When they rise from the dead, they…are like angels in Heaven.@Mark 12:25

Sid­ney P. Gill, 1845.

Aal­borg Ed­ward L. White (1809–1851) (🔊 pdf nwc).

This hymn was in­spired by two ve­ry sim­i­lar in­ci­dents that oc­curred with­in weeks of each oth­er:

Rev. Dr. Arm­i­tage of New York, in a lec­ture on Our Fe­male Hymn Writ­ers, has re­cent­ly brought to light the touch­ing his­to­ry of the hymn, be­gin­ning, I want to be an an­gel.

It was writ­ten, he says, by Mrs. Syd­ney P. Gill [sic], in Phil­a­del­phia [Penn­syl­van­ia]. In the Sun­day-school of Dr. Jo­el Par­ker’s [Clin­ton Street Pres­by­ter­i­an Church of Phi­la­del­phia], she taught the in­fant class.

She had been teach­ing a les­son on an­gels, when a lit­tle child said, I want to be an an­gel. A few days af­ter, the child died. The hymn was writ­ten for that Sun­day-school to sing on her death, and it has struck a chord in ev­e­ry child’s heart since 1845.

It was com­posed April 19, 1845, on the day of the death of a lit­tle girl named An­nie Lou­i­sa Far­rand, the Sun­day-school schol­ar to whom Dr. Arm­i­tage re­fers. The words I want to be an an­gel had at this time been made fam­il­iar by the fol­low­ing in­ci­dent, writ­ten by Dr. Iren­se­us Prime, April 5, 1845, which was be­ing cop­ied by near­ly all re­li­gious and Sun­day-school papers. [The in­ci­dent ap­peared in the New York Ob­serv­er, and was ver­si­fied by Park Ben­ja­minLong, ap­pen­dix pp. 36-37]:

A child sat in the door of a cot­tage at the close of a sum­mer Sab­bath. The twi­light was fad­ing, and as the shades of ev­en­ing dark­ened, one af­ter an­oth­er of the stars stood in the sky and looked down on the child in his thought­ful mood. He was look­ing up at the stars and count­ing them as they came, till there were too many to be count­ed, and his eyes wan­dered all over the hea­vens, watch­ing the bright worlds above.

They seemed just like holes in the floor of hea­ven to let the glo­ry through, but he knew bet­ter. Yet he loved to look up there, and was so ab­sorbed, that his mo­ther called to him and said: My son, what are you think­ing of?

He start­ed as if sud­den­ly aroused from sleep, and an­swered, I was think­ing.

Yes, said his mo­ther, I know you were think­ing, but what were you think­ing about?

Oh, said he, and his lit­tle eyes spark­led with the thought, I want to be an an­gel.

And why, my son, would you be an an­gel?

Heaven is up there, is it not, moth­er? And there the an­gels live and love God, and are hap­py. I do wish I was good, and God would take me there, and let me wait on him for ev­er.

The moth­er called him to her knee, and he leaned on her bos­om and wept. She wept too, and smoothed the soft hair of his head as he stood there, and kissed his fore­head, and then told him that if he would give his heart to God, now while he was young, the Sav­ior would for­give all his sins and take him up to hea­ven when he died, and he would then be with God for ever.

His young heart was com­fort­ed. He knelt at his moth­er’s side and said:

Jesus, Savior, Son of God,
Wash me in Thy precious blood;
I Thy little lamb would be,
Help me, Lord, to look to Thee.

The moth­er took the young child to his cham­ber. Soon he was asleep, dream­ing per­haps of an­gels and hea­ven. A few months af­ter­wards sick­ness was on him, and the light of that cot­tage, the joy of that moth­er’s heart, went out. He breathed his last in her arms, and as he took her part­ing kiss, he whis­pered in her ear: I am go­ing to be an an­gel.

Butterworth, pp. 150–52

I want to be an angel,
And with the angels stand,
A crown upon my forehead,
A harp within my hand;
There, right before the Savior,
So glorious and so bright,
I’d wake the sweetest music,
And praise Him with delight.

I never should be weary,
Nor ever shed a tear,
Nor ever know a sorrow,
Nor ever know a fear;
But blessèd, pure and holy,
To dwell in Jesus’ sight,
And with ten thousand thousands,
I’d praise Him with delight.

I know I’m weak and sinful,
But Jesus will forgive.
For many little children
Have gone to Heav’n to live;
Dear Savior, when I languish,
And lay me down to die,
O, send a shining angel
To bear me to the sky.

O, there I’ll be an angel,
And with the angels stand,
A crown upon my forehead,
A harp within my hand;
And there before my Savior,
So glorious and so bright,
I’ll join the heav’nly music,
And praise Him with delight.