“Hail the blest morn!”: Merry Christmas from Alexander Campbell

Selina Huntington Campbell remembered in 1882 that

Dear Mr. Campbell was a lover of good music; he had when young received lessons in the art, but, as he said, “was born tuneless;” he understood time and loved to make a “joyful noise.” He could almost sing  “Hail the blest morn! When the great Mediator ” etc., and when riding together, through the vales and over the hills of Bethany, he was sure to commence with ecstacy : “’Tis not the law of ten commands,” but  always turned to the last verse :

“Israel, rejoice, now Joshua (Jesus) leads,

He’ll bring your tribes to rest;

So far the Saviour’s name exceeds,

The ruler and the priest.”

Ahh, the wonders of the internet, where an easy search of YouTube brings us here:

Authored by Reginald Heber (perhaps best known for Holy, Holy, Holy), the tune you hear in the clip is ‘Star in the East.’  I added the chorus as sung in the clip to the verses below (which are from Hymnary.org):

Hail the blest morn, see the great Mediator,
Down from the regions of glory descend!
Shepherds, go worship the babe in the manger,
Lo, for his guard the bright angels attend.


Brightest and best of the sons of the morning
Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid
Star in the east the horizon adorning
Guide where our infant Redeemer was laid!

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him, in slumbers reclining,
Wise men and shepherds before him do fall.

Say, shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Eden and offerings divine?
Gems from the mountain, and pearls from the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;
Vainly with gold we his favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Low at his feet we in humble prostration,
Lose all our sorrow and trouble and strife;
There we receive his divine consolation,
Flowing afresh from the fountain of life.

He is our friend in the midst of temptation,
Faithful supporter, whose love cannot fail;
Rock of our refuge, and hope of salvation,
Light to direct us through death’s gloomy vale.

Star of the morning, thy brightness, declining,
Shortly must fade when the sun doth arise:
Beaming refulgent, his glory eternal
Shines on the children of love in the skies.

The Southern Harmony, 1835

So, here is one of Alexander Campbell’s favorite songs, one he sang up and down and over and around the verdant Virginia hills.  What the Bishop of Bethany lacked in musical skill he compensated with enthusiasm.  You can hear him singing before you see his horse make the turn around the bend in the road ahead.  A smile on his face, he holds forth in song about God’s work in Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

[I first posted this on 20 December 2013.  I had just finished teaching a short series about Restoration hymnody at University Church.  I found this note about Campbell in the course of preparing for that series.  That is a pleasant memory and I thought it was worth reblogging.]

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 Hymnary.org

Robert Foster on Find-A-Grave


Today in Restoration History: 17 June 1810

After a long hiatus, I intend to resume blogging on a fairly regular basis by the end of the summer.  In the mean time, here is a little gem from Herald of Gospel Liberty of Friday morning 22 June 1810, p. 192.


Hymn on Baptism.

The following Hymn was composed by a Brother, in Portland [Maine], and sung at the water side, Lord’s day, June 17, 1810, where 4 were baptized:–

1 Constrain’d by Love we come,
Down to this water side,
To imitate God’s only Son,
The CHRISTIANS only guide.

2 He has commanded us,
To be Baptiz’d with him;
And cheerfully take up the cross,
Renouncing ev’ry sin.

3 Here then we would begin,
His blessed cross to bear,
In token of our death to sin,
We would be Baptiz’d here.

4 Here we would shew his death,
And resurrection clear;
And him through grace while we have breath
We’ll worship, love and fear.

5 O all that love him come,
What now can hinder you;
Here’s water, you believe the Son,
Then be baptized too.

6 Sinners this is the way,
Christ and th’ Apostles faith;
Believe and be baptiz’d to day,
We’re sure you will be bless’d.

7 As servants here we sing,
And that for joy of heart;
We have believ’d, and will obey,
O God thy grace impart.

Show and Tell: A Mini-Exhibit in Stone-Campbell Hymnody…reblogged from ACU Special Collections

We had a special treat a few days ago when several participants in the TX Singing School visited Special Collections for a tour.  In response to their request, I pulled several hymnals and related artifacts for a brief show and tell.  We thought you’d like to see the pictures.

Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, for the Use of Christians. Boston: Manning and Loring [1804].

Elias Smith, A Collection of Hymns, 1804

more at ACU Special Collections blog here.

The Quality of Our Singing: excerpts from Connie W. Adams

From Connie W. Adams, “The Quality of Our Singing” Plainfield Church Bulletin. Church of Christ, Plainfield, Indiana, March 7, 1983:

I am not disposed to be a chronic censor of the song book.  While there are some songs which are unscriptural (and we have never seen any song book totally exempt from all criticism), we certainly do believe in poetic license.  It is possible to become so literal in our understanding of words that it would be impossible for some of the brethren to ever understand the book of Psalms or some of the prophetic writings where figures of speech abound.  But for the life of me, it is hard to derive much spiritual food from “The Jericho Road”, “Let Us Have a Little Talk With Jesus”, or “I’ll Be Somewhere List’ning For My Name.”  Some of the songs which the brethren seem to glory in were written for Pentecostal-type camp meetings and were designed to show off bass, alto or tenor leads.  The start and stop, hold your breath, let it out, pat your foot, up, down, in, out type of songs seem to be what many of the song leaders prefer.  Meanwhile, we have reared a generation of young people who do not know the great songs of faith. They are being greatly deprived and impoverished and we have many of our song leaders to blame for it.

Earlier in the article he cited the widespread use of Ellis Crum’s Sacred Selections as one reason why “congregations have been victimized by song leaders who prefer only the show-off quartet type songs, mostly of the Stamps-Baxter variety” and laments “in a book with well over 600 songs, why must a congregation be limited to about 75 songs while some of the greatest songs of faith are never used?” Adams then noted that in the prior decade (which would have been 1973-1983) “every time “The Old Rugged Cross”, or “Amazing Grace”, or “Tell Me The Story of Jesus” was sung, [he] had to ask for it.”

My thanks to Chris Cotten for calling this to my attention some years ago while we sorted a great deal of bulletins—a great deal– and along the way found a few nuggets.  In the thirty years since Adams penned this article  so-called mainstream Churches of Christ experienced a decade or so of worship wars.  I wonder how things panned out among Non-Institutional churches during this same period of time.  I don’t know Connie Adams preaching appointments for 1973-1983, but wonder how representative his observation might be today.  Does a similar situation obtain today?  Can a generalization even be fairly made?

Christian Unity Hymn

HYMN 165.

1. Come, my Christian friends and brethren, Bound for Canaan’s happy land, Come, unite and walk together, Christ our leader gives command. Lay aside your party spirit, Wound your Christian friends no more, All the name of Christ inherit, Zion’s peace again restore.

2 We’ll not bind our brother’s conscience, This to God alone is free, Nor contend with one another, But in Christ united be: Here’s the Word, the grand criterion, This shall all our doctrine prove, Christ the centre of our union, And the bond is Christian love.

3 Here’s my hand, my heart, my spirit, Now in fellowship I give, Now we’ll love and peace inherit, Show the world how Christians live; We are one in Christ our Saviour, Here is neither bond nor free, Christ is all in all for ever, In his name we all agree.

4 Now we’ll preach and pray together, Praise, give thanks, and shout and sing; Now we’ll strengthen one another, And adore our heavenly King; Now we’ll join in sweet communion, Round the table of our Lord; Lord, confirm our Christian union, By thy Spirit and thy word.

5 Now the world will be constrained To believe in Christ our King; Thousands, millions be converted, Round the earth his praises ring; Blessed day! O joyful hour! Praise the Lord ­his name we bless; Send thy kingdom, Lord, with pow’r, Fill the world with righteousness.

From the “Love and Union” section of

The Christian Hymn-Book, compiled and published at the request of the Miami Christian Conference. By B. W. Stone and Tho: Adams. First Edition. Georgetown, Ky: N. L. Finnell, 1829.


The Stone-Adams hymnal did not have accompanying musical notation. “Words-only” hymnals were the standard of that day and even after the Civil War. Though a few tunes work with these words, I think “Nettleton” fits best.  Also, the language of this hymn is quite comparable in places to the words most often identified with the tune “Nettleton”, namely “O Thou Fount of Every Blessing…”  One tip for singers: on stanza 5, if you are singing it to Nettleton, you will want to pronounce ‘constrained’ with two syllables, as in ‘contrain-ed.’

Here it on YouTube:

Lining out the hymns

This clip illustrates the old-time practice of ‘lining out’ hymns.  Used in congregational singing in worship from the 17th century onward, it is still practiced in some quarters today.  The lyrics are on the YouTube page.