Posted by: rcottrill | September 13, 2010

Today in 1827 – Catherine Winkworth Born

Catherine Winkworth spent most of her life in Manchester, England, where my own father was born some 24 years after her death. Though not writing hymns herself, she is renowned in hymn history as the translator of dozens of the hymns of others. Three of these are: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, How Brightly Beams the Morning Star, and If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.

The skill of these gifted individuals must not be underestimated. It is one thing to translate prose, and accurately represent what the original author said. But with poetry–especially poetry set to music–there is a much greater problem. The lines of verse must fit a tune. We can thank the Lord that Catherine Winkworth and John Mason Neale and others have preserved for us some great hymns from other lands and tongues.

Here is part of the New Year’s hymn, Help Us, O Lord, by German author Johann Rist, translated by Catherine Winkworth.

Help us, O Lord! Behold, we enter
Upon another year today;
In Thee our hopes and thoughts now centre,
Renew our courage for the way.
New life, new strength, new happiness,
We ask of Thee—oh, hear and bless!

May every plan and undertaking
This year be all begun with Thee;
When I am sleeping or am waking,
Still let me know Thou art with me.
Abroad do Thou my footsteps guide,
At home be ever at my side.

And may this year to me be holy;
Thy grace so fill my every thought
That all my life be pure and lowly
And truthful, as a Christian’s ought.
So make me while yet dwelling here
Pious and blest from year to year.

(2) Today in 1845 – Sweet Hour of Prayer published
William Walford, who wrote this lovely hymn, died in 1850, and this is the only selection to which his name is attached. Walford was blind, but he dictated the hymn to a visitor named Thomas Salmon. It was the latter who sent the poem to the editor of the New York Observer, where it was published. William Bradbury saw it, and wrote a tune for it. (For more, see Today in 1850.)

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known.
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

(3) Today in 1877 – Robert McCutchan Born
Robert Guy McCutchan wrote a few hymn tunes (see second item under Today in 1872), but that is not his most notable contribution to the field. He taught at Baker University in Kansas, and founded their conservatory of music in 1910. Then he became dean of music at DePauw University in Indiana, serving there for 26 years. He also helped compile the Methodist Hymnal in 1936. As a distinguished scholar and historian in the area of hymnology, he wrote a number of important books, including Our Hymnody, in 1937. It is through works such as his that we have preserved for us many details about our hymns and hymn writers.


  1. Robert, pray tell, if Walford was a blind preacher, how did he know his bible so well? Braille or maybe someone read to him the Bible diligently? Not sure if you knew.

    • There are some questions about William Walford that so far remain unanswered. Even his identity is open to some debate, though I’ve given the long accepted view in my blog. A century ago, the great hymn historian John Julian attributed the hymn to Fanny Crosby, but we’re now certain that was incorrect. The stories of some of our hymn writers are very well known. In other cases, we must collect evidence where we can, and sometimes make an educated guess, when contradictory data comes to light.

      As to Walford learning the Scriptures, though blind, there are a number of possibilities. Perhaps he was not blind from birth, and memorized much of the Scriptures before going blind. Or he may have had someone read to him, learning that way. He clearly had a wonderful memory. Blind hymn writer Fanny Crosby did too. Braille was invented in the early 1800’s, and he may have learned to use that. Interesting question. Thanks!


  2. Ah, I see. Thanks for your quick reply. On another note, was at your bible study site reading your notes on Dispensations with interest, which I am currently doing for my personal study. I have ordered David Dunlap’s Glory of the Ages ( and trust it will be beneficial for my study, not sure if u’ve heard of him but he came to Malaysia last month and my assembly have been blessed by his ministry 🙂

    Thanks for your input and your site, hope you don’t mind me dropping by from time to time!

    • No, I certainly don’t mind you dropping in to either my Web site, /Wordwise Bible Studies/, or my blog, /Wordwise Hymns/. Welcome any time!

      I haven’t read Dunlap’s book, but it sounds good. The classic work on the subject is Dr. Charles Ryrie’s /Dispensationalism/. It was first published in 1966, then revised and expanded in 1995. Excellent, and easy to understand. His book /The Basis of the Premillennial Faith/ is excellent as well. Another book I highly recommend is /There Really Is a Difference/, by Dr. Renald Showers. He gives a thorough comparison of Covenant and Dispensational theology. Both men are solidly biblical in their approach, and gracious in spirit.

      And a quick personal word. While I consider myself a strong dispensationalist, I have managed, over the years, to associate with Christians belonging to various groups that may differ with me. When we unite on our common bond in Christ, major on the fundamentals of the faith, and share our views graciously, there is usually a listening ear.

      God bless. Always good to hear from you.


  3. […] the refrain. (See below.) There’s a bit more about Robert McCutchan in the third item under Today in 1827, and more about William Cowper in the second item under Today in […]

  4. I greatly admire “Sweet Hour of Prayer”. It is a lovely hymn both for its word and for its tune. I am also intrigued and humbled by the fact that so many of the great hymns were written by people who had suffered physically (i.e., had a disability such as blindness such as William Walford or Fanny Crosby), emotionally, or spiritually (e.g., Robert Robinson, Horatio Spafford, Louisa Stead, to name just a few). Out of great trouble, stress, and sorrow comes hymns that are so beautiful and so rich with meaning. I wonder: is some of the shallowness of today’s so-called “praise and worship music” (not to mention the shallowness of so much preaching) is due to a lack of suffering by Western (especially American) Christians?

    • Thanks for your comments. As to hymn writers who faced difficult trials, it certainly has to be more than a coincidence that they wrote hymns that have blessed millions. I wrote about this in my article Suffering Hymn Writers. I guess, in part at least, it’s like the pearl in the oyster. Something beautiful created out of painful irritations–by the grace of God, in this case.

      And there may be something in what you say about the relatively affluent lifestyle of North Americans being related to the often shallow conttemporary songs. I also think that is behind the fact that so few hymns today talk about heaven and the return of Christ. We’re doing pretty well here, so there’s less of a longing for our real home above.

      And if you’ll excuse a brief “commercial”… With the arrival of fall, we begin to think of the Christmas season up ahead. If you do not have a good book on the subject of our Christmas carols, I encourage you to take a look at mine, Discovering the Songs of Christmas. In it, I discuss the history and meaning of 63 carols and Christmas hymns. The book is available through Amazon. (Might make a great gift too!)


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