Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Come, Ye Disconsolate

For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up;
they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me:
O Lord, make haste to help me.
~ (Psalm 40:12-13)

Every person, at some point (and probably many) in life, will know profound sorrow and anguish. It may be the passing of a loved one, some material or financial devastation, or a diagnosis of serious illness. It may be the dashing of one's hopes and dreams: the failure of a business venture, or worse, the breakup of a marriage. Or it may be the guilt, shame, and regret that usually follow upon gravely sinful conduct. Whatever it is, the sufferer may be crushed by feelings of loneliness, helplessness, and hopelessness--unless he or she finds someone who can sympathize, ease the burden, and provide encouragement and hope.

One of the most precious truths we know is that such comfort is available to every person, without condition, 24/7: our very own Savior and brother Jesus Christ. He entreats us to  "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)  He is our advocate with the Father, our "great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . . we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:14-16)

So we are reminded in one of the greatest hymns of reassurance, Come, Ye Disconsolate. The text was written in 1816 by Thomas Moore (1779-1852), an Irish-born poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer. Under the title "Relief in Prayer," it was first published that same year in Moore's Sacred Songs, Duets and Trios, one of 32 hymn texts in that collection.

Thomas Moore, 1817
We don't often see the word "disconsolate" in modern American usage; it has been defined as "without consolation or solace; hopelessly unhappy; inconsolable."  At least outwardly, Thomas Moore's career  was not of the sort one would expect to engender despair.  Son of a Dublin grocer, Moore initially studied law but achieved fame, even as a young man, once he turned his talents to poetry, music, and the performing arts. He married an actress, traveled extensively in Europe and America, and was a widely read poet, playwrite, songwriter, biographer, novelist, and social critic. He also became a popular society figure in London, hobnobbing with the Prince of Wales and performing for the future Queen Victoria. He is still fondly remembered today for the lyrics to the Irish patriotic song The Minstrel Boy, as well as those to such romantic songs as The Last Rose of Summer and Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms. Nevertheless, his personal life was dogged by tragedy, including the deaths of all his five children within his lifetime, and a stroke in later life, which disabled him from performances--the activity for which he was most renowned.

Thomas Hastings
While Moore's career flourished, "Relief in Prayer" remained obscure until it was reworked in 1831 by American composer and choir master Thomas Hastings (1784-1872). He was born in Connecticut, moving with his family at the age of two to Clinton, Oneida County, New York. There, amid rough frontier life, his opportunities for education were small; but at an early age he developed a taste for music, and began teaching it in 1806. Seeking a wider field, he went, in 1817, to Troy, then to Albany, and in 1823 to Utica, New York, where he directed the Oneida County Choir and was editor of a religious magazine, The Western Recorder. In 1832 Hastings was invited by twelve churches to come to New York City to improve their psalm singing. He stayed there the rest of his life, composing, writing, teaching, and directing. He was a prolific writer of hymn tunes, and what fellow hymnist Lowell Mason called the "simple, easy, and solemn" style of his music remains a major influence on the hymns of the Protestant churches to this day. Hastings is best remembered today as the composer of TOPLADY, the tune for the hymn Rock of Ages.

Hastings made a few minor changes to the first and second stanzas of Moore's text, and substituted his own third stanza, when he published the hymn under the title Come, Ye Disconsolate in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship (Utica, New York: 1831-32), compiled by Hastings and Lowell Mason. It is generally agreed that these changes made Moore's poem easier to sing and more suitable for evangelical church use. [See Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 365 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, Kregel Publications 1990, 2002, p. 199]

Samuel Webbe, Sr.
For the hymn's tune, Hastings adapted one originally set for solo voice to the Marian hymn "Alma redemptoris mater" by English composer and organist Samuel Webbe, Sr. (1740-1816) in his Collection of Motetts or Antiphons (1792).  The tune is now generally known as CONSOLATION, although it is sometimes given as ALMA or CONSOLATOR.

The version of the text below, found in modern hymnals, incorporates the changes to Moore's original words (which can be read here) made by Thomas Hastings:

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Joy of the desolate, light of the straying,
Hope of the penitent, fadeless and pure!
Here speaks the Comforter, tenderly saying,
"Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot cure."

Here see the Bread of Life, see waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the feast of love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.
Here is Come, Ye Disconsolate as it appeared in Hastings' 1831 collection Spiritual Songs for Social Worship:


 Here is a presentation in a more modern notation style:


Come, Ye Disconsolate is an invitation, a call for sufferers and sinners to come to Christ and find healing (st. 1), hope, and comfort (st. 2), and to enjoy spiritual sustenance in the feast of the Lamb (st. 3). The text emphasizes the consolation that Christ offers to those who turn to him in faith. To Him we may bring our anguish, and cast upon Him all our cares (1 Peter 5:7). Comfort and salvation are promised to sinners who approach Him in repentance (2 Cor. 7:10; John 14:16-18). Indeed, Jesus Himself is the bread of life who gives life unto the world (John 6:32-33); it is through Him that we can see the waters flowing from the throne of God (Rev. 22:1-2) and are able to participate in the "feast of love," the bounty of joy in oneness with God that looks forward to the eternal marriage feast (Rev. 19:9). Come, Ye Disconsolate surely ranks as one of the most moving hymns of consolation and reassurance, along with such treasures as It is Well With My Soul.


We know the great impact that hymns can have on the lives of individuals: sparking eternal insights, stirring emotions, creating precious memories of childhood, family, and home. Sometimes, one hymn can have a deep and lasting effect on the lives of many who hear it at the same time, and thus on history itself. And so it was with Come, Ye Disconsolate.

On the night of July 2, 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, as many as four thousand dead and wounded soldiers carpeted the 26 acres of the (now) infamous "Wheat Field," where some of the most vicious fighting of the Battle of Gettysburg had just taken place between the Army of the Potomac (Union) and and the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederate). As darkness gathered, the field became a macabre “no-man’s land” between the exhausted armies. As reported by Cpt. George Hillyer of the Ninth Georgia Infantry regiment, which spent the night lying within earshot of the Wheat Field after being beaten back from the nearby hill known as Little Round Top, one of the men between the lines began to sing, loudly enough to be heard on both sides.
“He was probably a boy raised in some religious home in the South,” Hillyer recalled later, “where the good old hymns were the standard music.” There were “thousands of desperately wounded men lying on the ground within easy hearing of the singer,” the captain observed,“ and as his voice rang out like a flute . . . not only the wounded, but also five or ten thousand and maybe more of the men of both armies could hear and distinguish the words.”  The lines that they heard had been penned four decades earlier by an Irish poet named Thomas Moore and then set to music and published in 1831:
Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish; / Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel; / Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; / Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.
When the unidentified man finished singing, thousands of soldiers on both sides clapped and cheered.  [See Robert Tracy McKenzie, "The Battlefield at Gettysburg–Final Reflections" (November 1, 2013);  Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Vintage Books, 2013), p. 570]

Union dead at on the Gettysburg battlefield


Several high-quality video renditions of Come, Ye Disconsolate can be found online, although there seems to be a trend to re-arrange the Webbe-Hastings tune or give the hymn an entirely new musical setting. This writer prefers the hymn as originally set, but the modern efforts are also impressive.

In the video below, the hymn is sung beautifully to the traditional tune CONSOLATION, by an unidentified choir. The Moore-Hastings text is included, so it's easy to follow along.

The performance below is by Freddie Ashby, Hope Shepherd, and Daron Bradford to a more reflective, plaintive arrangement. The video itself is beautiful and moving, as is the orchestration:

Yet another touching modern arrangement, by contemporary Christian composer and producer Rob Gardner, is sung in the video below by Loni Hawkins.

* * * * *
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
and there shall be no more death,
neither sorrow, nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain:
for the former things are passed away.