Posted by: rcottrill | September 10, 2012

Lord, I’m Coming Home

Words: William James Kirkpatrick (b. Feb. 27, 1838; d. Sept. 20, 1921)
Music: William James Kirkpatrick

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This 1892 gospel song is unusual for a couple of reasons. For one thing, William Kirkpatrick was a composer. He published many collections of songs, and wrote the tunes for dozens of them, but he rarely wrote the lyrics, as he did here. Second, this song was originally written for the benefit of one man. The story is found on the Wordwise Hymns link.

Sometimes the music of our gospel songs is denigrated as simplistic, repetitious, and therefore inferior. But, as noted elsewhere in this blog, the use of repeated phrases and simple melodies was often calculated. There were no photo copiers and there was no power point projection in those days. Songs were often learned by rote. Their simplicity was a factor in allowing them to be taught in a few minutes, sending people home from meetings with the message of the gospel on their lips.

Though they often produced uncomplicated tunes, it should not be concluded that all those who produced the music lacked the ability to do more if they chose to. Many of the men and women who created the music in our hymn books were gifted and highly trained musicians. William Kirkpatrick (“Kirk” or “Kirkie” to his friends) is a case in point.

Young William grew up in a musical family, his father being a music teacher. Early on the boy learned to play the fife and flute, the violin, and later the cello. At the age of sixteen, he left home for Philadelphia, where he studied music. He also learned the carpenter’s trade, and earned a living for a time selling furniture. But his passion was music. He studied voice under a leading oratorio singer, and became a member of both the Handel and Haydn Music Societies.

The musician also showed a special gift in arranging music. One afternoon after Sunday School, when he was twenty, he sat and listened as someone sang a new song to A. S. Jenks, the Bible teacher, who also published music. While the song was being sung, Kirkpatrick quickly wrote out the melody and provided a suitable harmonization. His flawless musicality impressed Jenks, and he hired the young man to harmonize camp-meeting songs that were popular at the time.

William Kirkpatrick continued to study music theory, composition and harmonization, and also studied the pipe organ. By 1878 he was devoting his entire time to writing and teaching music–organ, piano and singing. He wrote music for a number of Fanny Crosby’s songs including: Meet Me There, Tell Me the Story of Jesus, Redeemed, How I Love to Proclaim It, and He Hideth My Soul. He also collaborated with another fine nineteenth century composer of gospel music, John Sweney (1837-1899) in the publication of books of music, both for congregation and choral use.

As to the present song, it became a much-used hymn of invitation in gospel meetings, inviting the sinner to come to the Saviour. There are echoes of the parable of the prodigal son in it, as the wanderer comes home to God.

CH-1) I’ve wandered far away from God,
Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod,
Lord, I’m coming home.

Coming home, coming home,
Nevermore to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love,
Lord, I’m coming home.

William Kirkpatrick wrote six stanzas for this song, but books I’ve seen usually print only the first four. As you may know, many older hymns had more stanzas that are often used today. There are times, however, when I question the editorial choice that has been made. This is one of them.

Though there’s nothing wrong with the first four, it’s the last two stanzas that deal specifically with the saving work of Christ. Of the Holy Spirit’s present ministry, the Lord Jesus said, “When He has come, He will convict the world of sin…because they do not believe in Me” (Jn. 16:8-9).

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7).

CH-5) My only hope, my only plea,
Now I’m coming home;
That Jesus died, and died for me.
Lord, I’m coming home.

CH-6) I need His cleansing blood, I know,
Now I’m coming home;
O wash me whiter than the snow,
Lord, I’m coming home.

1) What, in your view, are the best songs of gospel invitation that we have?

2) What are the benefits and dangers of calling the unsaved forward (or asking for hands to be raised) in a meeting to indicate a desire to trust Christ as Saviour?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

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