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?

Sources:

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

 

Missing Persons Report

Anastasis

For much of its history, one of the chief features of the Gospel Advocate was its “News and Notes” section. By doing nothing more than watching how this section of the paper developed over the years one can learn a lot about the paper as a whole, as well as about the self-image of many in the Churches of Christ.

For the most part, “News and Notes” consisted of reports from preachers and congregations about gospel meetings, changes of address, and other newsworthy items. By and large, it makes for bland reading, at least for the casual reader.

Every now and again, though, a note of pathos breaks through. A few such items have appeared along the way in my Birmingham research. Here’s one from the March 6, 1930 issue of the Advocate:

Mrs. Harry L. Parker, Route 7, Box 76, Birmingham, Ala., February 20: “I am wondering if…

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An Invitation to Thoughtfulness in Religion

ifaqtheology

In these pages I will address…

Infrequently asked questions, Frequently asked Questions, God and the Self, Human Freedom, Human Dignity, Moral, Creation, Providence, Human Existence, The Human Condition, Humanism, Atheism, Liberal Theology, Agnosticism, Theology and Empirical Science, The Problem of Evil, Jesus Christ, Church and other topics as needed.

I really don’t like...

Dishonesty, hypocrisy, double-speak, self-deception, narcissism, cynicism, misrepresentation, confusion, ignorance, humbug, obfuscation, deception and other intellectual and moral vices.

I really like…

Clarity in thinking, precision in speaking, honesty, truth, common sense, intellectual humility, thoughtfulness and fairness.

Where I Stand…

I see the world through Christian eyes. My understanding of God, nature, human existence, and moral and religious life is conditioned by my faith that in Jesus Christ the identity of God and the nature and destiny of humanity have been revealed. I hold to what many would call conservative or traditional or orthodox Christianity; but for…

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2013 Summer Celebration

Jeremy Sweets reflects on our sessions at Lipscomb in early July

Theological Sweets

I do not write as regularly as I would like on this blog, but I have determined that that is the way that it is going to be until I become independently wealthy and quit my regular job. I’m still waiting for a benefactor who wants to support my desire to study all day.

2013 Summer Celebration CardThis is a little late, but I was able to speak at Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration at the beginning of July. This was actually the first time that I had been to Summer Celebration, and I was able to hear a couple of other lectures on church history involving British Churches of Christ and E. A. Elam. I wish I could have heard more, and maybe I will in the future.

As far as presenting, I was in a 2 day session on the history of Nashville Churches of Christ with John Mark Hicks, Mac Ice

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