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10 Things You Didn't Know about Your Favorite LDS Hymns

LDS Living Staff - August 13, 2014

Do you know why "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" was removed from the hymnal? Or the extra verses for "The Spirit of God"? Learn more about these and other favorite LDS hymns.

10 Things You Didn't Know about Your Favorite LDS Hymns

The history behind LDS hymns is rich with fascinating stories and quirky facts. Don't believe us? Just check out these fun finds about the history and form of some favorite hymns of LDS Living readers and other common conference tunes:

How Great Thou Art

Today's version of this hymn is loosely based on a German translation of a Russian translation of a Swedish hymn, "O Mighty God." In 1923, English missionaries heard the song in German and translated it from memory, and added new pieces based on the breathtaking scenery they witnessed in their travels. 

However, at that time, they only wrote the first three verses.

The fourth verse didn't come until after World War II. Those same missionaries added the last verse, inspired by refugees in Britain who constantly asked, "When can we go home?" Thus, the fourth verse focuses on the joys of our heavenly home. 

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HYMNS FUN FACT: Only 168 of our 358 hymn contributors are LDS.

We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet 

In the 1985 version of "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," the melody of this popular LDS hymn was actually changed. Near the beginning of the third line, one note changed from an A to a B. 


This unusual edit was done to match how the Saints actually sang the song; a large portion of them sang with the B note instead of as it had been originally written. 

HYMNS FUN FACT: The original hymnal collected by Emma had no tunes--only words. 

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Before the current hymnal was published, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" was a little-known hymn. The 1985 hymnbook committee elected to remove it from the new hymnal in favor of other works because so few members knew the song. 

However, after the revised hymnal was published, Mack Wilberg wrote an iconic arrangement of the hymn, bringing it into the forefront of members' minds. Today, due to its renewed popularity, many members still question why the hymn was ever removed as it is now one of the most beloved LDS songs not in the official Church hymnal.

HYMNS FUN FACT: Over 6,000 submissions of texts and tunes were reviewed for the 1985 hymnal.

I Am a Child of God

When Sister Naomi Randall penned the lyrics of "I Am a Child of God" in the middle of the night under inspiration, the original chorus said "Teach me all that I must know." Later, President Spencer W. Kimball heard the song and and mentioned that the word "know" in the chorus concerned him. He asked Sister Randall if she would change it to "do," and she happily agreed.

Reflecting on this alteration, she said, "I wondered why I didn't include that thought at the time the lyrics were first written. But as time went on, I came to feel very sincerely that this was the way the Lord wanted the song to evolve, because it became a teaching moment for members all over the Church and impressed upon their minds that knowing the gospel is not all that is required; it is the day-by-day doing the Lord's will and keeping the commandments that help us reach our eternal goal."

Also, the Children's Songbook version of this hymn has an additional verse:

I am a child of God
His promises are sure
Celestial glory shall be mine
If I can but endure 

HYMNS FUN FACT: The LDS hymnal is very small compared to other church hymnals. In fact, many Protestant hymnbooks have twice as many hymns as the 341 in the LDS hymnal.

The Spirit of God

Two verses of "The Spirit of God" found in Emma Smith's 1835 hymnbook have been omitted in recent hymnals:

We'll wash, and be wash'd, and with oil be anointed
Withal not omitting the washing of feet:
For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed,
Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat.

Old Israel that fled from the world for his freedom,
Must come with the cloud and the pillar, amain:
[And] Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua lead him,
And feed him on manna from heaven again.

HYMNS FUN FACT: Emma's original collection of 90 hymns was published in a 3"X4 1/2" pocket-sized book. Only 26 of those original hymns made it into the 1985 hymnal.

I Stand All Amazed

This Latter-day Saint favorite has undergone musical revision three seperate times in various versions of the hymnal. 

In the 1909 hymnal, the tenors actually sang the melody line, with the women's parts singing harmony. Additionally, the women sang the lines "that he should care for me, / Enough to die for me" alone as the men repeated "wonderful, wonderful" and harmonized on "care for me" and "die for me."

In the 1950 hymnal, the chorus remained the same, but the melody was given back to the soprano line. 

Finally, in the current 1985 version of the hymnal, the chorus was simplified to make the song easier to sing, though some Saints still miss the unique patterns of the original arrangement. 

HYMNS FUN FACT: It used to be the music director's responsibility to decide which tunes the congregation would sing with which words.

I Know That My Redeemer Lives

Originally written as seven short verses in Emma's 1835 hymnal, the verses of "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" were later combined to include two in each verse. However, this left one additional verse without a pair--this last verse instead became the chorus. 

HYMNS FUN FACT: The 1950 hymnal had a separate section for choir hymns.

Redeemer of Israel 

William W. Phelps originally adapted the lyrics for "Redeemer of Israel" from hymn text written by Joseph Swain, making slight modications to give the lyrics a more Latter-day Saint flair. You can compare the texts below:

Green - the same
Blue - similar ideas
Red - differences 

Swain's Text

O thou in whose presence
My soul takes delight,
On whom in afflictions I call,
My comfort by day
And my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all.

Where dost thou at noontide
Resort with thy sheep,
To feed on the pastures of love,
For, why in the valley
Of death should I weep,
Alone in the wilderness rove

O why should I wander
An alien from thee,
Or cry in the desert for bread,
My foes would rejoice
When my sorrows they see,
And smile at the tears I have shed. . . .

He looks, and ten thousand
Of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for his word,
He speaks, and eternity,
Fill'd with his voice,
Re-echoes the praise of her Lord. 

Phelps' Revision

Redeemer of Israel,
Our only delight,
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day
And our pillar by night,
Our King, our Deliv'rer, our all!

We know he is coming
To gather his sheep
And lead them to Zion in love,
For why in the valley
Of death should they weep
Or in the lone wilderness rove?

How long we have wandered
As strangers in sin
And cried in the desert for thee!
Our foes have rejoiced
When our sorrows they've seen,
But Israel will shortly be free.

As children of Zion,
Good tidings for us.
The tokens already appear.
Fear not, and be just,
For the kingdom is ours.
The hour of redemption is near.

Restore, my dear Savior,
The light of thy face;
Thy soul-cheering comfort impart;
And let the sweet longing
For thy holy place
Bring hope to my desolate heart.

He looks! and ten thousands
Of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for his word;
He speaks! and eternity,
Filled with his voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

HYMNS FUN FACT: In 1873, the Sunday school would publish its own hymns in The Juvenile Instructor.

High on the Mountain Top 

Two verses of "High on the Mountain Top" that were in the 1950 hymnal were removed in the 1985 printing:

Then hail to Deseret! A refuge for the good,
And safety for the great, If they but understood
That God with plagues will shake the world
Till all its thrones shall down be hurled.

In Deseret doth truth Rear up its royal head;
Though nations may oppose, Still wider it shall spread;
Yes, truth and justice, love and grace,
In Deseret shall find ample place.  

HYMNS FUN FACT: A man named Evan Stephens composed 16 of the hymns--the most of any composer in the hymnal.

How Firm a Foundation 

Prior to the 1985 hymnal, the first verse of "How Firm a Foundation" ended with the phrase: You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled.  

However, because this phrase sounds awkward to modern-day Saints (and as some will admit, easily misheard as "Yoo-hoo unto Jesus!"), the 1985 hymn book committee rephrased it to be: Who unto the Savior

HYMNS FUN FACT: A separate "Manchester Hymnal" was published by European Saints in England and used until 1890.

Comments 13 comments

katamb said...

12:24 PM
on Aug 13, 2014

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I also noticed that the lyric to "I Know that My Redeemer Lives" was written before the Restoration! Very cool!

herbh said...

03:05 PM
on Aug 13, 2014

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Very interesting, but Evan Stephens was not just "a man." For many years he was the director of the Tabernacle Choir. In addition to those 16 hymns in our hymnal, he wrote the "Hosanna Anthem" which has been sung at temple dedications starting with Salt Lake.

tthorman said...

07:14 PM
on Aug 13, 2014

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Actually, it was President Kimball who suggested the word change in "I am a Child of God." See "Our Latter-day Hymns" page 301.

jsmith said...

06:29 AM
on Aug 14, 2014

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Interesting stuff. Thanks.

jeremy_barnes said...

02:50 PM
on Aug 14, 2014

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One other interesting thought out there is that of Joel Hills Johnson, writer of "High on the Mountain Top." He wrote many poems and some became hymns. He also gave away many of those poems to family and friends, and they don't know if and how many of the hymns in the hymn book were actually written by him.

jeremy_barnes said...

02:52 PM
on Aug 14, 2014

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"High on the Mountain Top" was inspired by the American flag. Joel Hills Johnson was waiting to pay his tithes at the bishop storehouse (lumber from his mill) when he saw the American flag flying in the wind on top of the hill. He wrote it while waiting.

lvpottery said...

11:10 AM
on Aug 15, 2014

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Yes, it was President Spencer W. Kimball that suggested the word change in I Am A Child of God.

daveread4 said...

01:54 PM
on Aug 15, 2014

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Two more fascinating articles by Michael Hicks (BYU music prof) about how our LDS hymnbook evolved:

ahc said...

07:55 PM
on Aug 15, 2014

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I think it is extremely important to note that many of these hymns were not written by LDS at all....they have been altered and incorporated in some way, and much of this article reads as if everything was LDS inspired. NOT SO! May you be encouraged to look the history of each of them up for yourselves. ex. "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" 1757 Robert Robinson Pastor, ex. "I Stand All Amazed" Charles H. Gabriel member of Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, ex. "How Firm a Foundation" 1787, ex. "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" written by Samuel Medley (1738-1799) Pastored at the Baptist Church in Watford England

woolspinner said...

01:10 PM
on Aug 20, 2014

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It may be that Come Thou Fount was not sung frequently in some areas of the church. I grew up in Idaho and remember singing it quite a bit. Maybe someone needed to take a larger sampling of church members.

curbee said...

02:05 PM
on Aug 20, 2014

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ahc, I think if you read more carefully you will see the article said exactly that

aggiefather said...

05:03 PM
on Aug 24, 2014

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I heard a member of the church music committee said that dropping "Come Thou Fount" was the biggest mistake they made. Also, I remember singing the words,"Only he who does something is worthy to live, The world has no use for the drone," in "Have I Done Any Good," before the lyrics were updated. I like the archived series, History of Hymns. on the Mormon Channel.

catsissie said...

03:07 PM
on Sep 29, 2014

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Got a laugh out of the explanation for the change of the end in "How Firm A Foundation"! One of my brothers stage-whispered the words, "yoo-hoo unto Jesus" during the singing of that song when we were growing up, and the rest of us (we numbered five siblings) tried to stifle giggles throughout the rest of the meeting. I never have been able to sing hat song without thinking of him, even though it's been changed. Don't dare ask anyone else! I do love hymns--ours and anyone else's!
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