"Keeping the Hymns Close By"

I Sing the Mighty Power of God

Author – Isaac Watts, 1674 – 1748
Music – From Gesangbuch der Herzogl, Wurttemberg, 1784
Tune Name – “Ellacombe”

Psalm 72:8 – He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the rivers unto the ends of the earth.

Isaac Watts, who frequently is referred to as the father of English hymnody, was frail in health during much of his life. Watts’ ambition, according to his own words, was as follows: “My design was not to exalt myself to the rank and glory of poets, but I was ambitious to be a servant to the churches, and a helper to the joy of the meanest Christian.”

Though he never married, Isaac Watts always loved children and wrote much for them. In 1715 he wrote a book of songs especially for young people, Divine Songs for Children. This hymnal was the first hymnal ever written exclusively for children.

The text for this hymn is from Watts’ hymnal of 1715. In the preface to this hymnal Watts wrote,”…I have endeavored to sink the language to the level of a child’s understanding, and yet to keep it, if possible, above contempt, so I have designed to profit all, if possible, and offend none.”

The music for this text was first found in a collection published in 1784. The tune, “Ellacombe,” first appeared in England in 1868 in the Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern, a widely published hymnal of the nineteenth century. The tune was named for a village in Devonshire, England.

Other hymns by Isaac Watts include, “Jesus Shall Reign”, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”, “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” (April 2014 KHCB Hymn) and “Joy to the World!”

Taken from 101 Hymn Stories Copyright © 1982, 2012 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

"Keeping the Hymns Close By"

America the Beautiful

Author – Katharine Lee Bates, 1859 - 1929
Composer – Samule A.Ward, 1847 - 1903

Proverbs 14:34 – Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.

Katharine Lee Bates was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts, On August 12, 1859. She graduated from Wellesley College, in 1880. After teaching high school for six years, Katharine returned to Wellesley and eventually became head of the English Department.

Miss Bates was first inspired to write patriotic verse, in 1892, in recognition of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. The following year, Miss Bates was visiting and teaching during the summer months, in the state of Colorado. It was while viewing the countryside from the beautiful summit of Pike’s Peak, a summit which towers more than 14,000 feet above sea level, that she was further inspired to write a national hymn that would describe the majesty and vastness of our great land. She writes, “It was there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country, spreading away so far under the ample skies,that the opening lines of this text formed in my mind. The expression ‘Alabaster Cities” was the direct result of my visit to the Columbian Exposition of the World’s Fair in Chicago. It made such a strong appeal to my patriotic feelings that it was, in no small degree, responsible for at least the last stanza. It was my desire to compare the unusual beauties of God’s nature in this country with the distinctive spectacles created by man.”

Though this text sparkles with distinctive language, it is interesting to note, that each stanza is rounded off with the earnest prayer, that God will always help our land to attain its real destiny. In this hymn, as in her other writings, Miss Bates spoke often of the truth, that unless we crown our good with brotherhood, of what lasting value are our spacious skies, our amber waves of grain, our mountain majesties or our fruited plains? She would add, “We must match the greatness of our country with the goodness of godly living.”

The completed poem stayed in Miss Bates’ notebook for some time, until she came upon it again in 1899, and sent it to a publisher in Boston. Several years later, Miss Bates rewrote the text, simplifying the phraseology, and this revised version was first printed in November, 1904. Slight further revision was made fourteen years later to produce the hymn as it is known today.

At least sixty tunes have been composed and tried with this text through the years. The one most commonly used today is known as the “Materna” tune, meaning “motherly.” It was written nearly ten years before the text by a New Jersey music businessman named Samuel A. Ward. In 1912, permission from the composer’s widow made it possible to join this tune with the text.

Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

"For It Is God Who Works"

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