title and first-line index is almost self-explanatory. If you want to find a song and can’t remember its title, you may be able to find its first line listed in this index.
The topical index is a great help when you need to find a hymn that ties in with a specific theme or subject. There is also an index of authors that lists the names of those who wrote the words to the hymns and, in some cases, an indication of who translated the lyrics into English. A composer-arranger index gives the sources of the tunes and the names of those who arranged them in the form in which they are currently being sung.
Would you like to know which hymns have the same metrical letters and/or numbers and can be sung to the same tune? The metrical index tells you, for example, that “Crown Him With Many Crowns,” “Make Me a Captive, Lord,” “This Is My Father’s World,” and “He’s Coming Once Again” all fall into this category.
The words and melodies of many songs come to us from many centuries back. Clement of Alexandria wrote the words to “Shepherd of Tender Youth” between A.D. 200 and 300. They were translated by Henry M. Dexter in 1846. The melody to which this song is sung today was written by Edward Bunett in 1887. A notation at the bottom of the page states, “The earliest Christian hymn extant.”
Other very old hymns include: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” the words to which were composed by Theodulph of Orleans who died in A.D. 821. John of Damascus, who lived around A.D. 750, wrote two hymns that are still being sung. They are “The Day of Resurrection” and “Come Ye Faithful.”
Sacred music has a universal appeal that breaks through the barriers of nationality, language, and denominational differences. People from all walks of life write religious music. “We Gather Together” is sung to the tune of a Nether lands folk song. “O Come, All Ye Faithful” came originally from Portugal. “Come, Let Us Sing,” is Russian in origin. Much-loved Christmas carols that come to us from France and Ger many include “The First Noel,” “Silent Night,” and Martin Luther’s “Away in a Manger.”
People who wrote the hymns we sing ranged from those who were famous or held distinguished positions in society, to the poor, but honest, Selina. The Countess of Huntingdon and Count Zinzendorf were of royal blood. Joseph Haydn, Frederick Chopin, Felix Mendelssohn, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were well-known composers who wrote melodies that have been incorporated in hymns. “Joy to the World” was arranged from George Frederick Handel’s magnificent “Messiah.”
Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, and Ira Sankey were prolific hymn writers. Notice how many of their songs have been included in the Church Hymnal.
Although some hymns have been taken from classical settings, many familiar hymns have been put to popular melodies. “Long for My Saviour I’ve Been Waiting” (No. 186 in the Church Hymnal) is one such piece the tune being the same as that for the Stephen Foster song “Nellie Was a Lady Last Night She Died.” The “Blessed Assurance” listed in our hymnal has also been sung to the tune of “Beautiful Dreamer.”
Other interesting facts come to light when you take a really good look at the hymnal and the notes at the top and the bottom of the pages. Sidney Lanier, an American poet, wrote “Into the Woods My Master Went.” Alfred Lord Tennyson contributed “Crossing the Bar,” and Rudyard Kipling composed “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old.”
How many people are aware of the fact that Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the famous Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also wrote the lovely hymn “Still, Still With Thee”?
People of many religious persuasions have been instrumental in providing us with the hymns we know and love. Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, and Baptists have all added to the rich repertoire that the hymnal brings to our finger tips. Roman Catholics have given us at least two well-known hymns. “Lead, Kindly Light” was furnished by John Henry Newman, an Anglican who later converted to Roman Catholicism and became a cardinal in the church. “Faith of Our Fathers” was also written by a Roman Catholic.
A fascinating activity is that of looking up as much information as you can find about a given author of hymns or other sacred music. One of the stories that I uncovered while doing this was that of Peter Abelard, a prelate in the Catholic Church who lived from 1079 to 1142. Abelard wrote “O What Their Joy Must Be” (No. 202, Church Hymnal).
Abelard was a brilliant student and by the time he was 21 years old had established his own school. He had difficulty understanding and accepting the idea that Catholic clergy must never marry. He fell in love with Heloise, a beautiful 17-year-old girl student that he was tutoring. They were privately married.
The prelates learned of the marriage, and Heloise publicly denied that they were married, to keep Peter from losing his standing in the church. Their marriage was broken up, but they still loved each other and remained true to each other until their death, keeping in touch through correspondence. “Letters of Abelard to Heloise” are among some of the most treasured love letters of literature.
Separated in life, they were reunited in death their bodies being buried together in Paris.
It is also interesting to learn about the contributions of early Adventist writers. Many songs by early Adventists were about the Second Advent, some about the coming of Christ, others about the pilgrims’ life on earth.
Mary S. B. Dana wrote:
“I’m a pilgrim, and I’m a stranger; I can tarry, I can tarry but a night; Do not detain me, for I am going To where the fountains are ever flowing.”
The words have been adapted to altered versions of the tune, and the song is enjoying a renewed popularity.
Charles Fitch was a great preacher and much loved until he accepted the Advent message. At that time most of his friends turned against him. He “kept the faith,” not wavering, but putting his all into God’s hands. His faith and trust is expressed in a hymn, “One Precious Boon, O Lord, I Seek” (No. 338, Church Hymnal).
Two friends who stuck by the Fitches were Phoebe Palmer and her husband. Mrs. Palmer was a poet and wrote the familiar “Watch, Ye Saints, With Eye lids Waking.” She also wrote “O Now I See the Crimson Wave.”
James Springer White was musically gifted and felt that the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church needed a hymnbook of its own. He didn’t have much money to invest in such a hymnal, but in 1849 he managed to publish a small book of hymns without tunes. It measured a diminutive 3 1/2 by 5 inches and contained forty-eight pages and fifty-three hymns.
In those days long titles were fashion able and the title of this little book was long enough to fill the title page. It was called Hymns for God’s People That Keep the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus, compiled by James White.
In 1855, White produced another hymnbook. This one had 320 pages, and some of the hymns were put to music. This was a Seventh-day Adventist first a hymnbook for the church, with printed musical notes.
James White’s sons, like him, had musical ability. They were singers and composers. James Edson, the second oldest of the boys, produced The Song Anchor for the Sabbath School. Printed in 1878, it was the first denominational songbook with music. In 1886, another songbook, Joyful Greetings for the Sabbath School made its appearance. James Edson produced this book in collaboration with Frank Belden, his cousin.
Frank Belden was a prolific hymn writer. He put together a hymnbook called theGospel Song Sheet in 1895. Shortly afterward, his Christ in Song came on the scene and was popular for more than fifty years. Even now, copies are still in existence and are treasured by people who love old books and songs. Christ in Song and Hymns and Tunes were replaced in 1941 by the Church Hymnal, which is currently in use.
Frank Belden was one of the three most outstanding Seventh-day Adventist hymn writers. The other two were Annie R. Smith, and Roswell F. Cottrell. Music wasn’t Belden’s only talent. In addition to artistic talent, he had good business sense. More than once he served as business manager for the Re view and Herald Publishing Association. He also went into business for himself. His compositions numbered in the hundreds.
Twenty-three of Belden’s hymns have been preserved in the Church Hymnal. He often wrote the music to go with his words. One of his hymns, “Look for the Beautiful, Look for the True,” has found its way into the Brethren Hymnal, the official hymnbook for the Brethren Church.
Annie R. Smith was a poet who wrote for magazines, including the Review and Herald. She wrote a number of hymns, eight of which are found in the Church Hymnal. Her consecrated life and talented pen made a definite impact on the church. But her work as a contributor was cut short when she fell prey to pulmonary tuberculosis. The disease progressed rapidly and she died at the age of twenty-four.
Roswell Cottrell, the third of the three most outstanding Seventh-day Adventist hymn writers, has three of his compositions in the Church Hymnal. Cottrell served as a corresponding editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. He also had experience in tent evangelism, as a tent master and occasional speaker. In the summer of 1856 he received $3 a week for performing these duties.
Other early Adventist writers contributed one or more hymns to the repertoire of sacred songs we enjoy today. Time and space do not allow for much
to be said about them. Some we know, others are buried in anonymity. Early Adventist believers were so concerned with the Second Advent and everything pertaining to it that they sang their music enthusiastically, and didn’t worry too much about keeping records. So it is that the identity of some early writers has become lost.
Learning as much as one possibly can about our hymn writers is a fascinating pastime. A study into the circumstances that surrounded them when they were writing their hymns helps us better to appreciate the musical heritage they have passed on to us. Bonnie Moyers