Gospel Hymns Nos. 1 to 6

It was a game changer in 1870 when preacher Dwight L. Moody enlisted Ira D. Sankey to be the music director for his evangelistic services and mission work. In many ways, church music in evangelical churches owes much to this historic event.

In his training Sankey was affiliated with other musicians whose names are familiar to church musicians today such as Lowell Mason and William Bradbury. As revivalists, Moody and Sankey worked closely with Major D.W. Whittle and his musicians, first Philip P. Bliss and then James McGranahan. Another musician who was called upon to work with these men was George C. Stebbins.

Ira Sankey is best known for his song, “The Ninety and Nine.” Another of his songs that is a favorite of mine is “Trusting Jesus.” Sankey wrote the music for these. In fact, it’s an interesting note that the music for “The Ninety and Nine” was written during it’s first presentation. He placed a copy of the poem on his reed organ, then played and sang it for the first time in a service at Moody’s request making it up as he sang.

James McGranahan’s songs include “I Know Whom I Have Believed” and “There Shall Be Showers of Blessing,” both of which he wrote with Major Whittle. Another of his tunes was MY REDEEMER which he wrote for the hymn “I Will Sing of My Redeemer” which was found after the death of Philip P. Bliss.

Philip Bliss, for the few years of his life, was a prolific hymn writer. The Baptist Hymnal 1991 includes 7 hymns of his including “‘Man of Sorrows,’ What a Name,” “Wonderful Words of Life,” and “Whosoever Will.” Probably his best known tune is VILLE DU HAVRE which he wrote for the Horatio G. Spafford hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

George Stebbins was also a prolific musician. He provided the tunes for such great hymns as “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling,” and “Take Time to Be Holy.”

In many ways, these musicians were just as much preachers as Moody and Whittle, they simply relied on a different medium to share the gospel of Jesus.

Since music was such a huge part of their evangelistic services, it was natural for these men to create songbooks to be used in their services and in the churches of their day.  One of these early books, Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, published in 1875 was edited by Sankey and Bliss. They joined together to compile a supplemental song book in 1876, just before the untimely death of Bliss and his wife in a tragic train wreck, entitled Gospel Hymns No. 2.

An interesting note is that Harriet Tubman had a personal copy of Gospel Hymns No. 2 which is currently in the Smithsonian Library. (See the website.)

After this Ira Sankey, James McGranahan, and George Stebbins together published Gospel Hymns Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6.

Finally, in 1894 Sankey, McGranahan, and Stebbins put together a compilation which they called Gospel Hymns Nos. 1 to 6 Complete (Without Duplicates) for Use in Gospel Meetings and Other Religious Services.

As were the previous volumes, this hymnbook was published by both The Biglow & Main Co. and The John Church Co. These two publishers together with their respective audiences gave a great boost to the sales and distribution of these songbooks.

Among the 739 selections, we find a variety of hymns including, of course, Sankey’s “The Ninety and Nine.” There are also a couple of patriotic songs at the end of the book. I suppose because of the nature of the book Christmas selections are limited (in a cursory look, I saw only one and there is no listing in the Topical Index).

Of additional interest, there are words only hymns scattered among the words and music titles that we are more familiar with. I also found two different settings for the hymn, “The Palace of the King.”

In addition to the hymns, there are two indices: a title index and a topical index.

Although I have heard these names and was familiar with some of their songs, it was fascinating to study the history of these men who did so much to influence the evangelical church and her hymnody. I would encourage you to look at biographical materials on each of these men. There was so much of their stories that I was unable to include in this already lengthy look at this hymnal, Gospel Hymns Nos. 1 to 6 Complete.

Blessings,
Richard


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