Scripture Verse

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Ho­ly Spir­it, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19–20

Introduction

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Reginald Heber (1783–1826)

Words: Reg­in­ald He­ber, 1819.

Music: Mis­sion­ary Hymn Lo­well Ma­son, 1823 (🔊 pdf nwc). This was Ma­son’s first pub­lished hymn tune. One Ma­ry How­ard, of Sa­van­nah, Geor­gia, had come across these lyr­ics, but had no mu­sic for them. So she sent them to Ma­son, who was work­ing as a bank clerk and sing­ing teach­er in Sa­van­nah. Mason wrote Mis­sion­ary Hymn in half an hour.

Alternate Tunes:

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Lowell Mason (1792–1872)

Origin of the Hymn

On Whit Sun­day, 1819, Dr. Ship­ley, Vi­car of Wrex­ham and Dean of St. Asaph, preached in Wrex­ham Church in aid of the So­cie­ty for the Pro­pa­ga­tion of the Gos­pel, on be­half of whose East­ern miss­ions a Roy­al Let­ter had just been is­sued au­thor­iz­ing col­lect­ions in ev­ery church. A course of Sun­day ev­en­ing lec­tures al­so be­gan the same day in Wrex­ham Church, and He­ber was to give the first lec­ture.

Dean Ship­ley, his fa­ther-in-law, asked He­ber on the Sa­tur­day to write ‘some­thing for them to sing in the morn­ing.’ Heber moved from the table where the dean and a few friends were sit­ting to a dis­tant part of the room.

After a lit­tle time the dean asked, ‘What have you wri­tten?’ Heber read the first three vers­es. ‘There, there, that will do very well,’ was the com­ment. ‘No, no, the sense is not com­plete,’ was the po­et’s reply.

He wrote the fourth verse, but the dean would not list­en, when he begged ‘Let me add an­oth­er; oh, let me add an­oth­er.’ All was done in twen­ty min­utes.

It was said to have been sung next morn­ing in Wrex­ham Church to an old ball­ad tune, ‘Twas when the seas were roar­ing.’ The hymn was pub­lished in the Ev­an­ge­li­cal Mag­azine, 1822, and in the Chris­tian Ob­serv­er, Feb­ru­ary, 1823.

The or­ig­in­al [ma­nu­script] was long in the pos­ses­sion of Dr. Raf­fles, of Li­ver­pool. He prob­ab­ly ob­tained it from the print­er, Ken­ne­dy, who set up the type as a boy and who was a friend of his. It was sold af­ter his death for for­ty gui­neas.

Heber first wrote ‘sa­vage’ in ver. 2, but al­tered it in his MS. to ‘hea­then.’ The MS. is in the John Ry­lands Lib­ra­ry…

Heber says in his Jour­nal of a Voya­ge to In­dia, Sep­tem­ber, 1823, ‘Though we were now too far off Cey­lon to catch the odours of the land, yet it is, we are as­sured, per­fect­ly true that such odours are per­cep­ti­ble to a ve­ry con­sid­er­able dist­ance.

In the Straits of Ma­lac­ca a smell like that of a haw­thorn hedge is com­mon­ly ex­pe­ri­enced; and from Cey­lon, at thir­ty or for­ty miles, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stanc­es, a yet more agree­able scent is in­haled.’ This note is an in­ter­est­ing com­ment on ver. 2.

Telford, pp. 395–6

This hymn is con­sid­ered one of the fin­est mis­sion­ary hymns in the Eng­lish lang­uage. One won­ders what we’d have re­ceived had He­ber been al­lowed to con­tin­ue writ­ing!

Lyrics

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!

What though the spi­cy breez­es
Blow soft o’er Ja­va’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!

Can we, whose souls are light­ed
With wis­dom from on high,
Can we to men be­night­ed
The lamp of life de­ny?
Salvation! oh sal­va­tion!
The joy­ful sound pro­claim,
Till earth’s re­mot­est na­tion
Has learned Mes­si­ah’s name!

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 ran­somed na­ture
The Lamb for sin­ners slain,
Redeemer, king, cre­at­or,
In bliss re­turns to reign!

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Heber at work