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


Two Cane Ridge Revival items, 1852 and 1889

A few days ago I blogged James Trader’s want-list for the archives at Cane Ridge.  Two items on the list are available on Google Books.  I am pleased to learn of them as I do not recall seeing reference to either.  Here are two points in the history of memory of this momentous event.

First, the Magazine of Western History, December 1889 issue has this long article by Isaac Smucker:

Second, Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the Great West in 2 vols.  Vol. 1 notes the exercises; vol. 2 notes Cane Ridge in particular.

From vol. 1, pp. 189-190:

Volume 2, pages 215ff

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?

A Choir: A Quote Without Comment from Benjamin Franklin

J. A. Headington and Joseph Franklin. A Book of Gems, or Choice Selections from the Writings of Benjamin Franklin. St. Louis: John Burns, 1879, p. 230:

We find some brethren call a few members of the church who sit together and lead the singing a choir.  This is no choir in the popular sense, nor is it at all objectionable, specially if the singing is so conducted that the members generally sing.  But this is not the meaning of choir.  The choir in a church is composed of artistic performers, who sing for the church; sing difficult pieces that the masses can not sing, for music and musical display, to attract, entertain and gratify the people–to charm them with music.  These are professional singers, chosen without any regard to their piety, and frequently without any regard to their moral character.  They sing to show how they can sing, amuse and entertain.

Lord’s Day Meetings: A Quote Without Comment from Benjamin Franklin

J. A. Headington and Joseph Franklin. A Book of Gems, or Choice Selections from the Writings of Benjamin Franklin. St. Louis: John Burns, 1879, p. 270:

Churches should not be compelled to hear preaching every Lord’s day, and that the dullest and dryest kind, from the same man, the same thing, over and over again; but instead of this, have a variety of good songs; sundry readings of interesting Scriptures, from different persons, each occupying from five to ten minutes, with two or three prayers at suitable intervals, and words of exhortation.  The overseer who can so conduct these matters as to interest the whole congregation, develop and bring out the most talent, and make the whole most conducive to the edification of all, is the most efficient and successful overseer, whether he can preach or not himself.  No man, overseer or not, ought to appear before the people publicly more than is acceptable to them.  Many men kill themselves off by talking too much and being too officious.




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.