James Montgomery Returns to the Fold to Teach Hymnody

James Montgomery was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, on November 4th, 1771.

This son of a Moravian minister “wrote more hymns in common use today than any writer except Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts”.

His early years were spent in a Moravian settlement and when he was twelve his parents went as Moravian missionaries to the West Indies. Both died in their first year.

James was reared in a Christian boys’ boarding school in Yorkshire, England but was not a successful student. The school prohibited secular poems but somehow James borrowed and read a good deal of poetry. He then decided to write his own boyhood verse.

He was apprenticed to a baker, but at the age of 16 he ran away to London to find a publisher for some poems he had penned. But to no avail.

He finally found employment in a bookshop and then, in London, working for a radical newspaper, The Sheffield Register. When his boss left England to avoid political persecution Montgomery took over the Register and renamed it the Sheffield Iris. Twice he was imprisoned for “seditious libel” against the government!

By this point James had abandoned the faith which he first professed when he was seven. He spent many years seeking success and meaning in his writings. At the age of 43 he came back to the Moravian church and reaffirmed his faith.

He expressed his penitence in a poem.
People of the living God, I have sought the world around,
Paths of sin and sorrow trod, Peace and comfort nowhere found.
Now to you my spirit turns– Turns a fugitive unblest;
Brethren, where your altar burns, O receive me into rest.

Firmly back in the Christian fold Montgomery made a huge contribution in verse and hymn. It is said that his book, The Christian Psalmist, he laid the foundations of modern scientific hymnology. He spurned the practice of his predecessors who threw a collection of dispirit ideas together in their hymns and his own hymns were characterised by “one central creative thought, shaping for itself melodious utterance, and with every detail subordinate to its harmonious presentation”.

John Telford wrote of Montgomery: “His father had been a disciple of John Cennick, and it is said that a volume of Cennick’s sermons was the means of James Montgomery’s conversion. He lived a busy life as editor, lecturer and advocate of Foreign Missions and of the Bible Society” (Methodist Hymnal Illustrated, page 101).

Montgomery wrote over 400 hymns – many of which are still sung. Among his most popular are:
Hail to the Lord’s anointed –

Great David’s greater Son…
and
Stand up and bless the Lord, Ye people of His choice …

And the Christmas carol, penned on Christmas Eve, 1816:
Angels from the realms of glory

Unlike most male hymnists, James Montgomery was not a clergyman. Nor did he ever marry. He died in his sleep on 30 April, 1854, aged 83.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Hans Egede Apostle of Greenland

This is the day that … Hans Egede arrived in Greenland in 1721. He was 35 years of age.

Accompanying him was his wife Gertrude (13 years his senior) and their little son, Paul, who was later destined to play a major role in reaching the pagan Eskimos with the gospel.

At the age of 21 Hans Egede had pastored a Lutheran church in Vaagen, Norway, and to him had come – like a Macedonian call – the spiritual need of Greenland.

Now, after untold obstacles, including the initial opposition of his wife, Hans Egede set foot on this “barren and dead” land.

The Eskimos “were slaves of repulsive habits, their priests and wizards tried to kill the missionary. Sometimes there was no food to be had …” (Torchbearers of the Faith, by A. Smellie, page 221).

Some years later a smallpox epidemic slew 3000 people, including his beloved wife (in 1736).

Moravian missionaries arrived and saw conversions. “Bitter with envy and resentment,” writes Ruth Tucker, “Egede accused them of ‘reaping what I have ploughed’” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, page 79).

Was there ever a sadder text chosen by a missionary as he left the field: “I have laboured in vain…” (Isaiah 49:4).

Hans Egede returned to Norway with his two sons, Paul and Niels. And here it was Paul translated the New Testament into the Eskimo language (1766) and, with his father’s help, drew up a doctrinal guide for the converts in Greenland.

Hans Egede’s labour was not in vain in the Lord, even though he may have felt that way when he preached his farewell sermon.

He died on 5 November, 1758, at the age of 72, and is remembered as the “Apostle of Greenland”.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

David Zeisberger – Missionary to Red Indians

This is the day that … David Zeisberger was married – at the age of 60 – to Miss Susan Lecron, at the suggestion of the Moravian Mission Board. It was in 1781.

For the previous 40 years he had devoted his life to preaching of the Gospel among Red Indians. “He had made himself so truly their brother than they adopted him into their tribe and gave him the Indian name of Thaneraquechta …” (Torchbearers of the Faith, by A. Smellie, page 227).

Zeisberger’s translation of the Scriptures into the Iroquois language is described as “outstanding”. He pressed on with his work, despite being continually harassed by the French/Indian war, and the American Revolution. There are stories of massacres and imprisonment and hardship enough to daunt the most valiant of souls. Zeisberger persevered.

During a Moravian synod meeting the strong suggestion was made that David take himself a wife, which he did. He then returned to his Red Indians with the Gospel.

During the Revolutionary War, “The wrath of the British was directed mainly against Zeisberger… He and two fellow missionaries were arrested as spies. Practically starved, they appeared before the governor to defend themselves against vile and unjust accusations” (Early Missionary Endeavours Among the American Indians, by J. Mueller, page 92). Eventually Zeisberger was free to lead his Christian Indians across the border into Canada, where there was freedom – and “where the Moravian testimony continued for many generations”.

He died on 17 November, 1808, saying: “The Saviour is near; He will come and take me home…” He departed this life at the age of 87, over 60 years of which was spent in missionary service.

“No other Protestant missionary exercised more real influence, and was more sincerely honoured among the Indians, and none … excelled him in the frequency and hardship of his journeys through the wilderness” (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopaedia, page 2570).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

Willam Carey – Desperate for Missions

This is the day that … William Carey preached his “deathless sermon”, as it is described by his biographer, S. Pearce Carey.

It was 1792, and the place was Nottingham, England.

At 10.00 a.m. the young cobbler/pastor from Leicester rose to address the small group.  His text was Isaiah 54:2,3:  “Lengthen thy cords … strengthen thy stakes …” and then rang out a fervent plea for missions. The two key thoughts he drew from that passage are: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

One who was present tells us that Carey “was in an agony of distress” as he became spokesman for the perishing multitudes in heathendom.

As the ministers “once more quenched the Spirit” at the meeting’s close and began to leave, Carey grasped the arm of Andrew Fuller and cried:  “Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?”

“This”, writes S. Pearce Carey, “was a creative moment in the history of Christ’s Kingdom.  Deep called unto deep.  Fuller trembled an instant under that importunity, gesture and heartbreak, and then his soul was stabbed awake and the Holy Spirit flooded his spirit” (page 84).

With Fuller’s ‘inspired strength’ behind Carey’s vision, things began to move.

Before long the Baptist Missionary Society was born, and Carey himself was on his way to India.

While Count Zinzendorf’s Moravian community can be identified as an earlier missionary movement than Carey’s it is true that William Carey carried the burden of Missions like no-one before him. It was an obsession for him, which accounts for his passionate preaching.

Despite the ugliest of obstacles Carey got himself to India and pursued 41 years of missionary service. His wife’s insanity was but one of the crosses he had to bear. He had died to this world and spent himself in service of heaven.

Niclaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf – Christian Revolutionary

This is the day that … Niklaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf was born, in 1700.

Born to an aristocratic German family Count Zinzendorf is described as the Rich Young Ruler who said ‘Yes’. At age 6 he impressed people with his prayers. At age 20 he felt the call do whatever Christ asked, no matter the cost. At age 22, as heir to one of Europe’s leading royal families, he opened his property to refugees.

Starting with a group of ten that arrived in December, 1722, Zinzendorf was hosting ninety by May of 1725, and over 300 by late 1726. The community was given the name “Herrnhut”, meaning “The Lord’s Watch.” In little time it grew into a small city of Christian citizenry. From here a number of missionaries went forth to evangelise.  This was the beginning of the Moravian movement, which would later play a part in the conversion of John Wesley.

Zinzendorf renounced his life as a nobleman and is rightly regarded as “one of the greatest missionary statesmen of all times”.

Yet, one author speaks of his “arrogance and conceit” and the gruesome obsession” with our Lord’s physical sufferings which temporarily nearly wrecked this missionary movement (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, by Ruth Tucker).

From his pen came 2000 hymns, many of which still appear in church hymnals, including:
          Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness,
          my beauty are, my glorious dress.
          ’midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,
          with joy shall I lift up my head!

The Moravian community was well organised but soon fell into jealousy, division and discord. Zinzendorf sought to address this and in August 1727 the community was moved to repentance and experienced a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Zinzendorf died in Herrnhut on 9 May, 1760.