Posted by: rcottrill | August 17, 2010

Today in 1828 – George Warren Born

Graphic Pipe OrganMen from two churches with the same name contributed to the writing of the patriotic hymn God of Our Fathers. Rev. Daniel Roberts of St. Thomas Church, Brandon, Vermont, wrote the words–the only hymn text he ever produced. And George Warren, the organist at St. Thomas Church, New York City, composed the tune (called National Hymn) some years later.

When Roberts wrote the hymn for the 4th of July celebration in 1876, he set it to the majestic tune Russian Hymn. Either tune works well, though the stirring trumpet fanfare at the beginning of each stanza makes Warren’s unique. An American master of the pipe organ, though largely self taught, George William Warren also wrote a number of choral anthems and other hymn tunes. When he died in 1902, no organ music was played at his funeral, as mourners believed they could find no organist to approach his abilities!

As with many national hymns, this one is cast as a prayer. “Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way,” is a worthy aspiration, even though America continues to fall far short of it (as do all nations). The Word of God reminds us, “Righteousness exalts [lifts up] a nation, but sin is a reproach [a shame and disgrace] to any people” (Prov. 14:34). We need to pray for our national leaders that they will lead us wisely and well.

God of our fathers, whose almighty hand
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendour through the skies,
Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past;
In this free land by Thee our lot is cast;
Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay,
Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way,
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with love and grace divine,
And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

It continues to trouble me that an increasing number of Christians know very few of the great hymns and gospel songs of the faith. Not only that, but they seem not to care to correct the deficit. They have bought into the propaganda of the contemporary religious marketplace that tells them ad nauseum that those songs are too old fashioned and out-of-date. That we must have something fresh and new. That we need to get with it!

Well, I’m certainly not suggesting we reject good quality newer songs simply because they’re new. But neither do I believe we should abandon our traditional hymnody. It is simply too much of a devotional treasury to be missed. Centuries of church history have been poured into our hymns. Godly men and women have written out of a rich experience with the Lord. They have things to teach us yet. Hang onto the hymn book! And let’s determine to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem!

If you have not read my article Ignorance…Blissful or Otherwise, please click on the link and give it a look. There are a number of suggestions there for increasing our awareness and appreciation for these old songs. (You might also check out 30 Ideas for Promoting Hymn Singing.)

(2) When I See My Saviour (Data Missing)
Robert Harkness provided a tune for this song, with some lovely harmonies typical of his compositions. The words were written in 1911 by Maud Fraser Jackson, of whom we know nothing but her name. (It is a common name. But there is a Maud Fraser who was born around 1873 in Iowa that’s a possible match. She married a man named William Jackson in 1900.)

Many of our hymns and gospel songs call us to stand before the cross of Calvary, seeing with the eyes of faith the suffering Saviour. All the way from Watts’s exalted When I Survey the Wondrous Cross to Fanny Crosby’s Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, these songs help us to keep Calvary in view. As we do so, we gain a fresh appreciation of what our salvation cost the Saviour, and a renewed desire to love and serve Him faithfully.

Maud Jackson’s song is not as well known, but it is worth a look and listen. You can hear the tune of When I See My Saviour played on the Cyber Hymnal.

When I see my Saviour, hanging on Calvary,
Bearing there for sinners bitterest agony.
Gratitude o’erwhelms me, makes mine eyes grow dim,
All my ransomed being captive is to Him.

I can see the blood drops, red ’neath His thorny crown,
From the cruel nail wounds now they are falling down;
Lord, when I would wander from Thy love away,
Let me see those blood drops shed for me that day.

“Why hast thou forsaken?” List to that sad, sad moan!
Oh, His heart was broken, suffering there alone;
Broken then that mortals ne’er need cry in vain
For God’s love and comfort, in the hour of pain.


  1. In checking a few blogs this morning–to see what others have said about today’s hymn, “God of Our Fathers”–I more than once came across the idea that national hymns and anthems have no place in the worship services of our churches. The common argument seems to be that God is the God of all peoples, and such songs try to crowd Him into a narrow, patriotic box.

    To me, this argument is flawed. There is nothing wrong with having a national identity. It was God Himself who ordained the division of the human family into nations (Deut. 32:8; Acts 17:26). And the leaders of our countries are there by God’s appointment (Rom. 13:1-7). That nations can be aggressively acquisitive, oppressing and tyrannizing other peoples, is not implicitly the fault of having a national identity.

    All the kingdoms of the earth should praise and honour God (Ps. 68:32), and one day they will (Rev. 21:24). Meanwhile, we can surely offer thanksgiving to Him for the blessings we enjoy as a people (Ps. 103:1-2), and pray that we will fulfil the stewardship they bring in a God-honouring way. We can also pray for our nation and our national leaders as we are called to do (I Tim. 2:1-4).

    Most of our national hymns are simply versified prayers that are designed to do these things. As such, I believe they should have a place in the services of the church. They give us a way to unite in thanksgiving and in much-needed prayer for our country.

  2. Roberts Hymn lyrics were specifically intended for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States and therefore nationalistic by design. It is interesting to note that after the success of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording and performances of the hymn set to my Great Grandfather’s composition the arrangemnet has become sysmbolic of the Mormons search for “the place.”

    George William Warren was a Lt Colonel and served during the Civil War. He was a charter member of the “Order Of The Loyal Legion” My father George William Warren was also a LT Colonel, having served during World War I, in England with the Eighth Army Air Corp as General LeMay’s Hedquarters Squadron Commander (B17s) and In Korea. As a pastor and vocal musician I have used the hymn several times as intended for prayer on national days. My high school choir director, chose the hymn for our Bacculaueate Service, not knowing my connection to the composer, but wanting a dramatic piece.

    • Thanks very much for the insights and personal reminiscences.


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