Posted by: rcottrill | February 27, 2010

Today in 1807 – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Born

HGraphic Henry Wadsworth Longfellowenry Wadsworth Longfellow was the most popular American poet of his time. He wrote a number of well known poems such as Paul Revere’s Ride, The Village Blacksmith, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He also spent several years doing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Henry was the older brother of Unitarian pastor and hymn writer, Samuel Longfellow, but he himself is not considered a hymn writer. However, Henry Longfellow was inspired to write the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day when his own son went off to join the Union forces during the Civil War.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

(2) Today in 1838 – William Kirkpatrick Born
William James Kirkpatrick was born in Ireland, but came to America with his parents, at an early age. As a prominent gospel musician, he provided the tunes for some of our familiar hymns such as Lead Me to Calvary, ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus, Jesus Saves, and many more. He also edited and published many books of sacred  music.

Rarely has a hymn been written specifically for the benefit of one person. But that happened with one by William Kirkpatrick. It happened when he was assisting as song leader in camp meetings held in Rawlinsville, Pennsylvania. The guest soloist possessed a wonderful voice, and sang with great expression. However, Kirkpatrick noticed he never remained in the service after he did his part. He left before the preaching of the Word.

William Kirkpatrick began to doubt whether the man was a born again believer. He returned to his tent after a morning meeting and prayed for guidance. He wanted somehow to impress upon the other musician his need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And he got an idea. He would write a song for the other man to sing, a song that would call him to put his faith in the Saviour. It was not often Mr. Kirkpatrick wrote both words and music. Usually, his contribution was a musical one. But the urgency of the case prompted him to do both, and the hymn was soon finished.

He gave it to the soloist, asking if he would sing it in the evening meeting. The man did so, and was clearly convicted by the hymn’s message. That night, the singer did stay for the sermon. And when it ended he came forward to indicate his desire to get right with God. The song that ministered to that singer was Lord, I’m Coming Home.

I’ve wandered far away from God,
Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod,
Lord, I’m coming home.

Coming home, coming home,
Nevermore to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love,
Lord, I’m coming home.

I’ve wasted many precious years,
Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears,
Lord, I’m coming home.

The choir’s rendering of this hymn in the video is a little ragged at times. (They don’t always start and stop together.) But the video is interesting. It provides quite an amazing collection of paintings interpreting the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-24), at the point when he returns home to his father.

There is a touching story about William Kirkpatrick’s death, at the age of 83. Mrs. Kirkpatrick found her husband sitting in his favourite chair at about four in the morning on September 29, 1921. But, as she checked on him, she soon realized he had passed away. Lying at his feet was the beginning of a text for the last hymn he wrote. It provides a fitting ending to this godly man’s fruitful life:

Just as Thou wilt, Lord, this is my cry:
Just as Thou wilt, to live or die.
I am Thy servant; Thou knowest best;
Just as Thou wilt to labour or rest.

Just as Thou wilt, Lord–which shall it be,
Life everlasting waiting for me,
Or shall I tarry here at Thy feet?
Just as Thou wilt, Lord, whate’er is meet.


  1. […] (2) Today in 1921 – William Kirkpatrick Died American musician William James Kirkpatrick was a prolific composer of gospel song tunes. A couple of hymn books I pulled of the shelf contain 16 of his tunes, combined with the words of more than a dozen authors, including Fanny Crosby, Eliza Hewitt, and Thomas Chisholm. (The Cyber Hymnal currently lists 126 of his melodies. For a bit more of the man and his music, see the second item under Today in 1807.) […]

  2. […] Wordwise Hymns Discovering the Songs of Christmas (pp. 242-244) The Cyber […]

  3. […] posted originally, new information has come to light. Apparently, the author of the text is poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (circa 1864), and William Augustine Ogden composed the tune. Mr. Ogden (1841-1897) served in the […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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