Singing our way into the vision of the Beatitudes: Robert Foster’s ‘Hymn XI’

In 1818 at Portsmouth, New Hampshire Robert Foster (1789?-1835) used the presses at the Gazette office to print a pamphlet of twenty-two pages containing one dozen hymns.  Nearing 30 years of age, Foster was a young preacher among the ‘Christian’ movement.  The decade ahead would hold for him several opportunities to preach and especially publish.  Before his death in 1835 he served as secretary to the General Christian Conference, edited a major periodical among the movement, (Herald of Gospel Liberty, later The Christian Herald) and issued a major hymnal in 1824, (Hymns, Original and Selected for the Use of Christians, revised and reissued in 1828).  His singular contribution to the literature of the Christian movement is as a publisher and editor.

Though he may have been involved in publishing as early as 1812, it appears the 1818 book was the first he compiled:

[Robert Foster, compiler] Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. Original and Selected. Portsmouth, N.H.: printed at the Gazette Office, 1818. [1] 22 pages.

It appears that the first half or so (remember, only a dozen texts) are ‘original’, presumably original to Foster.  They appear in many subsequent Christian Connection hymnals for forty years hence, in a few books even after the Civil War.

Hymn XI, though, is an Isaac Watts text:

1 Blest are the humble souls that see
Their emptiness and poverty;
Treasures of grace to them are given,
And crowns of joy laid up in heaven.

2 Bless’d are the men of broken heart,
Who mourn for sin with inward smart;
The blood of Christ divinely flows,
A healing balm for all their woes.

3 Bless’d are the meek, who stand afar
From rage and passion, noise and war;
God will secure their happy state,
And plead their cause against the great.

4 Bless’d are the souls that thirst for grace,
Hunger and long for righteousness!
They shall be well supplied, and fed
With living streams and living bread.

5 Blest are the men whose bowels move
And melt with sympathy and love;
From Christ the Lord shall they obtain
Like sympathy and love again.

6 Bless’d are the pure, whose hearts are clean
From the defiling pow’rs of sin;
With endless pleasure they shall see
A God of spotless purity.

7 Blest are the men of peaceful life,
Who quench the coals of growing strife;
They shall be called the heirs of bliss,
The sons of God, the God of peace.

8 Bless’d are the suff’rers who partake
Of pain and shame for Jesus’ sake;
Their souls shall triumph in the Lord,
Glory and joy are their reward.

The Watts text was most commonly used in the 18th century, still rather widely used before the Civil War, but trails off sharply by 1900.  It is little wonder, then that it will likely be completely new to most readers of this blog.  The song has been out of fashion for several generations.

In a simple and straightforward manner Watts sings his way through the Beatitudes. Befitting the genre of ‘spiritual song’, when the church gathers and sings this song, they sing to each other that they might live into the reality envisioned by the Sermon on the Mount.

In each case the first couplet affirms the blessing of God and the final couplet declares the promises of God.  The singing assembly that voices this text reaffirms the blessing of God and the promises of God though it is plainly apparent to them that humility, broken heartedness, meekness, hunger, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and suffering for righteousness are not at all valued in the larger culture.  They know they stand in opposition to such powers and principalities; further, they know in this resistance they stand blessed by God.  Christian conviction deeply values humility, broken heartedness, meekness, hunger, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and suffering for righteousness.  Christians who resist in this way should consider themselves fortunate because God honors his word and keeps his promises.

In 1818 Robert Foster thought it vital to include this text in his little songster.  Singing assemblies of the Christian movement who used this pamphlet knew this song, and employed it in their assemblies to reaffirm their faith and redouble their commitment to live into the good words of the Sermon on the Mount.

Might we sing it again?


E. W. Humphreys, Memoirs of Deceased Christian Ministers; Or, Brief Sketches with Lives and Labors of 975 Ministers Who Died Between 1793 and 1880. Christian Publishing Association: Dayton, 1880. s.v. Robert Foster, p. 133.

J. F. Burnett, “The Convention” Herald of Gospel Liberty, June 16, 1910, pp. 758-759.

Hymnals of the Stone-Campbell Movement Timeline at Lincoln Christian University.

Blessed are the humble souls that see‘ at

Robert Foster on Find-A-Grave



David Lipscomb on Voting: A Voice from 1921

Lipscomb wrote much more than this about voting and the larger question of a Christian’s relationship to civil powers.  In this compact piece Lipscomb examines the basic issues he understood to be involved in the whole question.  It appears on pages 707-708 of M. C. Kurfees, ed. Questions Answered by Lipscomb and Sewell, Being a Compilation of Queries with Answers by D. Lipscomb and E. G. Sewell, covering a period of forty years of their joint editorial labors on the Gospel Advocate. Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1921.



A brother and I were talking on prohibition.  He said that if I did not vote in the coming election I would be guilty of the damnation of the drunkard’s soul.  I told him that I never voted.  Please give us your views on the subject.

We cannot now enter into a lengthened argument on the subject of voting.  We believe the Scriptures furnish a man fully unto all good works.  It nowhere tells or gives the example of any Christian voting or using the governments of earth, which in the Bible are recognized as belonging to the prince of this world, to accomplish good.  God overrules them, as he does all the institutions of evil, to bring good to his children.  We believe that God’s laws, God’s provisions, are sufficient for all the good a Christian can do on earth.  If he will do what God requires, use the appointments God ordained for his use, and leave the results with God, he will save more souls that he will by using any of the powers of earth through which to work.  I know that God’s appointments and agencies look feeble and foolish to men, while man’s look wise and efficient; and if a man walks by his own wisdom, he will follow the inventions of men; but if he trusts God, he will use God’s appointed agencies and leave results in the hand of God.  I have faith in God, so do not expect to vote on any question.  If human government banishes whisky, I will rejoice; but a man that has not moral strength to quit drinking when whisky is in his reach is not fit for heaven.  Sober men that refuse to obey God need salvation as much as [708] the drunkard, and are frequently just as willing to be saved.   A sober man who refuses to obey God does as much harm and needs salvation as much as the drunkard.


Lipscomb expresses a fundamental principle undergirding his basic thought and approach to any question: “We beleive the Scriptures furnish…”  It follows therefore that Lipscomb will search the scriptures to find a command or example for guidance in how to address any query at hand.  He finds neither instruction for example of voting in Scripture.  He moves to a larger issue and asks of Scripture: how do “governments of earth” function under God?  First, he finds no instruction or example of a Christian using these governments to “accomplish good.”  Second, he finds such governments to “belong to the prince of this world.”  A fundamental assumption of the antagonist in the query affirms the capacity of Christians to do good by voting in prohibition, therefore saving drunk men’s souls.  Lipscomb denies not only this assertion but undercuts the entire argument that Christians ought to vote morality.

“We can do so much good by voting ___X___,” the arguments goes.  “If we do not vote this or that way on this issue or that question then the country will go to hell in a handbasket…”  Or some such.  Lipscomb brooks no ground for this argument.  Instead, when he reads Scripture to find out what the proper course for his life ought to be, he finds that human governements are all already going to hell in a handbasket, period.  He understands Scripture to teach that “governments of earth” are “institutions of evil.”  Whatever good apparently comes from them in actuality comes from God working in spite of them.  They are tools in his hand to do good for his children.

Now this is quite different from any reading of Scripture that justifies one nation, say America, as God’s chosen nation.  Where the good of humanity is concerned (say, in the salvation of a drunkard when prohibition is on the ballot), Lipscomb places his confidence in God working through Christians-working-as-Christians in the lives of those about them who are addicted to alcohol.  For Lipscomb the locus of this salvific activity is the local congregation exerting its gifts of the Spirit in the life of its community.  In other words, Christians ought to take more seriously their idenitiy as Christians in their communities and work in them with grace and purity and peace and redemption, than they take any question up for vote on election day.  So what if prohibition passes thanks to the Christian vote, yet Christians cast about with no confidence in “God’s appointments and agencies” and therefore have no meaningful redmeptive impact on their neighbors?  Can we then say that our vote saved the drunkard from hell?  Can we then say with a straight face our vote saved the nation?

For Lipscomb, one aspect of this is hermeneutical, or how do you read the Scriptures?  Lipscomb finds no command or example for voting, therfore he does not vote.   Historically, this basic approach has been pervasive in Churches of Christ.  It has not been without debate as to application, but it has been pervasive and usually it proved conclusive.   No example of voting=no voting.   Further, the larger theological point Lipscomb extrapolates from what he does find in Scripture is that “God overrules…all institutions of evil.”  Therefore when Christians start talking about salvation or damnation (whether it is saving the drunkard’s soul or keeping our nation from the brink), for Lipscomb, they had better think through their commmitments and loyalties.  About these matters Scripture is clear: God works through his body (the church) as his body works in the world; God works in spite of human governments.  God’s appointments concerning ultimate human good (salvation) center on the redemptive work of the Spirit in the church.  No Christian ought to seek the results (salvation) without working loyally and steadfastly within the means (the church) God appointed.  Really, Lipscomb asks, where is your confidence?

I thought this a challenging little piece from the past to present on Election Day.  If I have misread David Lipscomb I welcome your criticism.  For my readers who attend Churches of Christ, what has been the substance of the discussion at church lately about this election?  Has it tracked more with the querist’s antagonist, or David Lipscomb?