« Prev A Hymn Written on Two Shores Next »


“Saviour, sprinkle many nations” has been called the “loveliest of missionary hymns.” The praise is scarcely too great. All the elements that make a great hymn are present here. Scriptural in language and devotional in spirit, it is fervent and touching in its appeal and exquisitely beautiful in poetic expression. It was given to the Church by Arthur Cleveland Coxe, an American bishop, in 1851, and since that time it has made its victorious course around the world.

A study of the hymn is interesting. The first stanza at once suggests the words of Jesus, uttered in the last week of His life, when Greek pilgrims in Jerusalem came seeking for Him: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” In the second stanza the author no doubt had in mind the immortal words of St. Augustine: “Thou, O Lord, hast made me for Thyself, and my heart can find no rest till it rest in Thee.” And in the final stanza we find almost an echo of the thought expressed by Paul in Romans: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”

Curiously enough, this beautiful missionary lyric was written on two shores of the Atlantic. It was on Good Friday, in the year 1850, that the first stanza was written 408 by Bishop Coxe at his home in Hartford, Conn. For lack of time, however, or because the needed inspiration did not come to him the unfinished manuscript was laid aside.

The next year he visited England, and one day, while wandering about the campus of Magdalen College, Oxford, the thought flashed through his mind that he had never completed the hymn. Finding a scrap of paper and a pencil, he sat down to write, and in a few moments the touching words of the two concluding stanzas were composed, and the hymn was sent on its way to stir the heart of the world.

Bishop Coxe was not primarily a hymn-writer. His fame rests chiefly on his religious ballads. It was in 1840, when a young student of twenty-two, that he published his first volume, entitled “Christian Ballads.” These are mostly moral poems, impressive and challenging in character, but not usually suitable as hymns. One of them, however, bearing the name of “Chelsea,” has yielded the famous hymn, “O where are kings and empires now?”

An interesting story is told concerning this hymn. In 1873 the General Conference of the Evangelical Alliance was held in New York City. It was a period when many scientific objections had been raised regarding the value of prayer, and many anxious souls were fearful that the faith of the Church was being shaken to its foundations. President Woolsey of Yale University gave the opening address. After he had referred to the wave of skepticism that had swept over the world, particularly in regard to prayer, he looked out upon the assembly with a quiet, confident smile lighting his features, and then quoted the first stanza of Bishop Coxe’s hymn:

O where are kings and empires now,

Of old that went and came?


But, Lord, Thy church is praying yet,

A thousand years the same.

“For a moment,” writes an eye-witness, “there was silence. In another moment the full significance of the reference had flashed on every mind, and the response was instantaneous and universal. Shouts, waving of handkerchiefs, clapping of hands, stamping of feet—I never knew anything like it. Round after round continued, until the storm of applause ended in a burst of grateful tears. No one doubted that the Church still believed in prayer and that the tempest had passed without the loss of a sail.”

In the same volume of “Christian Ballads” there appears another little poem, most appealing in its simplicity:

In the silent midnight-watches,

List—thy bosom door!

How it knocketh, knocketh, knocketh,

Knocketh, evermore!

Say not ’tis thy pulse is beating:

’Tis thy heart of sin;

’Tis thy Saviour knocks, and crieth,

“Rise, and let Me in!”

For a time Coxe gave promise of becoming the “John Keble of America,” but after his election as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, pressing duties interfered with his literary work, and in later years he wrote few poems.

Bishop Coxe was the son of a noted Presbyterian minister, Rev. Samuel H. Cox. He was born in Menham, N. J., in 1818. After his graduation from the University of the City of New York, he decided to leave the Presbyterian Church and to enter the Episcopalian fold. At the same time he added an “e” to the end of his name, much to his father’s displeasure! He died in 1896 at the age of seventy-eight years.

« Prev A Hymn Written on Two Shores Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection