In the past few years, I’ve come to admire a form of modern hymnody popularized by singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken and groups such as Sojourn Music.  McCracken, who has given her work the moniker New Old Hymns, has produced two great albums of hymns (The Builder and the Architect, 2006; In Feast or Fallow, 2010).  Many of the tracks on these albums feature a historic text set to a modern tune.  Sojourn Music has two high-quality albums of modernized Isaac Watts’ hymns.

These efforts have inspired me to revive the work of a great, but somewhat unheralded hymnist, James Montgomery.  He’s probably best known for the Christmas carol, “Angels from the Realms of Glory.”  A few months ago, as I searched for new hymns set to familiar tunes to incorporate into my church’s congregational singing, several of the more appealing entries were written by Montgomery.  These hymns include “According to Thy Gracious Word,” “Stand Up and Bless the Lord,” “Forever with the Lord,” and “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.”

Out of curiosity, I went searching for a larger collection of Montgomery hymns.  Google Books obliged with over 400 pages of Montgomery’s work, Sacred Poems and Hymns.  I combed through the PDF and jotted down a few of the more moving texts, then I let these hymns sit for several months.

Just recently, I started working on setting these texts to original tunes.  I’ve never ventured much into song writing because I’m too self-critical and have loathed almost every lyric I’ve crafted.  Having Montgomery’s texts has certainly overcome that barrier.

The first of these hymns is “O Come, Let Us Raise.”  Here’s a decent-quality demo and the lyrics.

O come, let us raise
Our tribute of song;
Thanksgiving and praise
To Jesus Belong.
He came from above
Our bliss to begin,
Make perfect our love,
And free us from sin.

The old and the young,
His people by choice,
With heart, soul, and tongue,
In Him may rejoice.
We meet Him today
Triumphantly crown’d,
And welcome His way,
In chorus around.

Hosanna! – that word
To children is dear;
To Jesus our Lord,
We’ll echo it hear.
Let worldlings despise,
And enemies rail,
Hosannas shall rise,
Hosannas prevail.

God’s temple shall ring,
While under His eye,
Hosanna we sing,
For Jesus draws nigh:
Hosanna! Our breath
Through life shall proclaim;
Hosanna! In death, –
In glory, the same!

In Sacred Hymns and Poems, Montgomery often includes before the entries a subscription that notes the occasion or theme of the hymn. Montgomery’s subscription for this text reads, “Old and Young praising Jesus together.”

Montgomeryhas given us much to love about “O Come Let Us Raise.”  The last four lines of the text are my favorite and capture what makes Montgomery’s writing so endearing to me.  He has the ability to write succinctly, yet movingly, about the big themes of life, death, and eternity.  We who believe in Christ will cry out in praise to him throughout life, into death, and unto ages without end. 

Enjoy!  Please let me know what you think.

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