Friday, March 2, 2012

Come, Come, Ye Saints

Praise for the Lord #106

Words: William Clayton, 1846; alt. Joseph F. Green, 1960
Music: Neale's & Day's Revival Hymns, 1842

Sometimes a hymn so aptly describes the experience of a particular group that it becomes an unofficial anthem for generations to come. Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress" embodies the stern resolve of the early Reformation; "O for a thousand tongues to sing" captures the exuberant joy of the Wesleys. "Come, come ye saints" is the most famous hymn of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, because it documents their formative experience, the pilgrimage into the American west.

William Clayton (1814-1879) was a bookkeeper from Lancashire who became one of the earliest converts to the Latter Day Saints in Britain. In 1840 he left his native England for the "new Zion" of Nauvoo, Illinois. There he served in numerous capacities, including as scribe to Joseph Smith himself.("Clayton") He did not remain long; the Mormons had already been driven from New York, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and Smith's assassination in 1844 meant they could not long remain in the settled areas of the United States. Brigham Young, their new leader, planned to lead them from Nauvoo to the far West beginning in the spring of 1846, but events forced a departure in early February during a winter so cold that the Mississippi River froze over.(Pioneer Story) Young appointed William Clayton the official records-keeper for this group, an honor that was not without cost; Clayton was forced to leave behind one of his wives, Diantha, who was eight months pregnant.(Dahl, 516)

Into these hard circumstances, with unknown dangers ahead and known dangers behind, came one spot of good news: on April 15th, as the group was camped somewhere along Locust Creek near the Missouri-Iowa border, a letter came with the news that Diantha's child was delivered healthy.(Dahl, 517ff.) Clayton recorded in his journal,
This morning I composed a new song--"All is well." I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again.(Dahl, 518)
It is likely that Clayton had in mind both the tune and refrain of a folk hymn by the title "All is well;" there is another hymn with nearly the same tune but almost entirely different lyrics, beginning with the first line "What's this that steals, that steals upon my soul?" It is a hymn about a Christian joyfully greeting death, and contains the same refrain line: "All is well! All is well!" The earliest known appearance of the earlier hymn is in Revival Hymns by J. H. Neale, first published in 1842. (More on this below.) Paul Dahl believes that both Clayton and White drew from the same folk sources.(Dahl, 520)

Clayton's hymn quickly spread throughout the Latter Day Saints community, and was sung on a daily basis during their westward migration. It was first published in a Latter Day Saints hymnal in England in 1851, just five years after its composition.(Dahl, 524) Clayton's original lyrics in four stanzas are quite stirring, and one need not agree with his doctrines to share his sense of self-sacrifice and rejection of this present world. Certain references, however--especially the line, "We'll find the place which God for us prepared / Far away in the West"--make the original lyrics awkward for those of us who do not share the belief in a modern-day prophet or an earthly, physical Christian Zion. In 1960 Joseph F. Green, an editor with the Southern Baptists' Broadman Press, published a heavily rewritten version in Broadman Songs for Men, no. 2. This is the text used in Praise for the Lord, and given below.(Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs)

Stanza 1:
Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you the journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
We have a living Lord to guide,
And we can trust Him to provide;
Do this and joy your hearts will swell:
All is well! All is well!

There is a great old English word that is preserved for us in the language of the King James Version: "sojourner." The sojourner is not just a traveler, but a person who is permanently traveling. A traveler has a destination to reach, and a home to which he returns after a time. A sojourner has no such ends in view; he knows only that where he has been, and where he is now, is not his home. He has no permanent connections with a place.

Abraham described himself this way to his Hittite neighbors: "I am a stranger and a sojourner with you."(Genesis 23:4) Wealthy as he was, Abraham did not even own a plot of ground to bury his dead, and had to buy it from another. For the Bedouin-style herding economy of Abraham and his early descendants, it was necessary to be on the move to find pasture and water; it is perhaps significant that Jacob is remembered not for establishing a city, but a well.(John 4) When the descendants of Abraham returned to Canaan centuries later, most turned to a settled agricultural life; but the Feast of Booths kept alive the memory of their wanderings in the Sinai, and of their ancestors' sojourning.

In the Psalms we see this concept turned to the spiritual: "Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not Your peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with You, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were."(Psalm 39:12) When we look at the brevity of our lives, and the swiftness with which one generation passes away to be replaced by another, we learn the truth of this statement: "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away."(Psalm 90:10) We are all sojourners in this world, here for a little while but not to stay.

How do we respond to this knowledge? 1 Peter 1:17 tells us, "pass the time of your sojourning here in fear," such "fear" being a reverent attitude toward God and His word. Once again Abraham becomes our example:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.(Hebrews 11:8-10)
The background of this hymn is tied up in a journey--a physical journey toward an unknown goal, full of very real threats and hardships. Our spiritual sojourning is of the same sort. We do not know where it will lead us in this life; we do not know what trials we will face, or what price we will pay for our faith. But we do know that the God who guided Israel through the wilderness has promised to be with us as well.

The first stanza encourages us to be not afraid. Dozens of times in Scripture people are told, "Fear not!" And is it coincidence that this state of fear, and the divine reassurance, so often came right before God did something wonderful? "Fear not," Israel, God will part the Red Sea before you. "Fear not," Joshua, and Gideon, and many other leaders, because God will give you victory. "Fear not," Mary, because God will work His greatest wonder through you. "Fear not," disciples, it is the resurrected Lord. When our spirits are sapped by fears, let us remember Moses' encouraging words at the beginning of the Exodus, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today!"(Exodus 14:13)

The hymn tells us not only "be not afraid," but to be joyful as well! James (who certainly saw his share of persecution and fears) said, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."(James 1:2-3) Sometimes we are put in bad situations that really are beyond our control. But in another sense, we always have control of one thing: our response. If we can look at a bad situation and ask, "What spiritual lesson can I learn? How can I give glory to God through my actions?," then we still have a path to victory.

Sometimes a bad situation may arise just in order to test us and to strengthen our faith; on the other hand, sometimes a bad situation arises solely out of the meanness of another person. But I can still choose to glorify God through my actions, and the spiritual reward of having done right is a greater comfort than any revenge could offer. As Joseph said to his brothers, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."(Genesis 50:20) And especially if we are persecuted by another for the sake of our desire to follow Christ, we should remember the example of the apostles, "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name."(Acts 5:41)

Stanza 2:
The world of care is with us every day,
Let it not this obscure;
Here we can serve the Master on the way,
And in Him be secure.
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take;
Our God will never us forsake;
And so our song no fear can quell:
All is well! All is well!

The Greek word for "care" used in the New Testament is μέριμνα (merimna), which has an interesting derivation: the root word is μερίζω (merizō), a verb meaning "to draw in different directions."(Thayer, 400) That sounds exactly like my daily life, and perhaps it sounds like yours. This is the word used in the Parable of the Sower, describing the seed that fell among thorns: "He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word, and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful."(Matthew 13:22) As this stanza says, care can obscure our vision of our true mission.

Notice that the person in this parable didn't just ignore the Word, as did the one who was like the hardened pathway; this person became unfruitful, which suggests that the seed took root, developed into a plant, and began the process of fruit-bearing. Its growth was stunted, however, because of competition from the weeds that sapped the water and nutrients from the same soil. It didn't die, but it never became what it should have been. Spiritually speaking, this person could be struggling along for years, trying to serve God but not with a whole heart, and feeling miserable about it all the while.

There are many, many cares in this world, and there seem to be more all the time. We need to examine ourselves frequently and see where we are spending our best time and effort, asking the question, "Does this give glory to God?" Fortunately, as long as that spiritual plant is alive, it can be brought back to healthy fruit-bearing. But we may have to do some weeding! Thankfully we are not alone in this struggle; Peter told us, "Cast all your care upon Him; for He cares for you."(1 Peter 5:7) Interestingly, the verb used to describe God's "care" is a different word from the one mentioned above; God is not pulled in different directions by all His activities. It is impossible to distract the Omniscient, or to overwhelm the Omnipotent. Let us learn to give up our cares to Him; He is far better able to deal with them.

In addition to casting aside worry and care, we are also exhorted in this stanza to get back into action for the cause of Christ. The phrase "gird up your loins" is not one we encounter outside Scripture today, but has a simple meaning if we examine its background. The long, loose robes worn by men in the Bible lands were comfortable for the hot climate, but inconvenient for hard work or running. To avoid tripping on his own robe, and to keep it from flapping about, a man would "gird up the loins" by pulling up his robe and fastening a belt or "girdle" around it.(Barnes, 281ff.) "Gird up the loins" thus became a common expression to describe readiness for action. Scripture records two occasions of Elisha telling someone to "Gird up your loins, . . . and go," to carry out the prophet's orders.(2 Kings 4:29, 9:1)

God used this expression in a spiritual sense when He commissioned Jeremiah's ministry by saying, "gird up your loins, and arise, and speak unto them all that I command you."(Jeremiah 1:17) Peter touches on this image as well, speaking to Christians:
Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.(1 Peter 1:13)
The style of clothing has changed, but the message has not. Like any smart strategist, the devil prefers to have his enemies distracted, disorganized, and discouraged. This hymn reminds us that we often need to take an assessment of ourselves, and get our minds set again for action as we turn back to the daily fight.

Stanza 3:
We'll find the rest which God for us prepared,
When at last He will call;
Where none will come to hurt or make afraid,
He will reign over all.
We will make the air with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
O how we'll make the chorus swell:
All is well! All is well!

Clayton's original text spoke here of "the place which God for us prepared / Far away in the West," but Joseph Green's revision invokes instead the "Sabbath rest" of the faithful spoken of in the 4th chapter of Hebrews. After discussing the Israelites during Exodus who were unable to enjoy God's intended blessings because of their disobedience, the Hebrews writer makes a fascinating point from Psalm 95, which also references those events:
For we who have believed enter that rest, as He has said, "As I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'"[Psalm 95:11] although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works."[Genesis 2:2] And again in this passage He said, "They shall not enter My rest."

Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again He appoints a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.(Hebrews 4:3-11)
When I was a little boy I could hardly imagine wanting to rest. I am told that I once complained of my grandmother's house that, "There's nothing to do here but to watch the dog sleep." What would we give now, as adults, to go back and spend just one afternoon in that kind of peaceful retreat? We don't know everything about heaven, but we know that it is a place of peace and wholeness, where there is no regret about yesterday or worry about tomorrow. And if we are sojourners in this world, without a permanent home, we know that heaven is a place where we will really be at home, finally.

During the years that my family lived in Nashville, Tennessee, we frequently made the 12-hour drive back to Oklahoma and Texas to visit family. These were long, long trips, and though the countryside is beautiful, after a few years we knew every turn in the road and every tree. I remember that when we would get through Memphis heading home to Nashville, with a little under 200 miles to go, we were less and less likely to stop. Part of the reason, of course, is that there are precious few places to stop on that road! But even more compelling was the desire to just get home. "Do you want to stop for supper?" "No, let's keep going. Let's get home." How much better will our Christian lives be, if we learn to think that way about this world, and about heaven? Let's keep going. Let's get home.

About the music:

ALL IS WELL is a fine old folk tune, with all the catchiness and oddity that implies; it has a metrical identity crisis, with phrases in 4/4 time bumping up against the 3/4 refrain line, "All is well! All is well!" The rendition given in Praise for the Lord is that found in Hymns: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (see Dahl's article, page 523), with the meter changing between phrases. But there have been other attempts to tame this unruly melody. In the score provided by, the editor gave up and didn't provide a time signature at all. Another earlier Latter Day Saints version keeps the meter 3/4 throughout and places fermatas over the 4th and 10th notes of the 1st and 3rd phrases--a clever dodge that avoids the problem.

As mentioned before, there was another version of "All is well!" with completely different lyrics but essentially the same tune. This hymn, beginning with the line "What's this, what's this, that steals upon my soul?," is attributed to J. T. White in the 1844 Sacred Harp. It is a three-voice hymn, and appeared in later editions of Walker's Southern Harmony. (N.B. The melody is in the tenor, the middle voice.) In this version the metrical weirdness is straightened out by dropping beats and adding pickup notes, allowing it to stay in 4/4 time. I have enjoyed singing this version with Sacred Harp groups, but the meter is somewhat unconvincing if you know the other versions!

Though the 1835 Southern Harmony is sometimes given as the earliest appearance of that hymn, it was not added until later editions.(Eskew, 142) The earliest instance, predating its inclusion in the Sacred Harp, was in Revival Hymns (Boston: H. Wood, 1842). I had the pleasure of examining a copy of this little volume at the Bowld Music Library of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. (Special thanks to Aaron Kuglin, a student employee who found this title for me--it was still in processing and not yet shelved in the rare books room--and on a weekend, no less!) It is a tiny little paperback of 71 pages, 16 centimeters tall, and cheaply printed; it amazes me that it has survived 170 years.

The full title is instructive: Revival hymns: principally selected by the Rev. R. H. Neale: set to some of the most familiar and useful revival tunes, many of which have never before been published, arr. and newly harmonized by H. W. Day. The preface notes that these are "as they were originally sung at the meetings of the Rev. Mr. Knapp." Neale was minister at the First Baptist Church in Boston, where Jacob Knapp held a series of evangelistic meetings.(Music & Richardson, 309)

From Boston to the Sacred Harp, and to the Mormon frontier, is a journey far greater than the miles on a map, and it is striking that these instances were only two years apart. But the connection to Jacob Knapp provides the key: he was one of the foremost Baptist preachers of the Second Great Awakening, and led revivals in the eastern U.S. cities a generation before the better known urban revivalism of Dwight Moody and others.(Hammond, 10ff.)

H. W. Day, who presumably arranged our earliest recorded instance of ALL IS WELL, was a Boston music publisher, teacher, and editor of the American Journal of Music and Musical Visitor. He is most famous for a very public feud with Lowell Mason which resulted in the latter's firing by the Boston School Committee (Mason was later reinstated, and Day came off the worse for the encounter).(Mark, 48) How well he came out in his wrestling match with this hymn tune, I leave for the reader to decide. The irregularities of barring (in particular, the end of the 1st staff and beginning of the 2nd) are as found in the original:

The origin of these different versions of the hymn tune, as Dahl suggests, is most likely from some common ancestor now lost to us. Dahl claims the tune is descended from the English tune "Good morning [or 'morrow'], Gossip Joan," which has a Virginia cousin in "Good morning, neighbor Jones."(Dahl, 520) Below is a version of "Gossip Joan" that shows the resemblance, but it is really just in the middle section; measures 5-10 of "Gossip Joan" correspond roughly to the 5th and 6th lines of the hymn.

Tune from
GIF rendered by JC's ABC Tune Finder


"Clayton, William." The Joseph Smith Papers

"Nauvoo, Illinois: 1839-1846." The Pioneer Story. Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Dahl, Paul E. "'All is well . . . ': the story of the 'hymn that went around the world.'" BYU Studies 21:4 (Fall 1981), 515-527.

"Come, come ye saints." Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. Glen Arm, MD: Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren.

Thayer, Joseph Henry. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: American Book Company, 1889.

Barnes, Charles Allen. Dictionary of the Bible. New York: Eaton & Mains, 1900.

Eskey, Harry. "William Walker's Southern Harmony: its basic editions." Latin American Music Review 7:2 (Autumn-Winter 1986), pp. 137-148.

Music, David W., and Paul Akers Richardson. I Will Sing the Wondrous Story: A History of Baptist Hymnody in North America. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 2008.

Mark, Michael L. A Concise History of American Music Education. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.

Hammond, Paul. "From Calvinism to Arminianism: Baptists and the Second Great Awakening, 1800-1835." Colloquium on Baptist Church Music, Baylor University Center for Christian Music Studies, 24-25 September 2009.

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