Words: , 1819.

Music: Mis­sion­ary Hymn, , 1823. This was Ma­son’s first pub­lished hymn tune. One Ma­ry How­ard, of Sa­van­nah, Georg­ia, had come across these lyr­ics, but she had no mu­sic for them. So she sent them to Ma­son, who was work­ing as a bank clerk and sing­ing teach­er in Sa­van­nah. Ma­son wrote “Mis­sion­ary Hymn” in half an hour. Al­ter­nate tunes:

  • Aurelia, , 1864
  • Calcutta, mel­o­dy by (1783-1826)
  • Green­land (Clark), , Con­gre­ga­tion­al Har­mo­nist, 1828
  • Lan­ca­shire, , 1835
  • Webb, , 1830

On Whit Sun­day, 1819, Dr. Ship­ley, Vi­car of Wrex­ham and Dean of St. Asaph, preached in Wrex­ham Church in aid of the So­ci­e­ty for the Pro­pa­ga­tion of the Gos­pel, on be­half of whose East­ern mis­sions a Roy­al Let­ter had just been is­sued au­thor­iz­ing col­lect­ions in ev­ery church. A course of Sunday ev­en­ing lec­tures al­so be­gan the same day in Wrex­ham Church, and He­ber was to give the first lec­ture. Dean Ship­ley, his fa­ther-in-law, asked He­ber on the Sa­tur­day to write ‘some­thing for them to sing in the morn­ing.’ H­eber moved from the ta­ble where the dean and a few friends were sit­ting to a dist­ant part of the room. Af­ter a lit­tle time the dean asked, ‘What have you writ­ten?’ He­ber read the first three vers­es. ‘There, there, that will do very well,’ was the com­ment. ‘No, no, the sense is not com­plete,’ was the po­et’s re­ply. He wrote the fourth verse, but the dean would not list­en, when he begged ‘Let me add ano­ther; oh, let me add ano­ther.’ All was done in twen­ty min­utes. It was said to have been sung next morn­ing in Wrex­ham Church to an old bal­lad tune, ‘Twas when the seas were roar­ing.’ The hymn was pub­lished in the Evan­gel­i­cal Mag­a­zine, 1822, and in the Christ­ian Ob­serv­er, February, 1823. The orig­in­al MS. was long in the pos­ses­sion of Dr. Raf­fles, of Li­ver­pool. He prob­ab­ly ob­tained it from the print­er, Ken­ne­dy, who set up the type as a boy and who was a friend of his. It was sold aft­er his death for forty guin­eas. He­ber first wrote ‘sav­age’ in ver. 2, but altered it in his MS. to ‘heath­en.’ The MS. is in the John Ry­lands Lib­ra­ry…

Heber says in his Jour­nal of a Voya­ge to In­dia, September, 1823, ‘Though we were now too far off Cey­lon to catch the odours of the land, yet it is, we are as­sured, per­fect­ly true that such odours are per­cep­ti­ble to a very con­sid­er­a­ble dist­ance. In the Straits of Ma­lac­ca a smell like that of a haw­thorn hedge is com­mon­ly ex­per­ienced; and from Cey­lon, at thir­ty or for­ty miles, un­der cer­tain cir­cum­stanc­es, a yet more agree­a­ble scent is inhaled.’ This note is an in­ter­est­ing com­ment on ver. 2.

This hymn is con­sid­ered one of the fin­est mis­sion­ary hymns in the Eng­lish lan­guage. One won­ders what we’d have re­ceived had Heber been al­lowed to con­tin­ue writ­ing!

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

What though the spicy breezes blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;
Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile?
In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown;
The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone.

Shall we, whose souls are lighted with wisdom from on high,
Shall we to those benighted the lamp of life deny?
Salvation! O salvation! The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth’s remotest nation has learned Messiah’s Name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.