January 28, 2024

Call To Worship

Sweet Hour of Prayer: 618

This hymn goes to the heart of one of the most intrinsic Christian practices: prayer. For William W. Walford (1772-1850), prayer was an intensely private affair where one seeks refuge from temptations and trials and pours out the depths of one’s soul before God who already knows our “wants and wishes.”

The kind of prayer fostered in this hymn is private prayer, rather than prayers of the body of Christ gathered in worship.

Stanza one focuses on petitionary prayer that responds to “seasons of distress and fear.” Stanza two focuses on prayers of thanksgiving where the singer shares “the joys I feel.” Stanza three returns to petitions, but the focus is on the God “whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless.”

The text appears to come from Walford, an obscure, blind lay preacher who served in the hamlet of Coleshill, Warwickshire, England, in the mid-19th century. He owned a small trinket shop in the village.

The story goes that a Congregational minister and friend, Thomas Salmon, stopped by Walford’s shop one day in 1842. Walford asked if Salmon would write down his new poem on the subject of prayer. Three years later, Salmon was in the U.S. and showed the poem to the editor of the New York Observer, who printed it in the Sept. 13, 1845 issue.

The text first appeared in the 1859 Baptist hymnal Church Melodies, edited by Thomas Hastings and Robert Turnbull. The famous American gospel song writer, William Bradbury (1816-1868)—who composed music for so many beloved gospel hymns such as “Just As I Am” (Charlotte Elliott), “The Solid Rock” (Edward Mote) and “He Leadeth Me” (Joseph H. Gilmore)—also wrote the music for this favorite hymn in 1861.

The tune and text appeared together for the first time in Bradbury’s collection Golden Chains, from which it has become a staple of hymnals around the world.

The late William J. Reynolds, noted Baptist hymnologist and former author of this column, questioned the authorship of the hymn as described by Salmon. His extensive research could not locate a William W. Walford in Coleshill, but did note that there was a Rev. William Walford, a Congregational minister who served as president of Homerton Academy, who wrote several books including The Manner of Prayer.

Coleshill and Homerton are about 110 miles apart, more than two hours by car today, but much longer in the mid-19th century. Reynolds noted, however, that there are similarities between The Manner of Prayer and the hymn.

It is entirely possible that Salmon embellished his story to the editor of the New York Observer. It is also possible, Reynolds suggested, that William W. Walford of Coleshill and William Walford of Homerton are one and the same.

The original stanza four has been dropped from many hymnals today, but it stresses the eschatological nature of prayer as the gateway to heaven:

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
May I thy consolations share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home, and take my flight.

This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise,
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer.

At the risk of offending some, I should point out that this view of devotional prayer, while certainly valid, should not be confused with public prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, petition, intercession and blessing that are a part of the gathered body of Christ.

While I believe this hymn has a place in a hymnal, it does not for example stress prayers for the world—or prayers of the people, as they are sometimes called. This is not a hymn that fosters corporate prayer, but private devotions.

The romanticized language adds a tone that stresses withdrawal from the world rather than engagement with the needs of the world as the body of Christ. Thus, while a powerful hymn and a sentimental favorite, I suggest that it has little use in public worship, but is more appropriate for individual devotion.

Welcome and Opening Prayer
Scripture Reading

On Zion’s Glorious Summit: 515

A hymn which draws its language from those great scenes in Revelation where the heavenly hosts and victorious sants surround the throne of God with praise is “On Zion’s Glorious Summit” (#48 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #664 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by John Kent, who was born at Bideford in Devonshire, England, around Dec. 28, 1766. A shipwright by trade, he acquired only a limited education but became known for his hymns which were strongly worded, very earnest, and simple. Several of them appeared in Samuel Reece’s 1799 Collection, but this one was included in Kent’s own 1803 Collection of Original Gospel Hymns, which by 1809 had 264 hymns and 15 longer pieces.

     Kent died on Nov. 15, 1843, most likely in Bideford, but in 1861 his Collection was still being published in its tenth edition, which included “The Author’s Experience” and a biography of Kent by his son. The English Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon made use of Kent’s hymns in his collections employed in his Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The origin of the text of the Sanctus, which usually accompanies the hymn and is to be sung after the third stanza, is unknown. The tune (Skene or St. Louis) was composed by Robert Skene (19th c.). Very little information is available about this composer.

     It is believed that he was the son, or grandson, of Benjamin Skene, a longtime advocate of religious reform who died in 1859 and whose obituary was given ample space in the April issue of Alexander Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger that year. Benjamin Skene had a son Robert who lived in Louisville, KY, and composer Robert Skene edited The Concordia at Louisville in 1861. Also he edited The Christian Psaltery in 1867 with Augustus Damon Fillmore, father of James Henry Fillmore and Fred Augustus Fillmore. This melody, which may date from 1869, was first published in the 1872 New Harp of Zion, edited by A. D. and J. H. Fillmore with an abbreviated form of the Sanctus. The full version of the Sanctus is found in Hermon: A New Collection of Sacred Music, published in 1873 by Rigdon McCoy McIntosh.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church(No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1–no Sanctus), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 (with the Sanctus separate), and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song describes the praise offered to God in the book of Revelation.

Oft We Come Together: 511

No real mysteries here, based upon the words that this preacher/teacher/publisher used in three verses. Tillit Sydney Teddlie made it pretty clear in “Oft We Come Together” what his motivation was when he penned the words and wrote the accompanying music in 1944, most likely while living in Texas. Some people say this part of the worship service, which Tillit seemed to be addressing, is the centerpiece of Christendom and a proper Sunday morning worship. Trays pass in front of people, and the main point is to remember and appreciate His gift, and reciprocate. This kind of commemoration, as Tillit saw it, was not intended for one-timers, but for believers who habitually and faithfully took time on a first day of the week for such a ceremony. That’s the reason for the first word he wrote – oft. It was a short little word that might have summed up Tillet Teddlie, a man who did a lot of good things regularly.

He had been a Christian for a pretty long time in 1944, and would continue on for several more decades, continuing to do the things that defined his life. Tillit Teddlie was close to 60 years old when he penned “Oft We Come Together”, a statement he probably had thought about and paraphrased from the pulpit he so often occupied. Though many in his family were musicians, Tillit reportedly did not take up writing most of the approximately 100 songs accredited to him and seriously teaching music until he was in his early 30s, continuing in this for some 60 years. Besides writing, Teddlie published over a dozen hymnals and served as a preacher and an evangelist in multiple places. So, for how many Sunday worship services or other events the other six days of the week had Tillit been present by 1944? Thousands, no doubt, perhaps something he’d contemplated as he considered what to say in three verses about something variously called ‘Communion’, the ‘Lord’s Supper’, or Eucharist. That time is special, even central to the Christian’s faith, so Tillit evidently wanted to vocalize and be certain he and his fellow believers did not take for granted what they did routinely. As one looks at the order of the verses Tillit wrote, you might ask ‘aren’t the thoughts a bit backwards in priority?’ ‘..we bring our offering’, Tillit says in verse 1, but we all know that normally comes third, after we’ve honored the Lord’s command to eat and drink of his body and blood. Right? So, what was Teddlie thinking?! Was it in fact the monetary offering? Or, maybe Tillit was thinking of the offering of worship in our hearts and minds, something that, after all, is necessary before one takes a bite out of that cracker and drinks a bit of juice (vv.2-3). We might imagine that Tillit addressed this issue with his hearers; when your offering of worship is right-minded, then you really don’t need to urge worshippers to give a physical offering – it comes naturally, as we contact the Divine spirit and sense His love. The refrain tells us that Tillit was in fact reminding his brethren that to worship ‘in truth and spirit’ was accomplished when we ask Him to ‘Help us…’.

So, Tillit had some very simple advice for the worship service in which he had participated thousands of times. He undoubtedly had felt moved many times during that point in worship, and knew what – or, in fact, Who – made that moment special. He didn’t put God in the third person in his poetry, but spoke directly to Him. ‘Help us Lord’, he urges all of us to say. God is personal, so speak like you believe He’s present to hear your love song sung back to Him. Edify one another with that devotional message to Him who has saved you. Try thinking of it that way the next time you’re sitting there with the trays coming by and the sounds of people’s voices wafting through the room. Then, see how you feel. Do it again, and again — ‘oft’, as Tillit said. Then, perhaps you and I will appreciate what he had discovered.

Communion Meditation

Come, We That Love the Lord: 111

Scholars often ascribe the title “Father of English hymnody” to Isaac Watts (1674-1738). Though this title is exceptional, it is not undeserved. Watts was raised in the Independent Congregational Church, part of the dissenters tolerated under the official Church of England (Anglican). From an early age, he showed his dissatisfaction for the established common practice of metrical psalms, the strict poetic versification of the psalms for congregational singing in worship. He pioneered a newer approach by composing hymns that “Christianized” the texts of the Psalter. Even though “Come, we that love the Lord” is not based on a psalm, it still follows Watts’ practice of adapting Scripture for use as devotional poetry.

The original hymn, “Come, we that love the Lord,” can be found in Watts’ Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Book II (1707) in ten, four-line stanzas entitled “Heavenly Joy on Earth.” Because he loved it so much, John Wesley later used it as a part of his Psalms and Hymns, ‘Charlestown’ Collection (1737) – the first hymnal published in America during the Wesleys’ trip to the colony – with a revised structure of eight-line stanzas, omitting stanzas two and nine. Since then, many alternations have been made according to current editorial needs, culminating with most modern hymnals using a four-line, four-stanza version, as well as a further altered setting by gospel song writer Robert Lowry (1826-1899) with an added refrain. Interestingly, John Wesley, who edited hymns by many authors including Charles, modified Watts’ original “we” in the opening line to “ye” in collections he produced including A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737) and the monumental A Collection of Hymns for Use of the People Called Methodists (1780). This resulted in the opening stanza reading:

Come, ye that love the Lord,
and let your joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord
while ye surround the throne.

John’s modifications, though not a felicitous as Watts’ original, were picked up by several hymnals in the nineteenth century, especially among Methodists.

The United Methodist Hymnal, along with several others, pairs this hymn with two tunes. Welsh composer Aaron Williams (1731-1776) wrote the first tune, ST. THOMAS, in 1763. It reflects a more stately expression of joy that was typical of British hymn tunes of the time. The second tune, MARCHING TO ZION (1867), inspires an energy that fits its American revival context perfectly. Robert Lowry adapted this hymn text and composed an original tune for it. Lowry was a Baptist preacher in the United States ministering and teaching during the critical time of the Civil War, a time coinciding with the rise of revivalism. He is widely recognized for his compositions, and was noted for adding refrains to popular hymns.

The repetitive nature of the text in Lowry’s version reflects the energy of a revival atmosphere, making the text more easily sung in cultural settings where not all present were literate. The refrain of Lowry’s version changed the focus from a reverent recognition of “Heavenly Joy on Earth,” to a proclamation to a community setting out on a journey. The addition of Lowry’s refrain increased the popularity of Watts’ text and enhanced the joyful message of the original text:

We’re marching to Zion,
beautiful, beautiful Zion.
We’re marching upward to Zion,
the beautiful city of God.

According to the hymnologist Ann V. Smith, the Scriptural references for this hymn come from Revelation 14:1-3, 21:21, and 7:17. These passages address the joys of the saints, singing as they “surround the throne.” In stanzas eight and nine of the original poem (omitted in most hymnals today), we hear Watts describe the presence of joy that can be found not just in heaven, but also on earth:

The men of grace have found
glory begun below;
celestial fruits on earthly ground
from faith and hope may grow.

The hill of Zion yields
a thousand sacred sweets
before we reach the heav’nly fields,
or walk the golden streets.

From these stanzas, we can see how Watts not only wanted the singer to communicate the joy of what was to come through eternal life in heaven, but also the blessings of God on earth. An allusion to John Bunyan’s popular devotional classic The Pilgrims Progress (1678) is found in the final stanza calling attention to the Christian journey toward Zion and a triumphant entry into “Immanuel’s ground.”

The inclusion of both settings in The United Methodist Hymnal reflects the broad range of piety found in Methodism in the United States, a piety that ranges from the stately solemnity to the revival spirit. Lowry’s refrain actually adds a Wesleyan tone to Watts’ text that may be sung in light of the doctrine of sanctification – “marching” toward perfection that will ultimately culminate in heaven (“Zion”). The hymn found in our hymnals today proclaims a simple, straightforward biblical truth. However, in its original form, “Come, we that love the Lord” delves deeper into an understanding of what God has given us in creation and how we are to rejoice in it. As a community of believers, this hymn gives us the opportunity to express the beauty of the life we are living, as well as looking forward to what is to come.


Trust and Obey: 714

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
When we do his good will, he abodes with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Many readers of this column grew up singing this familiar gospel song in Sunday School classes, worship services, revival meetings and other gatherings of the church.

Gospel songs often take a kernel of Scripture and weave a personal or first- person reflection around the chosen passage. We are not sure of the text upon which the author, John H. Sammis (1846-1919), based his hymn. Some sources suggest 1 John 1:7, but, as UM Hymnaleditor Carlton Young points out, there does not appear to be any substantial resemblance to this passage and the content of the hymn.

Hymnologist Kenneth W. Osbeck cites 1 Samuel 15:22: “And Samuel said, ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken better than the fat of rams.’” Perhaps this is the best we can do in this case.

The hymn was inspired in 1886 when the composer of the music, Daniel B. Towner (1850-1919), was the music leader during one of Dwight L. Moody’s famous revivals. Towner provided the following account cited by Moody’s musical partner, Ira D. Sankey, in his biography, My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns:

“Mr. Moody was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I had the pleasure of singing for him there. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, ‘I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.’ I just jotted that sentence down, and sent it with a little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister. He wrote the hymn, and the tune was born.”

Sammis is said to have composed the lines of the refrain upon receiving the letter:

“Trust and obey—for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

As is the case with most gospel songs, these lines provide the central theme around which all of the stanzas were written. The text and tune first appeared in the 1887 collection, Hymns Old and New, and the hymn has been included in countless hymnals since then. Methodist hymnals in the United States have carried it since 1897.

Sammis was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was a successful businessman in Logansport, Ind. Through his work with the YMCA he was called to the ministry, attended McCormick and Lane Seminaries, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1880. After serving congregations in Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota, he joined the faculty of the Los Angeles Bible Institute.

I can imagine that many a sermon has been based on these three words, and following the singing of this hymn at the conclusion of the sermon, many worshippers have headed home humming or whistling the refrain, providing a lyrical way to take the theme with them.

Dr. Young points out that this hymn “is concerned with the rewards of trusting God’s word and obeying God’s will.” The ultimate reward, a heavenly one so common in hymnody, appears in the final stanza when the hymn writer muses that “in fellowship sweet we will sit at his feet.”

Announcements & Closing Prayer