Words: William W. Walford (b. _____, 1772; d. June 22, 1850)
Music: Sweet Hour (or Walford), by William Batchelder Bradbury (b. Oct. 6, 1816; d. Jan. 7, 1868)
Note: The dates given above for the author of the hymn text are a matter of controversy. There was a William W. Walford in England at the time who was a Congregational clergyman. However, the problem is that the description of the author given by Thomas Salmon, who met with him and transcribed the hymn, in no way resembles the man whose dates are given above. (See the Cyber Hymnal site for Thomas Salmon’s own account of his meeting with Walford.)
If we take Pastor Salmon’s description as correct (and I see no reason why he would lie about it), then the William Walford who wrote the hymn becomes an obscure individual for whom we have, as yet, no information on the dates of his birth and death. William Bradbury wrote his fine tune specifically for this hymn.
This is one of the best known and best loved hymns on prayer (perhaps sharing that high place along with What a Friend We Have in Jesus). The occasion for of prayer is described as a “sweet hour [or time].” When not referring to matters of taste, “sweet” indicates something that is pleasant, agreeable and delightful. The word also has an older meaning–which might have been known by Mr. Walford–and that is respected, indicating that the hour of prayer is esteemed and held in high honour. All of that surely describes well our times before God’s throne.
CH-1) 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!
So much is said about prayer in the Word of God that it’s almost impossible even to summarize it. David tells us of his determination to pray (Ps. 5:3), and his confidence that God answers prayer (Ps. 6:9; 65:2). He also recommends that others bring their needs to the Lord in this way (Ps. 55:22).
In the Gospels we have Christ’s example of both private and public prayer, and His instruction on prayer, which includes a pattern prayer (Matt. 6:5-13). He assures His listeners that our heavenly Father gives good things to those who ask Him for them (Matt. 7:11). He further teaches that faith is the means by which we can claim heaven’s resources (Matt. 21:22), according to God’s will (cf. I Jn. 5:14), and notes that agreement in prayer is a powerful thing (Matt. 18:19).
Old Testament and New, we see people praying, and read admonitions to the saints to pray (cf. Phil. 4:6-7; I Pet. 5:7). A little used stanza of Walford’s beautiful hymn (CH-2) seems to focus especially on corporate prayer–believers praying together.
CH-2) Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
Of those whose anxious spirits burn
With strong desires for thy return!
With such I hasten to the place
Where God my Saviour shows His face,
And gladly take my station there,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!
CH-4’s reference to Mount Pisgah (also called Mount Nebo, Deut. 34:1) refers to the Lord allowing Moses to view the Promised Land from a distance. William Walford uses it as a picture of viewing heaven in this way, before being caught up into the presence of the Lord, where faith will give way to sight. (The imagery is triumphant!)
CH-4) Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight:
This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise
To seize the everlasting prize;
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!”
1) What has been the greatest blessing of the time of prayer for you?
2) What is the difference between private prayer and corporate (group) prayer, and why is each important?