Posted by: rcottrill | November 4, 2010

Today in 1771 – James Montgomery Born

Hymn writer James Montgomery justifiably appears a number of times on these pages. Over the last couple of centuries, his songs have blessed countless thousands. Among them are:

According to Thy Gracious Word
Angels from the Realms of Glory
Hail to the Lord’s Anointed
In the Hour of Trial
The Lord Is My Shepherd
Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire
Stand Up and Bless the Lord
We Bid Thee Welcome in the Name

Renowned hymn historian, John Julian, in his massive Dictionary of Hymnology (covering 30,000 hymns!) writes most glowingly of the man. It is a tribute which might be said to describe the ideal hymn writer, as far as that attainment is possible by mere mortals. Julian says of Montgomery:

His ear for rhythm was exceedingly accurate and refined. His knowledge of Holy Scripture was most extensive. His religious views were broad and charitable. His devotional spirit was of the holiest type. With the faith of a strong man he united the beauty and simplicity of a child. Richly poetic without exuberance, dogmatic without uncharitableness, tender without sentimentality, elaborate without diffusiveness, richly musical without apparent effort, he has bequeathed to the church of Christ wealth which could only have come from a true genius and a sanctified heart.

Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire was written in 1818 at the request of another clergyman. Some have criticized it as being merely a series of statements about prayer. Nevertheless, what statements they are! There is some wonderful teaching in its eight stanzas. The early part of the hymn is especially descriptive of the kind of urgent heart-prayers for which there are sometimes no articulate words. But the Holy Spirit hears the pain of our hearts and interprets it for us before God’s throne (Rom. 8:26-27) Here is a sampling from the hymn.

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Unuttered or expressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try;
Prayer, the sublimest strains
That reach the Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air,
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heav’n with prayer.

James Montgomery has also given us a fine version of the Lord’s Prayer, slightly paraphrasing the text of Matt. 6:9-13. The metre is, and the tune Trentham (traditionally used for Breathe on Me, Breath of God) works will with it. Albert Hay Malotte’s setting of the prayer is more often used as a solo (though some hymnals contain an arrangement of it). Montgomery’s version makes the prayer more accessible for congregational use.

Our heav’nly Father, hear
The prayer we offer now,
Thy name be hallowed far and near;
To Thee all nations bow.

Thy kingdom come; Thy will
On earth be done in love
As saints and seraphim fulfil
Thy holy will above.

Our daily bread supply
While by Thy Word we live.
The guilt of our iniquity
Forgive as we forgive.

From dark temptation’s power,
From Satan’s wiles, defend.
Deliver in the evil hour
And guide us to the end.

Thine shall forever be
Glory and power divine;
The sceptre, throne, and majesty
Of heaven and earth are Thine.

(2) Today in 1804 – Benjamin Kennedy Born
(Some sources gave the date of his birth as November 6th.)

Benjamin Hall Kennedy was an English scholar of note, and an Anglican clergyman. He wrote Latin text books, and published editions of the classics. He also wrote his own metrical version of many psalms, as well as translating the hymns of others. One of the latter is a hymn of Johann Schwedler, published posthumously in 1741, which Kennedy translated from the original German as Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know.

Reading this hymn, I’m reminded of the words of the blind man whom Jesus healed. The Jewish leaders questioned him, trying to trip him up and get him to join them in condemning Christ. “We know that this Man is a sinner,” they said. To which the formerly blind man replied, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see” (Jn. 9:24-25). Even though we keep studying and keep learning, there are many things about the Scriptures, about God, and about the Christian life, that we do not know. But rather than fretting over them, we need to testify to what we do know! And we need to live by what we know, and keep on learning more. If we do, we’ll discover, as Schwedler did, that Christ is central to it all.

Ask ye what great thing I know,
That delights and stirs me so?
What the high reward I win?
Whose the name I glory in?
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

What is faith’s foundation strong?
What awakes my heart to song?
He who bore my sinful load,
Purchased for me peace with God,
Jesus Christ, the Crucified.


  1. Thank you for referring me to your site. I am interested in the origin and background of hymns. I really feel that singing and listening to spiritual music is so calming and soul-restoring.

    • Your most welcome. And if you’d like to help me spread the word even further, I encourage you to put a link to Wordwise Hymns on your own site. God bless.

  2. […] Today in 1730 – Johann Schwedler Died Johann Christoph Schwedler was educated at the University of Leipzig. He was known as a great man of prayer, and a powerful preacher. It is reported that his church services lasted from six in the morning until two or three in the afternoon, with relays of people coming to hear him! Schwedler is known for one hymn translated into English, Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know. It focuses our attention on the centrality of Christ, “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). (For a bit more about the hymn, see Item #2 under Today in 1771.) […]

  3. […] Up and Bless the Lord, Go to Dark Gethsemane, and We Bid Thee Welcome. For more about his work, see Today in 1771 and Today in […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  5. I enjoyed reading about this hymn. But I just can’t figure this out…I read the hymn was written in 1741…..yet Johann Schwedler died in 1730…hmmm

    • Ah! Have you never heard of a ghost writer? Sorry, couldn’t resist. 🙂 Actually, thanks for your sharp eyes. The hymn wasn’t written in 1741. It was published posthumously then. I’ve made the change in the post. Thanks again for noticing the problem.


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