Literary BMGD #2: The Pilgrims’ Hymn

January 2, 2012 | 8 comments
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In looking for a literary work to go with the second Gospel Doctrine lesson this year, I was struck by some of the parallels between what Nephi experiences in the first few chapters in the Book of Mormon and what the early Mormons went through in traveling to Utah. Many of those we call the pioneers left comfortable homes, like Nephi and his family, and traveled to a “promised land” “into the wilderness.” And perhaps half or more of the pioneers also had to travel over an ocean to reach the promised land.

Despite the literary possibilities in this parallel (largely unrealized as far as I know), the poem I found this week is from well before the Mormon trek. While it isn’t specifically about the Book of Mormon text, it does talk about the need for obedience something like Nephi’s “I will go and do the things the Lord commands” statement. And, it addresses the idea of traveling into a promised land through the wilderness—but the group doing the traveling is “Pilgrims,” which I assume is a generic reference to religious peregrines rather than to the Massachusetts settlers of 1620.

Like many Mormon poems before the Mormon trek, this one has a millennial flavor to it, an expectation of the return of Christ. Surprisingly, it was first published anonymously in the second issue of the Evening and Morning Star, in July 1832, making this one of the earliest published Mormon poems—an something quite prescient of the later trek and travails of the pioneers. Like the other poems in the Evening and Morning Star, it was meant to be sung in Church services, and may have been intended for the first LDS hymnal, but in the end it was not included.

[I should note that while this poem theoretically could have been written by a non-Mormon, I haven’t been able to find it published anywhere but in a Mormon publication—and in very few of those.]

The Pilgrims’ Hymn

Go on, dear pilgrims, while below,
In wisdom’s paths of peace,
Determin’d nothing else to know,
But Jesus’ righteousness.

 

Do like, the Savior, follow him,
He in this world has been,
And oft revil’d, but like a lamb,
Did ne’er revile again.

 

O take the pattern he has given,
Seek first the things of worth,
And learn the only way to heaven,
Is-worship God on earth.

 

Remember we must watch and pray
While journeying on the road,
Lest we should fall out by the way
And would the cause of God.

 

Go on rejoicing day by day;
Your crown is yet before,
So fear no trials on the way,
The scene will soon be o’er.

 

Soon we shall reach the promis’d land,
With all the ransom’d race
And meet with Enoch’s perfect band,
To sing redeeming grace.

 

There we shall be when Christ appears,
And all his glory see,
And reign with him a thousand years,
When all the world is free.

 

Our souls are in his mighty hand,
And he will keep them still;
If faithful, we shall surely stand
With him on Zion’s hill.

 

Him, eye to eye, we there shall see
Our face like his shall shine;
O! what a glorious company,
When saints and angels join!

 

O! what a joyful meeting there,
In robes of white array!
Palms in our hands we all shall bear,
And crowns that ne’er decay!

 

We’ll hasten to our earthly home,
While Jacob gathers in,
And watch our great Redeemer come,
And make an end of sin.

 

When we’ve been there a thousand years,
Bright shining as the Sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

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8 Responses to Literary BMGD #2: The Pilgrims’ Hymn

  1. Ardis E. Parshall on January 2, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Beautiful poem.

    Isn’t that last stanza part of “Amazing Grace”?

  2. Ardis E. Parshall on January 2, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    At least two other stanzas (“Him, eye to eye …” and “O! what a joyful …”) come from “God of All Consolation Take” which predates Mormonism. So I think someone has pulled together verses from elsewhere, maybe written a few original ones, to create a hymn to express the ideas you note. Whatever its source or sources, it’s beautiful.

  3. Mark N. on January 3, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Probably not included in the hymnbook for overuse of apostrophes.

  4. Kent Larsen on January 3, 2012 at 12:12 am

    Good eye, Ardis. I’ll have to look at that.

    In case others don’t know, this kind of borrowing was extremely common in the early 1800s — so I’m not at all surprised. W. W. Phelps did it all the time.

  5. JB on January 3, 2012 at 5:40 am

    This seems to be largely a revision of a seven-stanza hymn that appeared in an older hymnal (7th ed in 1800) titled Divine Hymns, or Spiritual Songs, for the Use of Religious Assemblies, and Private Christians as Hymn 93: “A Crumb for Pilgrims”:

    Go on, ye pilgrims, while below,
    In the sure paths of peace:
    Determin’d nothing else to know,
    But Jesus and his grace.

    Observe your leader, follow him:
    He through this world has been
    Often revil’d, but like a lamb,
    Did ne’er revile again.

    O take the patterns he has giv’n,
    And love your enemies;
    And learn the only way to heav’n,
    Through self denial lies.

    Remember you must watch and pray,
    While journeying on the road;
    Lest you should fall out by the way,
    And wound the cause of God.

    Contend for nothing but the fruit,
    That feeds the immortal mind:
    For fruitless leaves no more dispute,
    But leave them to the wind.

    Go on rejoicing night and day,
    Your crown is yet before;
    Defy the trials of your way,
    The storm will be soon o’er.

    Then you shall reach the promis’d land,
    With all the ransom’d race,
    And join with all the glorious band,
    To sing redeeming grace.

    (I confess a greater partiality to this original.)

    So then, with some alterations, the first six stanzas of the Pilgrims’ Hymn were taken from the seven stanzas of this hymn (omitting the fifth); then the seventh stanza of the Pilgrims’ Hymn is as of yet unaccounted for; the eighth through tenth stanzas of the Pilgrims’ Hymn are drawn from “God of All Consolation, Take” (thanks to Ardis for identifying it as the source of the ninth and tenth); the eleventh is as yet unaccounted for; and the twelfth stanza is drawn from the lengthy “Jerusalem, Our Happy Home”, from which it later wormed its way into “Amazing Grace”. The seventh and eleventh stanzas may or may not be original to the 1832 LDS poem, so far as I can tell; personally, I find the choices in alteration that the author made when selecting verses from previous hymns to be most interesting of all.

  6. James Olsen on January 3, 2012 at 6:10 am

    Of course there’s lots of overlap in themes and lyrics (and wholesale borrowing as others note), but it seems to me that this poem – which was not adopted – was retooled into a more explicitly Mormon verse by Edward Patridge for the 1840 A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe, and became one of the more lasting LDS hymns: Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise. Maybe I’m wrong and Partridge wasn’t explicitly drawing from and reworking this poem; but the stanzas/themes/lines/language of the Pilgrims Hymn was clearly part of the theological atmosphere that the early saints swam in.

    1. Let Zion in her beauty rise
    Her light begins to shine,
    Ere long her King will rend the skies,
    Majestic and divine.
    The gospel’s spreading through the land,
    A people to prepare,
    To meet the Lord and Enoch’s band,
    Triumphant in the air.

    2. Ye heralds, sound the gospel trump,
    To earth’s remotest bound;
    Go spread the news from pole to pole,
    In all the nations round,
    That Jesus in the clouds above,
    With hosts of angels too,
    Will soon appear his saints to save,
    His enemies subdue.

    3. But ere that great and solemn day,
    The stars from heaven will fall,
    The moon be turned into blood,
    The waters into gall;
    The sun with blackness will be clothed
    All nature look affright!
    While men, rebellious wicked men,
    Gaze heedless on the sight.

    4. The earth shall reel, the heavens shake,
    The sea move to the north,
    The earth roll up like as a scroll,
    When God’s command goes forth;
    The mountains sink, the valleys rise,
    And all become a plain,
    The islands and the continents,
    Will then unite again.

    5. Alas! the day will then arrive,
    When rebels to God’s grace,
    Will call for rocks to fall on them,
    And hide them from his face:
    Not so with those who keep his law,
    They joy to meet their Lord
    In clouds above, with them that slept
    In Christ, their sure reward.

    6. That glorious rest will then commence,
    Which prophets did foretell,
    When Christ will reign with saints on earth,
    And in their presence dwell
    A thousand years: O glorious day!
    Dear Lord prepare my heart,
    To stand with thee on Zion’s mount,
    And never more to part.

    7. Then when the thousand years are past,
    And Satan is unbound,
    O Lord preserve us from his grasp,
    By fire from heav’n sent down,
    Until our great last change shall come,
    T’ immortalize this clay,
    Then we in the celestial world
    Will spend eternal day.

  7. Kent Larsen on January 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    If you guys keep this up, I won’t have any research to do (or, I can research something else…). [GRIN]

  8. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    The sense I get from the generic Christian version of the hymn is that it uses the term “promised land” and the “pilgrimage” as being metaphorical, a version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. However, I think the flavor of the Mormon versions is more concrete, identifying Zion and the promised land as specific earthly locations where divine things would happen (I believe Jackson County had been identified early on as the center of Zion where the Savior was destined to come). I recall seeing a hymn book that was put together by Franklin Richards for the British Mission, in which the majority of hymns promoted the literal gathering to Zion in America. I think that was a specific part of the Mormon appeal to converts, that it was promising a very concrete Zion that one could go to before death.