Rev. Mark H. Creech
Patriotic inspiration from 'Come, Thou Almighty King'
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By Rev. Mark H. Creech
January 17, 2013

There once was a congregation too poor to buy any new hymnals. So they were offered a sufficient quantity by a pharmaceutical firm in exchange for a little advertising. When the hymnals arrived, the church marveled at how lovely they looked. They were unable to find even a hint of any advertising on the covers, front or back, inside or outside, or on any of the early pages. They could only suppose the company had forgotten. But during Christmas when they turned to a well-known carol, they rose to sing:

"Hark, the herald angels sing,
Beecham's pills are just the thing,
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
Two for an adult, and one for a child." [1]

Seriously though, hymns are a blessed means of inspiration and worship for us. Andy Griffith once said, "You know when you're young you think you will always be. As you become more fragile, you reflect and you realize how much comfort can come from the past. Hymns can carry you into the future." [2] The Scriptures exhort us to "speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19).

Personally, I love the old hymns, which are amazingly rich in spiritual truths. One of my favorites that I would often instruct the music directors at my previous pastorates to choose as an opening for worship was, "Come, Thou Almighty King."

The authorship of this hymn has always been a matter of debate. Some have attributed it to Charles Wesley because of a short pamphlet that was published sometime prior to 1757. The pamphlet, however, has no title page and thus has no positive attribution. The pamphlet contains only one other hymn, "Jesus, Let Thy Pitying Eye," which was unquestionably written by Wesley. Therefore, many suggest Wesley probably wrote both hymns.

Still, others associate the hymn with the great evangelist, George Whitfield. "Come, Thou Almighty King" appears in the 22nd edition of Whitfield's Collection of Hymns for Social Worship. But there is actually less evidence Whitfield wrote the hymn than Wesley. It's been suggested he may have selected and arranged the stanzas from a longer hymn that has been lost.

The music for the hymn's use today is known. Composed by Italian Felice de Giardinia, "Come, Thou Almighty King," has often been referred to as the "Italian Hymn."

Readers of my columns know my love for out of print religious books and the way I search for them at old antique stores. (See article, Public Prayer In Jesus' Name, Yes or No?) Recently, I came upon a 1926 edition of A Junior Hymnal with Song Stories and Worship Programs, from The Standard Publishing Company, and compiled by J.E. Stugis and W.S. Martin. The book provides some history on "Come, Thou Almighty King" that I've never read anywhere else, which may throw some light on why the hymn's authorship is in question. What is more, the story is a patriotic one that demonstrates America's deep roots in the Christian religion.

The book recounts a time in our nation's history when we were in deep trouble – that period when America was struggling for its independence from the tyranny of England's King. The crisis was so intense the people could hardly bear it and a company of them who lived in Long Island gathered together for worship in their church.

England, as we know, had a national song, "God Save the King," the first verse of which reads:

"God save our gracious King,
Long live our noble King,
God save the King.
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the King."

The words were sung to the same tune as our own, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."

When these patriotic followers of Christ were meeting in church for worship, a company of British soldiers showed up and their commander had them march up the aisle. It was an extremely threatening and fearful situation. When the commander reached the front of the sanctuary, he turned to the congregants and demanded: "Sing, 'God Save the King.'" The organist began playing the tune everyone knew so well, but instead of singing "God, Save the King," they sang this prayer:

"Come, Thou Almighty King,
Help us Thy name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father all glorious,
O'er all victorious,
Come, and reign over us,
Ancient of days!"

The commander and the soldiers were so taken aback – so moved by such deep spirituality – so moved by this earnest prayer to God and its devotion to Christ as King – they marched out of the church without any further threats or intimidations. [3]

Though the book's story doesn't give specifics such as the date, name of the church, etc., it certainly seems plausible and consistent with similar records of history for the same time period. One Crown-appointed British governor wrote back to Great Britain complaining: "If you ask an American who is his master, he'll tell you he has none. And he has no governor but Jesus Christ." [4] A motto of the American Revolution directed against King George III was: "No King but King Jesus!" [5]

Perhaps one of the reasons the authorship of this hymn has never been clear is because that is the way the author wanted it. Whatever name had been associated with its text would have likely been executed for treason to the Crown.

From henceforth every time I sing "Come, Thou Almighty King," I'll be reminded of the courage of my forebears who staunchly stood for liberty. Furthermore, I'll be reminded as I worship the King of kings, King Jesus, freedom is always predicated first upon our submission to His lordship.

References:

[1] Flynn, Leslie B. and Bernice, Humorous Incidents and Quips for Church Publications. Grand Rapids, Mich., Baker Book House, 1990, pg. 63.

[2] Griffith, Andy. Brainy Quote. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/hymns.html

[3] Stugis, J.E. and Martin, W.S. A Junior Hymnal with Song Stories and Worship Programs. Cincinnati, O., The Standard Publishing Company, 1926, pgs. 10-11.

[4] Barton, David "4th of July Article." Wallbuilders, 01/2000. http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=82

[5] Ibid

© Rev. Mark H. Creech

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Rev. Mark H. Creech

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

Rev. Creech is a prolific speaker and writer, and has served as a radio commentator for Christians In Action, a daily program featuring Rev. Creech's commentary on social issues from a Christian worldview.

In addition to RenewAmerica.com, his weekly editorials are featured on the Christian Action League website and Agape Press, a national Christian newswire.

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