Posted by: rcottrill | November 5, 2010

Today in 1822 – Joseph Holbrook Born

Today, we take a look at a couple of more obscure hymn writers whose works are much less well known. Joseph Perry Holbrook was an American musician who edited some sacred music texts. He wrote a number of pretty hymn tunes that are little used today. Among them, Refuge (used in some books with Jesus, Lover of My Soul), and Truman (used  by some with I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say).

Sometimes there is value in singing a hymn to a different tune. But be warned! You will soon discover that many love a particular hymn as much for its singable tune as for the spiritual significance of its words. Even so, a different tune–as long as it provides an appropriate vehicle for the lyrics–can bring new insight into the meaning. Don’t overdo this. But used occasionally, it can be refreshing. To see some possible tune switches, check out my article About That Metrical Index.

(2) Today in 1943 – William Piggott Died
William Charter Piggott was an English clergyman who pastored a number of churches. In 1931-1932 he chaired the Congregational Union of England and Wales. From him comes a most interesting hymn about heaven–the only hymn of his we have–For Those We Love Within the Veil. It is reminiscent of some passages from the book of Revelation. For example:

I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” (Rev. 21:3-5).

Here is Piggott’s hymn, in part.

For those we love within the veil,
Who once were comrades of our way,
We thank Thee, Lord; for they have won
To cloudless day.

And life for them is life indeed,
The splendid goal of earth’s strait race;
And where no shadows intervene
They see Thy face.

Not as we knew them any more,
Toil worn, and sad with burdened care:
Erect, clear eyed, upon their brows
Thy name they bear.

Free from the fret of mortal years,
And knowing now Thy perfect will,
With quickened sense and heightened joy,
They serve Thee still.

(3) More from Isaac Watts
There are many versions of the beloved 23rd Psalm. Some are quite literal, a versification of the words of Scripture. Others are paraphrases, or explorations of the theme of the psalm–for example, hymns such as He Leadeth Me, or In Heavenly Love Abiding.

Below is a lovely version by Isaac Watts, published in 1719, in a significant volume with the lengthy title (typical of the time) The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, and Apply’d to the Christian State and Worship. It is a paraphrase, though Dr. Watts covers the main points of the psalm. The hymn begins:

My Shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
And leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.

Regular visitors to my blog will know that I part company with the Mormons on fundamental areas of doctrine. However, the Tabernacle Choir remains one of the preeminent choral groups in America. Here is their absolutely gorgeous rendering of My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.

Different in style, but also commendable, is a second version of Psalm 23 by Isaac Watts. Here is part of it.

The Lord my Shepherd is,
I shall be well supplied;
Since He is mine and I am His,
What can I want beside?

He leads me to the place
Where heav’nly pasture grows,
Where living waters gently pass,
And full salvation flows.

If e’er I go astray,
He doth my soul reclaim;
And guides me in His own right way,
For His most holy name.

While He affords His aid
I cannot yield to fear;
Though I should walk through death’s dark shade,
My Shepherd’s with me there.


  1. For some reason, the links are broken.

    Here is the direct link for for “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” from From there you can click on the midi file for “Refuge.”


    And here is the direct link for “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” from From there you can click on the midi file for “Truman.”


    When I go about tune-swapping, I run it past the choir first, or at least another ear, to see if the new tune flies with the old text.


    And now for a question, what did Watts mean by “Imitated in the Language of the New Testament?”

    • Thanks for catching the broken links. I saw them this morning, and was rather surprised. Usually I double check such things the day before, but I’ve had some rather horrendous virus problems the last few days, and that has put some work on hold.

      As to Watt’s title, I suspect he meant, “These hymns do not use the actual New Testament text, but paraphrase its message and reflect on its themes.” The established church at the time was very leary of singing anything but the Psalms, so he was announcing this departure up front. (Best guess.)


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