Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Alexander Campbell's Original Hymns

The Churches of Christ reject wearing any man's name, as a religious body, beside that of the Man to whom the church belongs. But when others have insisted on labeling us in that human fashion, it has traditionally been with the appellation "Campbellite"--at least in the United States--and not without reason. Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was no more the founder of a church, in his estimation or ours, than was the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 1:12-15). He was, however, a skilled orator and writer who helped to articulate the ideals of the growing "Restoration Movement"--an effort to do no more nor less than to restore the Christianity of the apostolic age.

Campbell has sometimes been portrayed as a cold and pragmatic logician of the schools of John Locke and the Scottish "common sense" philosophers. But when I recently read through his magnum opus, The Christian System--a difficult task, and something I wonder if some of his critics have done themselves--I encountered a much more complex man. Yes, Campbell was in part the product of a rigorous education at the University of Glasgow, and he was clearly an admirer of logic and common sense. The formal presentation of arguments that occupies much of the book is rather foreign to our day. Yet at times Campbell rises to heights of emotional pleading with his fellow humanity, and of almost mystical awe in his reverence for God, that one would hardly expect from a cursory examination of the opening chapters of that book.

For an example of this blend of emotion and intellect, consider this passage from the preface of Campbell's own hymnal, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (p. 7-8):
The powers and faculties of the man are neither lost nor metamorphosed in the Christian. They are all consecrated. They are now instruments of righteousness. We sing now as formerly--the same voice, the same tune; but a different song. And this brings us just to the inquiry, What are the subjects on which men are disposed to sing? Love-songs, the praises of heroes, and the triumphs of wars. These are the chapters comprehending the chief topics deemed worthy of song. No man thinks the weaving of a web, the planting of a cornfield, or the sweeping of a house worthy of a song. Why, then, have we so many mean topics--so many childish and frivolous songs--sung by Christians? In consecrating our singing powers, God has not debased them. He has rather exalted them. Still the subjects worthy of Christian song are specifically of the same kind as those worthy of the songs of men. The Christian, as well as the man, has his love-songs--the praises of his hero, the Captain of his salvation--the triumphs of his glorious warfare. These, then, are worthy of sacred song. And thus, in general terms, the question is answered, What is worthy of the Christian's song? Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs should, therefore, be founded upon such noble themes. Let the love of God our Father, the praises of the character, and the glories of the achievements of the Captain of our salvation, animate our strains. Let our sentimental songs be of the same exalted character with the subjects of faith, hope, and love; and let not the little, low, selfish, schismatical, and sectarian topics find a place in this sublimest of all exercises known among men. Let not the rhapsodies of enthusiasm, nor the moonshine speculations of frigid abstraction, characterize what we, as Christians, call the praises of our God--
            "To heavenly themes sublimer strains belong.
Whether Campbell's own poetic efforts achieved such lofty aims or not, he was a man who cared deeply about heartfelt, spiritual worship. His second wife, Selina Huntington Campbell, remembered that his singing was more of a "joyful noise" than a tune, which was often heard as he went about his daily work or rode across the fields of his property (Mankin, 12). But whatever his own musical limitations, Campbell's belief in the beneficial power of Christian song led him to compile a hymnal, originally titled Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (1828). When congregations in Campbell's sphere of influence joined in fellowship with those affiliated through another reformer, Barton W. Stone, Campbell proposed the combination of his hymnal with Stone's Christian Hymn Book as a step toward greater unity. The 1834 edition retained Campbell's title, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, and also seems to have remained rather firmly under his editorial control (Mankin 11). Not surprisingly, a man of Campbell's powerful intellect and leadership could also be at times quite opinionated and controlling.

It was in this edition that Campbell first included the five hymn texts known to have come from his pen (Mankin, 11ff.), which will be the subject of the remainder of this post. Campbell's choice of subjects shows a typical seriousness of thought and concern for faithfulness to Scripture, as well as an eye for supplementing neglected subjects:
  • "On Tabor's top the Savior stood" is a hymn about Christ's Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36).
  • "The fall of Babylon" is a hymn about the Second Advent of Christ, using imagery from Revelation chapter 18 (which echoes Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 51:8).
  • "Upon the banks of Jordan stood" is a hymn about John the Baptizer and his mission to point Israel to the Christ (Matthew 3; John 1:29-34).
  • "Jesus is gone above the skies" is a hymn for the Lord's Supper, and the only one of Campbell's hymns not obviously based on any specific passage of Scripture.
  • "'Tis darkness here, but Jesus smiles" is a hymn inspired by the midnight praises sung by Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16:25).

The earliest facsimile edition of Campbell's hymnal that I have been able to discover online is the "14th edition" from 1843. Like many hymnals of its day, it has texts only, and no music. For many hymnal editors, it was the cost and inconvenience of finding a printer who could type-set music that drove this decision; but for Campbell, it was a matter of firm conviction that nothing should distract the worshiper from the meaning of the words (Mankin, 11). By the time of the 5th edition, however, suggested tunes were listed for many of the hymns. Tune names, of course, are notoriously unreliable--the same tune may be called by multiple names, and the same name may describe different tunes. The first task in reconstructing Campbell's hymns, then, is to find the most likely source or sources of his tunes. I compiled the results of my research into a spreadsheet (click here to view) listing the suggested tunes in the 1843 edition of Psalm, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, with two additional sheets attached: the first comparing them to various popular tune-books of the day, and the second listing all the suggested tunes in alphabetical order, to highlight the frequency of particular tunes.

It was not surprising to find that a tune-book by Amos Sutton Hayden (1813-1880), his Introduction to Sacred Music, was almost certainly the source of the tunes suggested in Campbell's hymnal. Though only the revised edition of 1838 is extant, it is known that the first edition appeared in 1835, just a year after the newly revised Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, and that it received the endorsement of Campbell himself (Fletcher 94). Hayden's preface indicates that his tune-book was "elicited by the circumstances attending the present crisis," perhaps a reference to the recent merger of the Stone and Campbell movements, which had occasioned the new edition of Campbell's hymnal (Fletcher 94, 98). From my own investigation, I can add that Hayden's Introduction to Sacred Music contains more of the suggested tunes than any other book examined--101 matches, compared to 47 in William Walker's Southern Harmony and 42 in Allen Carden's Missouri Harmony, the closest contenders aside from other, later books by Hayden himself. Even more telling is the Campbell hymnal's suggestion of tunes such as ROYALTA and ROCK OF SALVATION, written by Hayden's brother William (Fletcher 464), and to my knowledge found only in Hayden publications.

Hayden is best remembered today for his classic Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, Ohio, and to a lesser extent as the founder of Hiram College and as a mentor of the future President James Garfield; but in his own time he was widely known within the Restoration Movement as a singing-school teacher and music publisher. Dr. Harold Fletcher's dissertation, Amos Sutton Hayden: Symbol of a Movement, is a monumental survey of the career of this diversely talented man through a time of rapid change in politics, society, and religion. Hayden's musical evolution is equally apparent; Dr. Fletcher has identified a steady progression from the frontier folk-hymn styles of the early Introduction to Sacred Music to a more sophisticated, European-oriented repertoire in his later hymnals, such as the 1860 Hymnist. Even the physical layout of the books tells a story. The Introduction to Sacred Music is printed in open score (each voice on a separate staff), with the melody in the tenor, and in the old four-shape "fa-sol-la-mi" notation--a format known today primarily through the surviving Sacred Harp tradition. The Hymnist, some 25 years later, was printed with more than one voice on a staff (though still not always the soprano-alto, tenor-bass layout of modern hymnals), with the melody frequently in the soprano, and in round notes. Like the Sacred Harp or Southern Harmony, Hayden's Introduction to Sacred Music had the characteristic "long-boy" shape, wider than it was tall, to accommodate two open score staff systems on each page; The Hymnist, with its more compact staff systems, was printed in the book-form typical of modern hymnals, taller than it was wide (Fletcher, 478ff.).

But regardless of his later change in musical tastes, back in the 1830s and 1840s when tunes from his Introduction to Sacred Music were recommended for Campbell's Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Hayden drew from that heady mix of frontier folk hymns, 18th-century New England singing-school music, and even older Psalm-tunes, that constituted the first phase of shape-note music. The tunes suggested for Campbell's own hymns are themselves a fine representation of this variety, including two older pieces from the 18th-century New England phase of singing-school music, as well as three folk hymns, one of them an obvious arrangement of a secular folk song.

"On Tabor's Top the Savior Stood"

Listed as Psalm 12, page 21 in the 1843 edition.


On Tabor's top the Saviour stood
With Peter, James, and John;
And while he talk'd of Calv'ry there,
His face resplendent shone.

While on his suff'rings he convers'd,
And spoke of griefs to come,
His countenance assum'd a light
Much brighter than the sun.

In dazzling brightness all array'd
Jesus transfigur'd stands,
From heav'n descends the man who gave
To Israel God's commands.

Elijah, too, of burning zeal,
Who did that law restore,
Appear'd with Moses on this mount
And talk'd his suff'rings o'er.

Transported with this glorious scene,
The witnesses exclaim,
'Tis good, Lord, with such guests to dwell;
Here let us still remain.

Three tents with joyful hands we'll raise,
And place them side by side,
For these celestials, and for thee,
And here let us abide.

While thus they spoke, a cloud descends
And takes them from their sight;
But Jesus yet remains with them,
The Father's chief delight.

This is my Son, his voice declares,
Hear him in all he says,
Not Moses nor Elijah now
Shall guide you in my ways.

With joy this more illustrious guide
Henceforth we'll still obey,
Till we behold the glorious light
Of an eternal day.

The first thing that may strike the modern reader is the number of stanzas, but that was not uncommon in Campbell's day. Isaac Watts, whose influence on Campbell is implied by the number of his hymns included in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, not infrequently wrote hymns of eight or more stanzas. Yet there is certainly a penchant for thoroughness here, as though Campbell the teacher sometimes got the better of Campbell the poet. The didactic nature of the hymn is not limited, either, to the simple reinforcement of a well-known Bible story; the final stanza applies the lesson the Transfiguration by reminding us to follow the New Covenant of Jesus, rather than the Covenant of Moses and Elijah.

The tune indicated in the 1843 hymnal is PLEASANT HILL; the image below is from Hayden's Introduction to Sacred Music (1838).

For those unfamiliar with shape-note music of this tradition, some guidance is in order:
  • Both men and women may sing any of the upper parts.
  • The melody is in the tenor voice, 2nd from the bottom.
  • The uppermost part is called "treble," and fills a role in the harmony similar to that of the tenor in the modern SATB format.
  • The part between the treble and tenor, if present, is the alto.
  • The harmony and part-writing is very different from the European "common practice era" found in most modern hymns and gospel songs, and may include parallel 5ths and octaves, incomplete "open-5th" chords, and unresolved dissonance.
  • Sharps and flats are frequently ignored, except for the key signature.
  • The only shapes are FA, SOL, LA, and MI. These have the same shapes as in the 7-shape system, but a scale is sung FA - SOL - LA - FA - SOL - LA - MI - FA. This was a holdover from the much earlier hexachordal system of solfege, prior to the DO-RE-MI system.
  • Scales are very often pentatonic (5-note), the scale you get if you play only the black notes on a piano.
  • For much more information, see

PLEASANT HILL first appeared in print in Ananias Davisson's Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony in 1820. It was picked up in William Walker's Southern Harmony and later in B.F. White's Sacred Harp, two of the most influential books in the four-shape tradition, which guaranteed its permanence in the repertoire (Music, xlv). Hayden's version differs from that of Davisson or Walker, especially in the alto part.

The video below is my own attempt to render what Campbell's hymn might have sounded like with the indicated tune from Hayden's book. My voice type is best described as "bass, adequate," so I obviously cannot reproduce the full range of octaves that would do the music justice. But in my defense, Campbell's Bethany College was male-only in the days when these hymns were sung, so their early chapel singing might not have sounded much different.

"The Fall of Babylon"

Song 151, page 223 in the 1843 edition.

Come, let us sing the coming fate
Of mystic Babylon the Great--
Her doom is drawing near:
Jesus now comes on earth to reign,
His cause and people to maintain--
For them he'll soon appear.

Before him flows a fiery stream,
The heav'ns above with lightnings gleam,
A thousand thunders roar:
A heav'nly host with him descends,
His voice to all the earth extends,
His saints now grieve no more.

Eclips'd by glory so divine,
Sun, moon, and stars refuse to shine,
The spheres now cease to roll:
Earth, wrapt in darkness deep as night,
With horror stricken at the sight,
Now quakes from pole to pole.

Angels of light, at his command,
Ten thousand times ten thousand, stand
Waiting his voice to hear:
The fiery cherubs spread their wings,
The air with loud hosannas rings,
While all his saints draw near.

The day of recompense has come,
His people all are gath'ring home,
With joy they hear his voice:
The promis'd curse, the threaten'd woes,
Combin'd, now fall upon his foes,
The martyrs all rejoice.

She who the Twelve Apostles griev'd,
And by her sorceries deceiv'd
All nations of the world,
Now looks with anguish at their bliss,
Then sinks into the vast abyss,
To endless ruin hurl'd.

The living saints, and all the dead,
Now gather round their glorious head,
And reign with him below;
An endless age of perfect peace,
Of love, and joy, and righteousness,
Exempt from every wo[e].

Then let us keep the end in view,
And ever on our way pursue,
The crown is yet before:
A few short days the conflict's done,
The battle's fought, the prize is won,
And we shall toil no more.

Mankin proposes that this text was particularly connected to Campbell's debate with the Catholic bishop John B. Purcell, and that the "mystic Babylon" of this text refers to the Roman Church--a forced interpretation of the relevant passages in the Revelation, but historically not an uncommon belief among Protestants. Campbell did in fact follow this line in his debate, making it one of his points of argument (Campbell-Purcell Debate, p. vii). But in this hymn one should note that Campbell is closely following the language of Scripture, in particular the 18th chapter of the Revelation. The 6th stanza's opening lines, "She who the Twelve Apostles griev'd, / And by her sorceries deceiv'd / All nations of the world" references Revelation 18:20, "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her," and 18:23, "for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived." The "Babylon" of Revelation 18 is clearly (if one may speak so of an apocalyptic image!) depicting a secular authority, rich in economic as well as political power. Following Campbell's own sources, we should not be too quick to assume any limitation of this imagery to a religious authority. For that matter, though Campbell did sometimes use the trope of "mystic Babylon" to describe religious bodies, he did not always mean any one denomination. Sometimes he applied the term to the whole confused, divided, and self-contradictory morass of Christian groups that he sought to reunite in primitive apostolic Christianity. The following statement sums up his willingness to stand for what he saw as truth, regardless of who opposed him: "As to the Fama Clamosa--the cry of heresy or of false teaching, echoed and re-echoed, through the streets, and lanes, and avenues of mystic Babylon, Catholic or Protestant, we personally care nothing" ("Prefatory remarks," 99).

Campbell's views on the end times were complex, and the title one of his journals--Millennial Harbinger--is evidence enough of the importance of the subject in his thinking. Like many of his contemporaries, his beliefs evolved over time, but his most consistently held position was that the millennial reign of Christ on earth would be representative, through His church, and prior to His final return at the Judgment (Rollmann). The reign of Christ through His church is more clearly articulated in The Christian System of 1835. It is interesting as well to compare the "reign of Jesus" depicted in this hymn with that described in Campbell's "Upon the banks of Jordan stood," given in full in the next section below.

The tune indicated in Campbell's hymnal is HARMONY, a composition by the Massachusetts composer Abner Ellis (1770-1844), who also worked as a teacher, tavernkeeper, and state legislator. Ellis contributed this work to Stephen Jenks's Delights of Harmony (1805). It is a staple of the Sacred Harp repertoire to this day (Steel, 116). Hayden's version differs only slightly from that found in the 1860 Sacred Harp. The chief differences are in the harmonies in the next to last measure.

HARMONY is a fun example of the "fuging tune" (yes, it should be "fuguing," but by long-standing tradition the old vernacular spelling is retained). This invention of the 18th-century New England school begins with all the parts in similar rhythm, as in a traditional hymn, for the first few lines of a stanza. Then, at the midpoint of the stanza, the voices enter one at a time in imitation, repeating the next line of text until all voices have come in. The final line of text is presented with all the voices regrouped into a similar rhythm, as at the beginning. The video below is the Sacred Harp version, with the traditional text, "Wake all ye soaring throngs and sing."

This was by far the most difficult of the Campbell hymns to record, but the video below will give some sense of how it might have sounded. It is very sprightly music for a text about the judgment of "mystic Babylon," but on the other hand, it fits the other more celebratory themes of the text quite well.

"Upon the banks of Jordan Stood"

Song 149, page 220 in the 1843 edition.


Upon the banks of Jordan stood
The great reformer, John,
And pointed to the Lamb of God,
The long expected one.

He loud proclaim'd the coming reign,
And told them to reform;
If they God's favor would obtain,
And shun the gath'ring storm.

He bade all those who would repent,
Forthwith to be immers'd,
Assuring them that God had sent
The message he rehears'd.

Forsake your sins, the Baptist said,
That you may be forgiv'n;
Forsake them now, and be immers'd,
For near's the reign of heav'n.

Thus did the man of God prepare
A people for the Lord;
To him did all the Jews repair,
Who trusted in his word.

But now the reign of God has come,
That reign of grace below,
And Jesus reigns upon God's throne,
Remission to bestow.

He bids all nations look to him,
As Prince of Life and Peace;
And offers pardon to all them
Who now accept his grace.

This is probably the best known of the Campbell hymns, because it touches on the theme of baptism, so central to the doctrinal debates of his time, and because it has been included in a few modern hymnals. Brother Max Wheeler wrote a setting in 1986 that was included in V. E. Howard's Church Gospel Songs and Hymns, and more recently in Praise for the Lord. In the first five stanzas of this hymn, Campbell summarizes the evangelistic work of John the Baptist. The final two stanzas are addressed to the modern reader, however, living this side of Calvary, and stress the far greater significance of baptism into Christ. Particularly apparent is Campbell's preference for the term "immerse" to represent the Greek baptizo as used in the New Testament, rather than the English transliteration "baptize."

Finding the suggested tune for this hymn, MOUNT NEBO, was the beginning of this fascinating and frustrating effort to recreate Alexander Campbell's hymns. My brother Mark Teske, of the Gospel Broadcasting Network, contacted me with the question, "What was the original music for 'Upon the banks of Jordan' by Campbell?" Since the 1843 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs gave a suggested tune, this seemed not to be too difficult a thing to find out. Unfortunately I found not one but three MOUNT NEBO tunes! There is a tune by that name from an 18th-century English collection, but it did not fit the text. There is also a MOUNT NEBO in Lowell Mason's Carmina Sacra of 1840, which actually fits Campbell's text rather nicely. But the tune given in Hayden's Introduction to Sacred Music is the obvious choice:

I can find no antecedent to this tune, though I have the nagging feeling that I have heard it before.

"Jesus is Gone Above the Skies"

Hymn 135, page 112 in the 1843 edition.

Jesus is gone above the skies,
Where our weak senses reach him not;
And carnal objects court our eyes
To thrust our Saviour from our thought.

He knows what wand'ring hearts we have,
Apt to forget his lovely face;
And to refresh our minds he gave
These kind memorials of his grace.

The Lord of life this table spread
With his own flesh and dying blood; 
We on thy rich provision feed,
We taste the wine and bless our God.

While he is absent from our sight,
'Tis to prepare for us a place;
That we may dwell in heav'nly light,
And live forever near his face.

Our eyes look upwards to the hills,
Whence our returning Lord shall come;
We wait thy chariot's awful wheels
To fetch our longing spirits home.

Here is a lovely hymn for the Lord's Supper, a subject on which Campbell wrote with great feeling:
Upon the loaf and upon the cup of the Lord, in letters which speak not to the eye, but to the heart of every disciple, is inscribed, "When this you see, remember me."  Indeed, the Lord says to each disciple, when he receives the symbols into his hand, "This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you." The loaf is thus constituted a representation of his body--first whole, then wounded for our sins. The cup is thus instituted a representation of his blood--once his life, but now poured out to cleanse us from our sins. To every disciple he says, "For you my body was wounded; for you my life was taken." In receiving it the disciple says, "Lord, I believe it. My life sprung from thy suffering; my joy from thy sorrows; and my hope of glory everlasting from thy humiliation and abasement even to death." Each disciple, in handing the symbols to his fellow-disciple, says, in effect, "You, my brother, once an alien, are now a citizen of heaven; once a stranger, are now brought home to the family of God. You have owned my Lord as your Lord, my people as your people. Under Jesus the Messiah we are one. Mutually embraced in the Everlasting arms, I embrace you in mine" (Christian System, 310).
This was the only one of Campbell's hymns in the 1843 book that did not have a tune suggested. My survey of the tune suggestions throughout Campbell's hymnal showed that the most common Long Meter tunes are ZION (6), WINDHAM (5), and MAJESTY NEW (5). ZION obviously doesn't fit the text well at all; between the other two, the stately minor-key melody of WINDHAM seems the best fit for Campbell's serious and thoughtful tone. Hayden's version differs from the original only in the lengths of some of the notes.

WINDHAM was composed by Daniel Read (1757-1836), part of the older generation of New England singing-school composers. A veteran of the Revolutionary War, Read was a native of Massachusetts but settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where he conducted singing schools and published hymn books ( WINDHAM was a popular hymn tune in its day, first appearing in Read's American Singing Book of 1875. Read is probably best remembered, however, for his dynamic fuging tune SHERBURNE, associated with the text "While shepherds watched their flocks by night." The video below is a historic field recording of Sacred Harp singing from the 1940s, and captures the power of these slow, minor-key tunes.

The minor-key tunes of the old shape-note tradition often show the lingering influence of the modal scales of earlier centuries, before major and minor became the two default scales of Western music. (The Celtic duo Standing Stones has a great introduction to modal scales in European folk music.) WINDHAM is in the Aeolian mode, commonly called "natural minor"; unlike the modern Western use of the minor scale, no adjustment is made to the 7th scale step to make it a leading tone. In keeping with the practice I have learned singing with Sacred Harp groups, I have omitted even the D-sharps that are written in the score. Some singers of the old shape-note traditions add an additional twist--they raise the 6th step of the minor scale as well, making it Dorian mode. In the video below I have given first an Aeolian, and then a Dorian rendition.

"'Tis Darkness Here, But Jesus Smiles"

Song 150, page 221 in the 1843 edition.

'Tis darkness here, but Jesus smiles,
His presence ev'ry pain beguiles;
He has the wine that cheers the soul,
The oil that makes the wounded whole.

While silence reigns as in the tomb,
And midnight spreads her deepest gloom;
Come, let our tongues an anthem raise,
And sing our great Physician's praise.

Though fast our feet within these stocks,
Our hands secur'd with numerous locks,
No iron chains our thoughts can bind,
There are no fetters for the mind.

Though we are bound, the word is free,
The truth cannot imprison'd be;
The word shall visit ev'ry land,
Though kings and people all withstand.

The word of life which Jesus sent,
Jail, chains, and swords cannot prevent;
Man cannot keep the world in night,
For God has said, Let there be light.

To Jesus let our praise ascend,
His care for us shall never end;
He felt our griefs, he bore our pains,
His blood has wash'd us from our stains.

From all our sins he set us free,
The light of life he made us see,
From Satan's bondage gave release,
And fill'd our souls with joy and peace.

He bade us speak his love abroad,
And tell the mercies of our God;
And shall we cease to spread his fame,
Because of prisons, stripes, or shame?

No--'tis our choice to bear his cross;
For him all things we count but loss;
Our joy, for him to suffer shame;
Our honor, still to bear his name.

One smile from him all pains repays,
One word of peace all griefs allays;
With him in glory to appear
Will compensate our suff'rings here.

His presence now this prison cheers,
Relieves our pains, dispels our fears;
His presence, then, our heads will crown
With endless glory and renown.

Once again Campbell makes a very detailed treatment of a Scripture passage, in this case the incarceration of Paul and Silas in the jail at Philippi (Acts 16). There are several specific references to other Scriptures as well:

  • The oil and wine of the 1st stanza may come from the Good Samaritan's care for the wounded man in the parable from Luke 10.
  • The 4th stanza paraphrases 2 Timothy 2:9, "I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!"
  • The last line of the 5th stanza, of course, is from Genesis 1:3, but also calls to mind the "Light of the World" imagery used by John in his gospel and first epistle.
  • The 2nd line of the 9th stanza is almost a direct quote of Philippians 3:8, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."

But unlike "On Tabor's top" or "Upon the banks of Jordan", which address their subjects didactically, this hymn is more of a rhapsody on the faith in Christ shared by the two prisoners. The key point is that Paul and Silas, having been beaten and thrown in jail, were singing praises at midnight--long before the earthquake that set them free. They had no expectation of such a deliverance, yet they were singing praises.

The tune recommended by Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs is SCOTCH AIR, which I have not found in any tune-book of this era except Hayden's Introduction to Sacred Music. This may be one of Hayden's own arrangements; since he did not put his name to any of the tunes in his book, we can only speculate about which anonymous pieces might have come from his pen (Fletcher 464).

This melody became famous through its connection to a beautiful lyric by Robert Burns (1759-1796), "Ye banks an' braes o' bonnie Doon." I can attest to the sweetness and charm of this tune; I rocked my children to sleep with it many times!

Frank Kidson's article for the 1910 Grove's Dictionary of Music is an excellent summary of the various theories around the origins of the tune. It is an odd choice for a hymn setting, perhaps; but when paired with Campbell's text about perseverance through suffering, the melancholy sweetness of this old melody seems rather fitting. 


Campbell's hymn texts did not have the impact one might have expected, considering the influence he exerted on the Restoration Movement in almost every other area of his work. Less than two years before his death in 1866, Campbell turned over his hymnal to an editorial committee for the first major revision in more than a decade--ironically, they omitted all of his hymns. Though they had always previously been included (as an editor's own hymns usually are), they were apparently never widely used (Fletcher, 294). Still, they are an interesting window into his ideas of Christian worship music, and into the frontier hymnody in the Midwest that was the soundtrack of this era of the U.S. Restoration Movement.


"Bonnie Doon." LYCO Sheet Music Archive. Last updated 2013.

Campbell, Alexander. "Prefatory remarks to Bro. Moses E. Lard's review of Dr. Jeter's books." Millennial Harbinger series 4, vol. 7, no. 2 (February 1857), 94-100.

Campbell, Alexander. Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, 14th ed. Bethany, Va.: Campbell, 1843.

Campbell, Alexander, and John B. Purcell. A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion. New York: Benziger Bros., 1837.

Fletcher, William Harold. Amos Sutton Hayden: Symbol of a Movement. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oklahoma, 1988. Available for order through ProQuest Dissertations, UMI #8808071.

Kidson, Frank. "Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon." Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. J. Fuller Maitland, 6 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1904-1910, vol. 6, pp. 671-672.

Mankin, Jim. "Alexander Campbell's contributions to hymnody." The Hymn, vol. 49, no. 1 (January 1998), pp. 10-14.,%20Alexander%20Campbell's%20Contributions%20to%20Hymnody.pdf

Music, David W., ed. A Selection of Shape-Note Folk Hymns: From Southern United States Tune Books, 1816-1861. vol. 52 of Recent Researches in American Music. Middleton, Wisc.: A-R Editions, 2005.

Rollmann, Hans. "Eschatology." Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eedrmans, 2004, 304-307.

Steel, David Warren, and Richard H. Hulan. The Makers of the Sacred Harp. University of Illinois Press, 2010.

"WINDHAM." Hymnary.org

"WINDHAM." American Hymn-Tune Repertory, ed. Mark Rhoads.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Father, We Praise Thee

Praise for the Lord #143

Words: Medieval Latin hymn; trans. Percy Dearmer, 1906
Music: CHRISTE SANCTORUM, Paris Antiphoner, 1681; arr. La Feillée's Nouvelle Methode, 1782

This is a translation of the Medieval hymn "Nocte surgentes vigilemus omnes" (Rising up by night, let us all keep vigil") from the Roman Catholic liturgy, originally sung during the nighttime prayer hours in the summer months (Walpole 265). Dearmer's English translation tweaked the original to make it a morning prayer, more suitable for his Anglican audience. Christopher Gray's excellent Liber Hymnarius website has the full Latin text and a good literal translation, which is worth comparison to Percy Dearmer's rather free rendering.

These lyrics are traditionally attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604), whose work in organizing the music of the Roman Catholic liturgy caused his name to be attached to the entire repertoire still known today as "Gregorian" chant. The earliest documented instances of "Nocte surgentes" are found, however, from only the 10th century forward (Analecta Hymnica 51:24). Walpole, in his classic study Early Latin Hymns, notes that it does not seem to fit with the simpler style of chants known to date from Gregory's era. Its meter is a particularly unusual and sophisticated "Sapphic mode" (so-called because of its use by the ancient Greek poet Sappho) of four-line stanzas in the syllable pattern Walpole notes instead the hymn's strong similarity to another work in Sapphic mode by the 9th-century scholar Alcuin of York (c.735-904); if it is not a work of Alcuin himself, it at least seems to fit better in the hymn-writing style of his era (265).

The translation before us is a paraphrase by Percy Dearmer (1867-1936). Brought up under the influence of the Oxford Movement, Dearmer advocated the recovery of specifically English Catholic traditions from earlier eras, and though he was undeniably Anglo-Catholic, his Parson's Handbook (1899) was widely influential across the spectrum of Anglicanism (Southwell). He was vicar of St. Mary's of Primrose Hill in London when he recruited Ralph Vaughan Williams to assist him in compiling The English Hymnal (1906), a watershed moment in the hymnology of the 20th century. In addition to continuing the Oxford Movement's penchant for translating medieval works, Dearmer carefully excised what he considered the worst excesses of Victorian hymnody. Vaughan Williams matched this "treasures old and new" approach with a selection of music from all eras, including many folk tunes, and with a focus on strong melodic contours. When one entered an Anglican place of worship in the early 20th century, the distinctive light green binding of The English Hymnal was an immediate indicator of a certain kind of "high church" progressivism, just as the more soberly bound Hymns Ancient & Modern signified the more traditional mainstream (Atwell).

Stanza 1:
Father, we praise Thee, now the night is over;
Active and watchful, stand we all before Thee;
Singing, we offer prayer and meditation: 
Thus we adore Thee.

The opening phrase of this stanza in the original Latin, "Nocte surgentes," may have been inspired by the beginning of Psalm 119:62 in the Vulgate, "Medio noctis surgam," "At midnight I will rise to give thanks to You, because of Your righteous judgments." But whether at midnight or morning, any time is a good time for prayer! Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and the examples are many of good servants of God who prayed on the spot, when the need arose. Nehemiah said a quick prayer before appealing to Artaxerxes for help in rebuilding Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:4). Hezekiah, on receiving the Assyrian demand for surrender, went immediately to the temple and prayed for God's favor and guidance (2 Kings 19:14-15). If you need to pray, God is always ready to listen. But there is a great value in planning times of prayer, so that our prayers do not become afterthoughts. Daniel prayed three times a day as a matter of habit (Daniel 6:10). The writer of Psalm 119 proclaimed, "Seven times a day I praise You for Your righteous rules" (Psam 119:164). Whether that is meant literally, or is figurative in the sense of "many times a day," we see a pattern of purposeful communion with our God on a daily basis.

The early morning hours seem to have been a favorite time for daily prayer down through the ages. Perhaps there is something to be said for the freshness of mind that we may experience before the day's distractions begin. Perhaps it is simply a good way to set priorities--to make an appeal to God, and thanksgiving to Him, the first order of business for each new day. David's Psalms mention this idea several times:
O LORD, in the morning You hear my voice;
In the morning I prepare a sacrifice for You and watch.
(Psalm 5:3)
But I will sing of Your strength;
I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning.
(Psalm 59:16a)
Let me hear in the morning of Your steadfast love,
For in You I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
For to You I lift up my soul.
(Psalm 143:8)
And when we look at the brief but busy years of Jesus' ministry, we find an incident mentioned that was very likely typical: "And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He departed and went out to a desolate place, and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35). Given the demands on His time, when there was not always even opportunity to eat a meal in peace (Mark 6:31), it is not surprising that Jesus sometimes set aside the quiet early morning hours for prayer.

But just having the habit of wording a prayer in the morning is not enough; it can all too easily become a thoughtless routine. This hymn insists instead that we be "active and watchful" as we stand before God. One could compare this to the earnest statement of the 130th Psalm, "my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning" (v. 6). Paul told the Colossians, "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (4:2). Genuine, powerful Christian prayer is a purposeful act in which we do our best to express our thanks and adoration to God, as well as unburdening our concerns and needs to Him.

We know that Jesus is mediating on our behalf before the Father (1 Timothy 2:5), and that the Spirit of God is intervening when we do not know how to say what we mean (Romans 8:26), so we have more than enough assistance; but we also grow spiritually through the struggle to express our thoughts in prayer. Psalm 115:8 asserts that people become like what they worship--if we worship idols, the lifeless things of this earth, we become as dull and earthbound as any lump of wood or stone. Is not the same principle true of worshiping the Almighty? If we devote ourselves regularly to "prayer and meditation" toward the One who is perfect in holiness, compassion, justice, and faithfulness, will it not draw us toward these same qualities ourselves?

Stanza 2:
Monarch of all things, fit us for Thy mansions;
Banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
Bring us to heaven where Thy saints united
Joy without ending.

Dearmer's translation of this stanza is a significant departure from the sense of the original Latin:
That, to the Holy King together singing,
With His saints may we merit the hall
Of heaven to enter, and likewise a blessed
Life to lead.
(Liber Hymnarius)
 Lionel Adey notes that the idea of "merit" seems to have put Dearmer off, causing him to focus instead on the blessed life of "health and wholeness." This expresses a more Protestant view of the Christian as the passive recipient of sanctification, as well as a modern emphasis on moral and mental soundness rather than the supernatural overtones of the original (39-40). Now certainly we are unable to "merit" our salvation, and for that matter, the original language of the third stanza of this hymn clarifies its intent with the plea for God to "grant us this" salvation. But in another sense, Scripture repeatedly tells us to live in a manner that is worthy--"worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1); "worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Philippians 1:27); "worthy of the Lord" (Colossians 1:10).

One of the ways that we behave in a manner worthy of such honors is to express our praise and gratitude. The Psalms are so full of such expressions that just a few will suffice to illustrate the point:
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
(Psalm 32:11)
But the righteous shall be glad;
They shall exult before God;
They shall be jubilant with joy!
(Psalm 68:3)
Especially telling is the last phrase of Psalm 33:1,
Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Expressing praise and thanksgiving in song "befits the upright"; it is one part, at least, of walking in a manner "worthy" of the halls of heaven. Failing to praise God for His blessings, and to rejoice in our salvation, is not only an unhealthy symptom, but is insulting to the extravagant grace He has given us. In Deuteronomy 28:47-48, the Israelites were told, "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies." (I am indebted for this last observation to a thoughtful sermon by brother Ben Williams on "The Joy of the Lord.")

But if we embrace praise and thanksgiving as our duty and privilege as children of God, we will not only fulfill His commands; we will grow in the "health and wholeness" of the Christian life that is training us for a heavenly home. A Christian's song should spring from a heart "filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18-19), in which the "word of Christ dwells richly" (Colossians 3:16). It is a natural companion of Bible study and prayer. Basil of Caesarea wisely said, in his homily on the 1st Psalm:
When, indeed, the Holy Spirit saw that the human race was guided only with difficulty toward virtue, and that, because of our inclination toward pleasure, we were neglectful of an upright life, what did He do? The delight of melody He mingled with the doctrines so that by the pleasantness and softness of the sound heard we might receive without perceiving it the benefit of the words, just as wise physicians who, when giving the fastidious rather bitter drugs to drink, frequently smear the cup with honey.
Spiritual thoughts wedded with music reinforce those beneficial insights gained from study, and help us to express ourselves to God in return. Truly it was said,
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
To sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your steadfast love in the morning,
And Your faithfulness by night.
(Psalms 92:1-2).
Stanza 3:
All-holy Father, Son and equal Spirit,
Trinity blessed, send us Thy salvation;
Thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding,
Through all creation.

As this morning prayer-hymn draws to a close, its makes a final appeal for aid throughout the day from the God whose glory is "gleaming and resounding / Through all creation." The recognition of God as Creator is not just a fact to be learned, but a principle that underlies our relationship to Him in everything we do. It brings to mind the common phrase in the Psalms that describes the Lord as the One "who made heaven and earth" (Psalms 115:15; 121:2; 124:8; 134:3; 146;6). Artur Weiser, in his commentary on the Psalms, noted the consequences of this phrase:
Because all things are God’s handiwork, He has the power to help whatever may happen; for even now all things are still in His hand. The distinctive character of the Old Testament concept of creation . . . represents not a piece of knowledge but a decision to submit oneself to God’s creative will and power (747).
The evidence of God's glory is not hidden or subtle; it is "resounding" throughout His creation, "sounding" over and over again. Even in a world marred by sin, the goodness of God is evident every day in the beauty and abundance of His works. The writers of the Hebrew Testament frequently represented the creation as though it has a literal voice for us to hear:
Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel (Isaiah 44:23).
Or as Jesus said, when His enemies criticized the praises being heaped upon Him by the crowds as He entered Jerusalem, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out" (Luke 19:40). All creation praises God, every day; all, that is, except those of His creatures who have chosen to ignore Him. But for those of us who have been redeemed by Him, enjoying the blessings of His love and grace, how can we keep silent?
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning,
(Lamentations 3:22-23a)
As we go through the day, we are moving through God's world, walking in God's ways. Yes, there is sin and corruption; yes, there is an adversary against us; but we are citizens of "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28). May God help us to remember this, and to give Him thanks for every new day He grants us!

The video below is a good a cappella rendition of the hymn, but in a different harmonization from that found in Praise for the Lord, or the Vaughan Williams arrangement in the old English Hymnal. Still, it is a lovely recording, and a good way to learn the tune.

About the music:

The tune known as CHRISTE SANCTORUM has an interesting and rather tangled history. So far as I can tell, it was first published under this name in the 1906 English Hymnal. That makes this all the harder to say: I think the music editor, Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of my very favorite composers, made a mistake.

There are several plainchants beginning with the text "Christe sanctorum," but none of them correspond to this melody (Hymnal 1982, 2). In the "new revised edition" of François de La Feillée's Méthode du plain-chant (Lyon: Rusand, 1823), however, the melody is found with the text "Christe pastorum caput," as seen in the image below (144). The English Hymnal attributes the melody to La Feillée's collection (238-239), so it seems obvious that someone (let's blame the type-setter) misremembered and put "sanctorum" for "pastorum".

The Hymnal 1982 Companion notes that this melody is probably not of medieval origin, but was more likely a relatively recent addition from the 17th century. (The musical notation, even of newly composed plainchant, was still traditionally written in the old Medieval style seen in the image above.) The melody is thought to trace back no further than the 1681 Antiphonarium Parisiense, edited by François de Harlay de Champvallon (1625-1695), and published by Josse Fratres of Paris (2).

Curiously, however, the editors of the Companion attribute the melody to the chant "Ceteri nunquam nisi vagiendo" in the 1681 Paris Antiphoner (2). That chant is also in La Feillée's Nouvelle Methodep. 143, with a completely different tune. I was not able to examine the 1681 Paris Antiphoner--the only copy is in the library of the Sorbonne. But there is an online facsimile of a similar collection, the manuscript Antiphoner RES-2293 held by the music section of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. In this collection the hymn "Ceteri numquam" (p. 442) has the same minor-key tune found with that text in Feillée's Nouvelle Methode. Unfortunately, the Bibliothèque nationale manuscript does not appear to include the chant "Christe pastorum caput," but this seems enough to suggest that La Feillée's version might be the same in the 1681 Paris Antiphoner. Unfortunately I seem to have reached the limits of "armchair musicology" on this subject for the time being.


Adey, Lionel. Hymns and the Christian Myth. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1986.

Antiphonarium Parisiense. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département Musique, RES-2293. ca. 1650-1725?

Atwell, Robert. "The English Hymnal a hundred years on: the view from Primrose Hill." St. Mary's Primrose Hill.

Basil of Caesarea. "On the value of singing Psalms" (from his Homily on the 1st Psalm).  Православие.Ru.

De La Feillée, François. Méthode du plain-chant, nouvelle édition augmentée. Lyon: Rusand, 1823.

Dreves, Guido Maria. Die Hymnen aus Thesaurus Hymnologicus H. A. Daniels, vol. 51 of Analecta hymnica medii aevii. Leipzig: Reisland, 1908.

The English Hymnal, with Tunes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1906.

"Father, we praise Thee." The Hymnal 1982 Companion, v.3A, p. 1-2.

Gray, Christopher. "Nocte surgentes." Liber Hymnarius.

Southwell, F. R., F. R. Barry, Donald Gray. "Dearmer, Percy." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Walpole, Arthur S. Early Latin Hymns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1922.

Weiser, Artur. The Psalms: A Commentary, 5th revised edition, translated by Herbert Hartwell. The Old Testament Library. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962.

Williams, Benjamin J. "The joy of the Lord." Sermon delivered at the Glenpool Church of Christ, Glenpool, Okla., 3 September 2012.