Scripture Verse

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19–20

Introduction

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Reginald Heber
(1783–1826)

Words: Reg­in­ald He­ber, 1819.

Music: Mis­sion­a­ry Hymn Lo­well Ma­son, 1823 (🔊 pdf nwc). This was Ma­son’s first pub­lished hymn tune. One Ma­ry How­ard, of Sa­van­nah, Geor­gia, had come across these lyr­ics, but had no mu­sic for them. So she sent them to Ma­son, who was work­ing as a bank clerk and sing­ing teach­er in Sa­van­nah. Mason wrote Mis­sion­ary Hymn in half an hour.

Alternate Tunes:

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Lowell Mason
(1792–1872)

Origin of the Hymn

On Whit Sun­day, 1819, Dr. Ship­ley, Vi­car of Wrex­ham and Dean of St. Asaph, preached in Wrex­ham Church in aid of the So­ci­e­ty for the Pro­pa­ga­tion of the Gos­pel, on be­half of whose East­ern miss­ions a Roy­al Let­ter had just been is­sued au­thor­iz­ing col­lect­ions in ev­ery church. A course of Sun­day ev­en­ing lec­tures al­so be­gan the same day in Wrex­ham Church, and He­ber was to give the first lec­ture.

Dean Ship­ley, his fa­ther-in-law, asked He­ber on the Sa­tur­day to write ‘some­thing for them to sing in the morn­ing.’ Heber moved from the table where the dean and a few friends were sit­ting to a dis­tant part of the room.

Af­ter a lit­tle time the dean asked, ‘What have you wri­tten?’ Heber read the first three vers­es. ‘There, there, that will do very well,’ was the com­ment. ‘No, no, the sense is not com­plete,’ was the po­et’s reply. He wrote the fourth verse, but the dean would not lis­ten, when he begged ‘Let me add an­oth­er; oh, let me add an­oth­er.’ All was done in twen­ty min­utes.

It was said to have been sung next morn­ing in Wrex­ham Church to an old ball­ad tune, ‘Twas when the seas were roar­ing.’ The hymn was pub­lished in the Ev­an­gel­i­cal Mag­azine, 1822, and in the Chris­tian Ob­serv­er, Feb­ru­a­ry, 1823.

The or­ig­in­al [man­u­script] was long in the pos­ses­sion of Dr. Raf­fles, of Li­ver­pool. He prob­ab­ly ob­tained it from the print­er, Ken­ne­dy, who set up the type as a boy and who was a friend of his. It was sold af­ter his death for for­ty gui­neas.

He­ber first wrote ‘sa­vage’ in ver. 2, but al­tered it in his MS. to ‘hea­then.’ The MS. is in the John Ry­lands Lib­ra­ry…

Heber says in his Jour­nal of a Voya­ge to In­dia, Sep­tem­ber, 1823, ‘Though we were now too far off Cey­lon to catch the odours of the land, yet it is, we are as­sured, per­fect­ly true that such odours are per­cep­ti­ble to a ve­ry con­sid­er­a­ble dist­ance.

In the Straits of Ma­lac­ca a smell like that of a haw­thorn hedge is com­mon­ly ex­per­i­enced; and from Cey­lon, at thir­ty or for­ty miles, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stanc­es, a yet more agree­a­ble scent is in­haled.’ This note is an in­ter­est­ing com­ment on ver. 2.

Telford, pp. 395–6

This hymn is con­sid­ered one of the fin­est mis­sion­ary hymns in the Eng­lish lang­uage. One won­ders what we’d have re­ceived had He­ber been al­lowed to con­tin­ue writ­ing!

Lyrics

From Greenland’s icy mountains,
From India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error’s chain!

What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Java’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile:
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strown;
The heathen, in his blindness,
Bows down to wood and stone!

Can we, whose souls are lighted
With wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?
Salvation! oh salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation
Has learned Messiah’s name!

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,
And you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory,
It spreads from pole to pole;
Till o’er our ransomed nature
The Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, king, creator,
In bliss returns to reign!

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Heber at work