Thursday, February 23, 2012

Christian Hymns no. 2 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1948)

In a previous post I examined the origins of Christian Hymns "no. 1," the Gospel Advocate Company's 1935 "reboot" of its hymnal franchise under the leadership of a new music editor, Lloyd O. Sanderson. The new Christian Hymns series was clearly begun in competition with Elmer Jorgenson's Great Songs of the Church, at least in the intention of Foy E. Wallace, Jr., the Gospel Advocate editor who initiated the project. But over time, new editions of each hymnal would show a degree of mutual influence, probably owed to the mutual respect the hymnal editors themselves showed toward each other. Sanderson, in fact, had given high praise to Great Songs in a 1926 letter:
A hymnal of great songs for spiritual worship. In price, none to compare; in make-up, very neat; in binding, lasting quality; in arrangement of songs, superior; in fact--the book the church has been needing. -- L. O. Sanderson, Director Vocal Music, Harding College.(Boll)
And though I have not found an actual statement by Jorgenson on Sanderson's work at Gospel Advocate, the 2nd edition of Great Songs (1937) picked up several songs that had appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns, including a new song by Thomas Chisholm and L. O. Sanderson himself, "Buried with Christ." In turn, Great Songs of the Church, no. 2 was very probably an influence on the direction Sanderson took in his next edition: Christian Hymns no. 2, which appeared in 1948.

The Impact of Great Songs no. 2 on Christian Hymns no. 2

There were 175 songs in Christian Hymns no. 2 that did not appear in the 1935 Christian Hymns, more than a third of the contents of the new book. I looked for these 175 new songs in several competing hymnals from the Churches of Christ in the decade before Sanderson's revision appeared: Great Songs of the Church no. 2 (1937); two Will Slater publications, Church Hymnal (1938) and Gospel Songs and Hymns (1944); two Firm Foundation publications, New Wonderful Songs (1938) and Our Leader (1941); and Teddlie's Standard Gospel Songs (1944). As a sort of control to this less-than-scientific experiment, I also compared the popular Broadman Hymnal (1940) and The Methodist Hymnal (1939), both of which were published in Nashville during the time Sanderson was working on the Christian Hymns series. The Broadman Hymnal, a Baptist publication edited by B. B. McKinney, was used by some Churches of Christ during the middle decades of the 20th century, according to a survey in Jim Jackson's 1970 doctoral dissertation.)

Of the 175 songs searched, 85 songs did not appear in any of these books; 32 of these, of course, were original compositions or arrangements by Sanderson himself. Of the 90 that were found in one or more of these hymnals, the results were as follows:
Great Songs of the Church no. 274
Broadman Hymnal51
Standard Gospel Hymns (Teddlie)33
Will Slater publications30
Methodist Hymnal24
Firm Foundation publications13

One caveat about the results is that neither of the Firm Foundation publications examined is really a general-purpose hymnal; they are smaller paperback books that focused more on introducing new songs. The Teddlie hymnal compares much more favorably despite its small size, showing that Sanderson did have a significant connection with the Texas school of songwriters. It is also no surprise to find that the hymn repertoire of the Churches of Christ resembles that of the Southern Baptists more than that of the Methodists, even in a hymnal edited by Sanderson, whose roots were in the Methodist church.

But the significant statistic here, of course, is the preponderance of correspondence to Great Songs of the Church no. 2. If Sanderson's own songs are excluded, more than half of the remaining 143 new songs in Christian Hymns no. 2 can be found in the 1937 Great Songs no. 2. Elmer Jorgenson's hymnal had sold in all about 250,000 copies by 1946 (including all editions from 1921 on), and was probably the most widely used hymnal throughout the Churches of Christ. Its appeal grew even more rapidly in the postwar years, and sales reached the 1 million mark by 1952.(McCann, 226) Of course this figure included replacement copies over the years, but if Yeakley's estimates are correct and the Churches of Christ had about 500,000 members during the 1940s, this is still a staggering number.(Yeakley, 4)

Changing Tastes in the U.S. Churches of Christ During the Postwar Era

Though Flavil Yeakley's studies have provided a valuable corrective to the often exaggerated claims of growth among the Churches of Christ during the period immediately following World War Two, it was nonetheless a time of significant change. The most dramatic growth was in urban and suburban congregations, where the membership was increasingly college-educated and relatively affluent.(Harrel, 568ff.) The smaller rural congregations remained, then and now, a huge portion of the fellowship, but the rising city congregations were a new element with somewhat different tastes.

The Christian colleges, especially through their touring a cappella choirs, raised awareness of the classical hymn style in particular--evidenced by the contents of the Singing Hymnbook LP set, recorded in the early 1950s. (For sake of argument, here are my imperfect definitions of "classical hymn" and "gospel song": a gospel song probably has a chorus, a classical hymn does not; a gospel song may be in any musical meter with much rhythmic variety, a classical hymn is usually in simple duple or triple time with relatively little rhythmic variety; a gospel song is closer to popular music styles of its day, a classical hymn is closer to Western classical art music.) This broader repertoire had long been included in Great Songs of the Church, but was not as much part of the southern traditions represented in hymnals from Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation. With new church buildings going up, there were hymnal racks to fill, and Sanderson wanted his revision of Christian Hymns to keep pace with the changing times.

First, consider the 125 songs that were dropped from the 1935 Christian Hymns, highlighted in blue in the linked spreadsheet. Sanderson omitted several of his own songs, written with Thomas O. Chisholm, which had not caught the churches' fancy. Mainstream gospel writers such as Leila Morris, Grant Colfax Tullar, and James Rowe figure prominently in the songs that were cut, though their works are still well represented in the newer hymnal. But barely a dozen of the songs that were left out from the earlier hymnal could be called classical hymns. This is one-fifth of the five dozen or so hymns in the 1935 book that I would place in the "classical" category; but the remaining 100-plus songs that were deleted are close to a third of the gospel songs from the 400-number hymnal. A contributing factor might be that the classical hymn category was older material, winnowed out over the centuries until most of what remained was really worth keeping, whereas the newer gospel songs had more "chaff" to lose. Still, the proportions suggest that Sanderson was favoring classical hymns and looking more critically at the gospel songs.

This becomes even more apparent when we look at the 175 songs that were added. Though the number of classical hymns in this group is not dramatic, the overall result is a noticeable increase in the proportion of classical repertoire to gospel songs from the first Christian Hymns. The 1935 book, with 400 numbers, had about five dozen classical hymns, 15% of the contents. Looking through the 1948 Christian Hymns no. 2, which has 453 numbers, I spot about 90 hymns that I would put in this category--19% of the contents. Again, this is an imprecise measurement, because this classification is a matter of personal judgment. Is Sanderson's "Be with me, Lord" a classical hymn? (Probably.) Is "Onward Christian soldiers," which has a chorus, a gospel song? (No.) But the shift is still big enough to notice.

It is also worth noting that the classical hymns added to the 1948 hymnal include many that are either well known in English hymnody in general, or that have become popular among the Churches of Christ in the U.S. in particular, such as:
  • A mighty Fortress
  • Beneath the cross of Jesus
  • Dear Lord and Father of mankind
  • Fairest Lord Jesus
  • My Jesus, as Thou wilt
  • O worship the King
  • The Lord's my Shepherd (Scottish Psalter)
Each one of these was present in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church no. 2, but could not be found in any  of the other contemporary hymnals from Churches of Christ that I examined. It appears that Sanderson was in fact influenced by his rival, and upon taking sole editorship of the revision of Christian Hymns, steered it in a direction more similar to that of Jorgenson's hymnal

Sanderson's Original Songs in Christian Hymns no. 2

In the 1935 Christian Hymns, Sanderson introduced a number of fine songs co-written with the Methodist lyricist Thomas O. Chisholm; but in Christian Hymns no. 2, only one new song from this team appears. "The home up there" is copyrighted 1935, and thus appears to have been a leftover from their earlier work. By 1948 Chisholm was 72 years old, and having been in poor health most of his adult life was undoubtedly becoming more frail with age. A search of his texts on shows that the appearances of new songs by Chisholm fell off during the 1940s, though a few new songs turn up even to the end of his life (it is not always possible to tell whether these were newly written, included from earlier collections, or newly set to music).

"The providence of God" is one of Sanderson's new songs in the 1948 hymnal that has continued in use. The text was written by W. E. Brightwell, who at the time was the news editor and circulation manager for Gospel Advocate.(Gospel Guardian) I haven't found reference to any other hymns by this author, but this is a good treatment of the subject and calls out some of Sanderson's best composition. I think I hear a trace of "On Zion's glorious summit" in this music.

Sanderson also set a text by Frank E. Roush, "Nearer to Jesus." Roush was a prolific hymn writer from the independent Christian Churches in Ohio. Additionally, Sanderson wrote two texts adapted to music by other composers: "The Lord is our salvation," to music by Alexander Ewing, and "Then be prepared," with music by C. E. Leslie. Sanderson also did a good deal of arranging and minor editing of the music of others, primarily to make it more suitable for a cappella congregational singing.

There were 28 new songs with both words and music by Sanderson himself, though usually the text is attributed to his pseudonym, "Vana R. Raye" (adapted from his wife's nickname).(Sanderson, "Autobiography") Out of these, I am familiar with only four:

"Pray all the time" has the signature bass lead, "Pray in the morn-ing..." which has an unfortunate similarity to "On top of old Smoky," at least to a little boy. It is also the only bass lead song I have seen that has the lead in a separate staff, with an ordinary bass part to be sung at the same time. In my experience, all the basses sing the lead anyway, and it works just about as well. We have a fairly limited number of songs about the need for prayer, and this was a worthy enough effort that it was has lasted a few decades.

"The Lord has been mindful of me" is another fine song on the subject of divine providence, this time with text by Sanderson himself. In his autobiographical sketch, Sanderson relates that the text was inspired by reflection on his own life. He once had a promising church music career in the Methodist church, but gave it up at the age of 22 when he was baptized into the Church of Christ. There was no corresponding position of music minister or choir director to which he could aspire in this fellowship, yet he found new doors opening that led him into college choir directing and eventually to hymnal editing with the Gospel Advocate. Through it all, he felt that he certainly had been much favored.

Of the hymns for which Sanderson wrote both words and music, this is in my opinion the best. The genuineness of the text shines through the somewhat cliched hymn language common to gospel songs of the era, and the music is bold and fresh compared to many of his other songs; the first phrase pair in particular trips along in an unusual and compelling way.

"'Tis set, the feast divine" is the shortest and most unassuming of Sanderson's new songs, but it really may be the best-written and will probably continue the longest in use. It is a quiet, modest little hymn for the Lord's Supper, and perhaps shows Sanderson's reflection on the classical hymns he was emphasizing in the 1948 edition.

"Where livest thou?" is an example of Sanderson's experimental streak, and shows both the strength and weakness of that element of his style. It is really quite unusual musically, and somewhat hard to sing, with halting phrases that do not quite do what one expects. It is quite original, especially within the context of congregational gospel song of the era; but in my opinion, it doesn't quite work.

This is a good place to point out a difference between Sanderson's style and that of his contemporary, Tillit Teddlie. Of the songwriters coming from the Churches of Christ in the 20th century, these two contributed the largest number of lasting songs and probably had the biggest impact. Between the two, Teddlie's work is more even in quality--there are Teddlie songs that are better than others, but I can't think of one that doesn't work. Sanderson wrote some songs that just didn't.

On the other hand, Teddlie's style usually stayed within a pretty consistent set of parameters--he knew what worked, and like many another songwriter, he did it repeatedly. Sanderson's style, by contrast, is all over the place. He wrote more experimental songs, some of which didn't work. Between the two, I think Teddlie was the better songwriter on the strength of his more natural melody writing and his sense of what would work for congregational singing. But I have to respect Sanderson's quirkiness, too; it gave us some really good songs. In his own words, "an evaluation of personal contributions is left to the critics and users."("100 years") Critics notwithstanding, the users have kept a dozen or so of Sanderson's songs in use for more than half a century.

Assessment of Impact

I do not have sales figures on Christian Hymns no. 2, but it certainly seemed as though every church building I was in during my growing up years had a stack of these in a closet somewhere. It seems as though this was a very, very popular book across the southern United States where the Gospel Advocate's influence was strongest. And for what it's worth--this is just a rough indication at, which is a union list of thousands of libraries, shows 21 libraries holding copies of the original 1935 hymnal, and 20 libraries holding copies of the 1966 Christian Hymns III, but 39 libraries holding Christian Hymns no. 2--almost twice as many as the others. There seem to have been many more copies of the 2nd edition floating around!

This backs up Sanderson's own assessment in 1955: "The extended circulation and use of Christian Hymns no. 2 throughout America and in some foreign lands, attest to the success of the effort."("100 years") Indeed it does. Looking through the songs in Christian Hymns no. 2, I believe I could still get up and lead about two-thirds of these in most of the Churches of Christ in the southern United States that still sing the the traditional repertoire. Young people who have never seen this hymnal, whose parents were born since it went out of print, may still know half the songs. Though Sanderson's work was influenced by that of Jorgensen and others, it was certainly a major part of establishing the canon of that traditional repertoire.


Boll, Robert H. "Commendations." Word and Work 19/2 (February 1926), 64.

Jackson, James L. Music practices among Churches of Christ in the United States. D.Mus.Ed. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 1970.

McCann, Forrest. "A History of Great Songs of the Church." Restoration Quarterly 38/4 (1996), 219-228.

Yeakley, Flavil. The Growth Record Revisited. Harding Center for Church Growth Studies, 1998.

Harrell, David Edwin. "Noninstitutional movement." The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

"Brightwell added to our staff." Gospel Guardian 1/25 (27 October 1949), p. 4

Walker, Wayne S. "I love Him because He first loved me." Hymn Studies

Sanderson, Lloyd O. "'The Lord has been mindful of me': an autobiography of L. O. Sanderson." Gospel Advocate 146/9 (September, 2004), pages 26-28. Reproduced by Scott Harp, The Restoration Movement web site.

Sanderson, Lloyd O. "One hundred years in song." Gospel Advocate 97/28 (July 1955), p. 598. Reprinted in Singing for the Master, ed. Irma Lee Batey (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1962), pp. 138-142.


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