Davis Bitton, one-time assistant church historian, has a short piece on the 1835 hymnal in today's Meridian Magazine. He notes some interesting features of the hymnal, which was put together by Emma Smith and W.W. Phelps, including the fact that it featured no music (typical for the period) and authors were not listed for the 90 hymns.
Emma was directed by revelation in July 1830 to put together a selection of hymns, and Phelps was asked the following year to revise and publish them. However, due to a number of intervening events, including the printing of the Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants and the destruction of the Missouri press, printing was not completed until early 1836.
Most of the original hymns were actually borrowed from other sources, possibly a Baptist hymnal. Between thirty and forty of the 90 hymns were written by Latter-day Saints, including 26 by Phelps, three by Parley P. Pratt, one by Thomas B. Marsh and Pratt, and one each by Eliza R. Snow, Edward Partridge, and Philo Dibble. Approximately one-third of the borrowed hymns were rewritten by Phelps to fit LDS doctrine (Peter Crawley and Chad J. Flake, A Mormon Fifty: an exhibition in the Harold B. Lee Library in conjunction with the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. (Provo, Utah, Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1984). Item 6, p. [9–10]).
The preface to the hymnal stated:
"In order to sing by the Spirit, and with the understanding, it is necessary that the church of the Latter-day Saints should have a collection of Sacred Hymns, adapted to their faith and belief in the gospel, and, as far as can be, holding forth the promises made to the fathers who died in the precious faith of a glorious resurrection, and a thousand years' reign on earth with the Son of Man in his glory. Notwithstanding the church, as it were, is still in its infancy, yet as the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God, it is sincerely hoped that the following collection, selected with an eye single to his glory, may answer every purpose till more are composed, or till we are blessed with a copious variety of the songs of Zion."The preface noted several themes in the hymnal, specifically, resurrection, the Second Coming, and the Millennium. The latest hymnal, issued in 1985, contains 26 of the original hymns.
Bitton quotes from several of the original hymns, but he neglects a number of other interesting selections, which, for various reasons, were dropped from LDS hymnals over the years. Here are some of my favorites:
1. O stop and tell me Red Man,
Who are ye? why you roam?
And how you get your living?
Have you no God;—no home?
2. With stature straight and portly,
And deck'd in native pride,
With feathers, paints and broaches,
He willingly replied:—
3. "I once was pleasant Ephraim,
"When Jacob for me pray'd;
"But oh! how blessings vanish,
"When man from God has stray'd!
4. "Before your nation knew us,
"Some thousand moons ago,
"Our fathers fell in darkness,
"And wander'd to and fro.
5. "And long they've liv'd by hunting,
"Instead of work and arts,
"And so our race has dwindled
"To idle Indian hearts.
6. "Yet hope within us lingers,
"As if the Spirit spoke:—
`He'll come for your redemption,
`And break your Gentile yoke:
7. `And all your captive brothers,
`From every clime shall come,
`And quit their savage customs,
`To live with God at home.
8. "Then joy will fill our bosoms,
"And blessings crown our days,
"To live in pure religion,
"And sing our Maker's praise."
This hymn, written by Phelps, last appeared in the 1927 hymnal, Latter-day Saints Hymns. Speaking of this hymn, Karen Lynn Davidson has noted:
When early hymn writers turned to the Book of Mormon itself, the most exciting teachings they found were about the Lamanite forebears of the American Indians. These revelations reached backward, to explain the Indians' origins, and forward, to foretell their glorious destiny. The noble Indian, forlorn and dispossessed, was already a familiar subject in nineteenth-century poetry, and the message of the Book of Mormon correlated beautifully with this popular tradition; now the noble savage had noble ancestors as well.(Karen Lynn Davidson, " The Book of Mormon in Latter-day Saint Hymnody," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/1 (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000. Pp. 14—27).
The next selection remains in the current hymnbook, but the words have been revised. Most obvious is the fact that we no longer sing of the "heathen [who] in his blindness/ Bows down to wood and stone."
1. From Greenland's icy mountains,
From India's coral strand;
Where Afric's sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error's chain.
2. What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle,
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile;
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
3. Shall we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Shall we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O Salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth's remotest nation
Has learn'd Messiah's name.
4. Waft, waft, ye winds, his story,
And you, ye waters roll,
Till, like a sea of glory,
It spreads from pole to pole
Till o'er our ransom'd nature,
The Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator,
In bliss returns to reign.
Some of the original hymns took a rather small view of mankind, referring to us several times as "worms" of one type or another. Three examples from three different hymns:
"O Lord assist thy feeble worms,
This resolution to perform,
And we thy sacred name will praise,
Throughout the remnant of our days."
"Why should we start and fear to die?
What tim'rous worms we mortals are!
Death is the gate to endless joy,
And yet we dread to enter there."
"Alas! and did my Savior bleed!
And did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?"
One hymn put a new spin on the classic parable of the wheat and the tares. I especially enjoy the lines: "We seem alike when thus we meet,/ Strangers might think we all were wheat" and the stanza: "The tares are spared for various ends,/Some for the sake of praying friends;/Others the Lord, against their will,/Employs his counsels to fulfil."
1. Though in the outward church below,
The wheat and tares together grow;
Jesus ere long will weed the crop,
And pluck the tares in anger up.
For soon the reaping time will come,
And angels shout the harvest home.
2. Will it relieve their horrors there,
To recollect their stations here;
How much they heard, how much they
How much among the wheat they grew?
3. No! this will aggravate their case,
They perish'd under means of grace;
To them the word of life and faith
Became an instrument of death.
4. We seem alike when thus we meet,
Strangers might think we all were wheat;
But to the Lord's all-searching eyes,
Each heart appears without disguise,
5. The tares are spared for various ends,
Some for the sake of praying friends;
Others the Lord, against their will,
Employs his counsels to fulfil.
6. But though they grow so tall and strong,
His plan will not require them long;
In harvest, when he saves his own,
The tares shall into hell be thrown.
7. Oh! awful thought, and is it so?
Must all mankind the harvest know?
Is every man a wheat or tare?
Me, for that harvest, Lord, prepare.
Several of the hymns deal rather frankly with the prospect of death, while holding out the prospect of resurrection.
1. Hark! from the tombs a doleful sound,
My ears attend the cry;
"Ye living men, come view the ground
Where you must shortly lie.
2. "Princes, this clay must be your bed,
In spite of all your tow'rs;
The tall, the wise, the reverend head,
Shall lie as low as ours."
3. Great God! is this our certain doom!
And are we still secure!
Still walking downward to the tomb,
And yet prepar'd no more!
4. Grant us the pow'r of quick'ning grace,
To fit our souls to fly;
Then, when we drop this dying flesh,
We'll rise above the sky.
Marriage gets a single hymn, but it's, um, memorable:
1. When earth was dress'd in beauty,
And join'd with heav'n above,
The Lord took Eve to Adam,
And taught them how to love.
2. On such a grand occasion,
As union had begun,
They held a sweet communion,
And join'd the twain as one.
3. And bless'd them as an altar,
For chaste and pure desire,
That no unhallow'd being
Might offer there "strange fire."
4. Beware of all temptation;
Be good, be just, be wise,
Be even as the angels,
That dwell in Paradise.
5. Go multiply,—replenish,
And fill the earth with men,
That all your vast creation,
May come to God again:—
6. And dwell amid perfection,
In Zion's wide domains,
Where union is eternal,
And Jesus ever reigns.
At least one hymn reflected the fact that certain theological points had not been worked out yet in the church:
1. Salem's bright King, Jesus by name,
In ancient times to Jordan came
All righteousness to fill;
'Twas there the ancient prophet stood,
Whose name was John, a man of God,
To do his Master's will.
2. The holy Jesus did demand
His right to be baptized then,
The prophet gave consent;
On Jordan's banks they did appear,
And lo, John and his Master dear,
Then down the bank they went.
3. Down in old Jordan's rolling stream;
The prophet led the holy Lamb,
And there did him baptize:
Jehovah saw his darling Son,
And was well pleas'd in what he'd done,
And own'd him from the skies.
4. The opening heaven now complies,
The Holy Ghost like lightning flies,
Down from the courts above:
And on the holy heavenly Lamb,
The Spirit lights and does remain,
In shape like a fair dove.
5. This is my Son, Jehovah cries,
The echoing voice from glory flies,
O, children, hear ye him;
Hark! 'tis his voice, behold he cries,
Repent, believe, and be baptiz'd,
And wash away your sin.
Several hymns reflected the Saints' hopeful expectations for the Second Coming and the accompanying destruction of the wicked. The first stanza of the following hymn is especially stirring with its "Yea, weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth" line:
1. Awake, O ye people! the Savior is coming:
He'll suddenly come to his temple, we hear;
Repentance is needed of all that are living,
To gain them a lot of inheritance near.
To-day will soon pass, and that unknown
May leave many souls in a more dreadful
Than came by the flood, or that fell on
Yea, weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of
2. Be ready, O islands, the Savior is coming;
He'll bring again Zion the prophets declare;
Repent of your sins, and have faith in
To gain you a lot of inheritance there.
A voice to the nations in season is given,
To show the return of glories of Eden,
And call the elect from the four winds of
For Jesus is coming to reign on the earth.
My final selection is chosen mainly for its terribly catchy second stanza, specifically, the delusion/confusion/effusion rhyme:
1. What fair one is this, from the wilderness
Looking for Christ, the belov'd of her heart?
O, this is the church, the fair bride of the
Which with every idol is willing to part.
While men in contention, are constantly
And Babylon's bells are constantly tolling,
As though all the craft of her merchants was
And Jesus was coming to reign on the earth.
2. There is a sweet sound in the gospel of
And people are joyful when they understand
The saints on their way home to glory, are
Determin'd by goodness, to reach the blest land.
Old formal professors are crying "delusion,"
And high-minded hypocrites say "'tis confusion,
While grace is poured out in a blessed effusion,
And saints are rejoicing to see priest-craft fall.
3. A blessing, a blessing, the Savior is coming,
As prophets and pilgrims of old have declar'd;
And Israel, the favor'd of God, is beginning
To come to the feast for the righteous prepar'd.
In the desert are fountains continually springing,
The heavenly music of Zion is ringing;
The saints all their tithes and their off'rings
They thus prove the Lord and his blessing
4. The name of Jehovah is worthy of praising,
And so is the Savior an excellent theme;
The elders of Israel a standard are raising,
And call on all nations to come to the same:
These elders go forth and the gospel are
And all that will hear them, they freely are
And thus is the vision of Daniel fulfilling:
The stone of the mountain will soon fill the