Hymns in the Key of Strang

Each year at the John Whitmer Historical Association conference we have an ecumenical Restoration devotional service — i.e., one that includes multiple Latter Day Saint traditions. This year’s conference will be held near Old Voree, Wisconsin, once and current headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). Our conference’s Sunday devotional will be held in the Strangite chapel and will include common hymns from the early church (published in Emma’s 1835 hymnal) as well as distinct hymns from a number Restoration heritage churches. Selections will include hymns from the LDS Church (Brighamite), the Community of Christ (Josephite), the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Josephite), the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), and of course the Strangite church.

The Strangite hymns are interesting and I thought I’d share them here. (They are long, but I guarantee that they’re worth reading. The hymns were selected by Brian Hales, Alma Blair, and Alex Baugh, who will be leading the devotional.)

As a brief background, when Joseph Smith was martyred there was no clear successor. The most likely candidate Hyrum Smith died with Joseph and their brother Samuel followed a month later. Sidney Rigdon was the seniormost surviving church leader, but his bid to take control of church headquarters failed when Brigham Young successfully argued to a Nauvoo congregation that Joseph could have no successor. “You are now without a prophet present with you in the flesh to guide you; but you are not without apostles,” announced Young a month later in a general letter to the church.[1]

A majority of Mormons at Nauvoo and a plurality of the overall Mormon population joined Brigham’s faction, which ultimately became the LDS Church in Utah. Meanwhile, not every Mormon was satisfied having a church without a prophet in the flesh and many began to look to James J. Strang of Wisconsin — who announced his own claim to the prophetic mantle based on angelic ordination and based a letter that he claimed appointed him as Joseph’s successor. Strang sent out missionaries to the scattered branches of the church and his church organization quickly emerged as the leading rival to Young’s. A number of Mormon notables flocked to Strang’s cause, including the last of the Smith brothers, William.

The first of the “Strangite hymns” in our devotional was actually a hymn of the whole church prior to 1844. The Brighamites quickly dropped it (for reasons that should be obvious) and you won’t find it in the LDS Hymnal today.

A Church without a Prophet is not the Church for Me

The God that others worship, is not the God for me.
He has no parts nor body, and cannot hear nor see,
But I’ve a God that lives above,
A God of power and of love, A God of revelation.
O that’s the God for me, O that’s the God for me, O that’s the God for me.

A church without a Prophet, is not the church for me,
It has no head to lead it, in it I would not be,
But I’ve a church not built by man,
Cut from the mountain without hand,
A church with gifts and blessings,
O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me.

A church without Apostles, is not the church for me,
It’s like a ship dismasted, afloat upon the sea,
But I’ve a church that’s always led
With the twelve stars around her head,
A church with good foundation.
O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me.

The hope that Gentiles cherish is not the hope for me,
It has no faith nor knowledge, far from it I would be;
But I’ve a hope that will not fail,
Which reaches far within the veil,
Which hope is like an anchor.
O that’s the hope for me, O that’s the hope for me, O that’s the hope for me.

The heaven of sectarians, is not the heaven for me.
So doubtful its location, neither on land nor sea;
But I’ve a heaven on the earth,
The land and home that gave me birth,
A heaven of light and knowledge,
O that’s the heaven for me, O that’s the heaven for me, O that’s the heaven for me.

A church without a gathering is not the church for me.
The Saviour would not own it, wherever it may be;
But I’ve a church that’s called out
From false traditions, fears and doubt,
A gathering dispensation,
O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me, O that’s the church for me.

Cool restoration-specific song! (You can just imagine the Strangite missionaries singing it to taunt their Brighamite brethren.)

Next up is a hymn by Charles B. Thompson. Thompson was an early leader in the Strangite organization, serving on the Voree High Council. He later broke with Strang and organized his own church called “Jehovah’s Presbytery of Zion” and founded a United Order colony in western Iowa called Preparation.[2]

The Prophet J. J. Strang

Now we’ll sing with one accord,
For a Prophet of the Lord;
Bringing forth his precious word,
Cheers the Saints as formerly.

When the Church in darkness was,
Lo, he sought their bands to loose;
And he called them, then to choose
The way of Truth and Righteousness.

For the Prophet Joseph’s dead,
And the Lord through him hath said,
James I’ve planted in his stead,
To lead the Church in Righteousness.

And a holy Angel then,
Brought the interpreters to him;
That he might translate for them,
Ancient Records sacredly.

Even James he now inspires,
Yea, his heart he truly fires;
With the light that he desires,
For the work of Righteousness.

In Voree the plates were found,
Showing who were there cut down;
Unto James the same were shown,
And he translated sacredly.

And the law which Joseph gave,
To the Church, the Saints to save;
Teaching us how we should live,
He enforces rigidly.

Precious are his years to come,
While the righteous gather home
For the great Millennium,
Where he’ll rest in blessedness.

Prudent in this world of woes,
He will triumph o’er his foes,
While the realm of Zion grows,
Pure for eternity.

Note that the hymn also cites the Voree Plates (which I previously discussed here) as evidence supporting Strang’s authority.

The final hymn was penned by William Smith and it’s a long one. William was the last surviving Smith brother and a member of the original Council of the Twelve. Initially he indicated his support for Brigham Young’s leadership of the church as head of the Twelve, but he later broke with Young over perceived slights to Smith family honor. After attempting his own church organization, William quickly merged his group with Strang’s church. At the time, however, Strang opposed plural marriage, which William had embraced and the two parted ways. William later made further attempts at heading his own church organization and also offered to rejoin Young’s organization, if Young would reinstate him in the Twelve. Young ignored that offer as did William’s nephew, Joseph Smith III, who refused to accept William as an apostle or patriarch of the younger Smith’s newly Reorganized church. Eventually William joined the RLDS Church as a high priest.[3]

The City of Voree (Sung to “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”)

PART 1
All hail! ye saints both far and near,
My muse invites you all to hear
Glad tidings of great joy and peace,
They’ll make your doubts and darkness cease.
The dark foreboding clouds obscure
The light that once was clear and sure,
Yet there’s a light you now may see
In the fair City of Voree.

There is a land the Lord hath blessed,
A land of peace — a land of rest,
He’s made a secure abode,
To all that love the word of God,
A place of knowledge and of light,
Of wisdom, glory, strength and might,
Ho! all ye saints then come and see,
It is the City of Voree.

This pleasant land abundance yields,
And with rich blessings crowns the fields,
‘Tis surely a luxuriant soil
And well repays the laborers toil:
All needful blessings God bestows,
To make the place a sweet repose,
That saints from suffering might be free,
In the fair City of Voree.

The angels too, have blessed the place,
With messages of truth and grace
Sent forth from shining worlds above,
To show God’s wisdom, power, and love.
Thus truth springs out from under ground,
To testify to all around,
That James, a prophet’s called to be,
And lead God’s Church in fair Voree.

God has raised up a Prophet there,
His last-day Kingdom to prepare,
And make his will and purpose known,
To all that will his Prophet own:
Thus hidden things are brought to light,
And Earth and Heaven their power unite,
To bring a blessed jubilee,
In the fair City of Voree.

And ensign God has raised up,
It waves upon the mountain’s top —
The standard of the King of Peace,
To gather Israel’s scattered race.
Then haste ye heralds, bear the news,
To gentile nations, and the Jews;
Let Israel’s remnants gathered be
In the fair City of Voree.

There doth the escaped of Israel dwell,
Where ancient saints in battle fell,
Who by transgression fell a prey
To wicked men in bloody fray.
Then let the saints who now are blessed
With that delightsome place of rest,
Keep God’s commands and faithful be,
In the fair City of Voree.

God, did his servant Joseph call,
To make his mercy know to all,
His last-day purposes reveal
And all the tribes of Israel seal —
But wicked men, in bloody strife,
Have sought and taken his sweet life;
But now his place is filled you see,
By James J. Strang, of fair Voree.

PART 2
God hath renewed his work again,
To cleanse his people from their sin,
By which they have defiled his cause,
And set at naught his holy laws;
Then purge yourselves, ye saints from sin,
That you in peace may enter in,
And with rich blessings favored by,
In the fair City of Voree

Hark! what sad tidings — ah! and true,
We hear from beautiful Nauvoo,
How fallen, Oh! how fallen are,
Some chosen ones, through Satan’s snare.
Frail man, how weak — how prone to sin,
How easy let the tempter in
With all his snares of lust and pride
When they in Christ do not abide.

In ancient days we find that man
Did oft prevent God’s holy plan,
Corrupt the Gospel of his Son,
And fall from grace as they have done.
Then let the saints take heed lest they —
By Satan’s wiles are led astray,
Since through God’s mercy, he
Will give us peace in fair Voree.

We look at Solomon the wise,
And see how wide his glory lies;
He talked with God as face to face,
Yet stained his name with deep disgrace;
For he had seven hundred wives,
(Poor things, they must have led sad lives,)
We want no Solomons you see,
In the fair City of Voree.

No boasting spirit need to dare,
With carnal weapons enter there,
But put the Gospel armor on,
And God’s sure promise rest upon;
Then let all strife and boasting cease,
For Jesus is a friend to peace,
And he has promised it shall be
A place of peace in fair Voree.

A wanton, vain, or trifling mind,
No warm reception there will find,
But calm, sedate, and mild and meek.
Are those who God’s true glory seek,
Then let God’s law which fools deride,
Be all your boast — be all your pride,
Direct your ways that you may be
A holy people in Voree.

No black-let gentry need to come,
Intent to make Voree their home,
To bring on saints a deep disgrace,
And stain with infamy the place.
They’ll find no genial spirits there,
The Shepherd guards his flock with care;
All such will be advised to flee
From the fair City of Voree.

‘Gainst speculation we declaim,
‘Tis Satan’s legalized game —
A gentile plot — to mischief prone,
And saints should let this game alone;
Let brethren help each other there,
That God may hear their honest prayer,
And send them blessings full and free.
In the fair City of Voree.

We’ll not invite those saints to come,
Who love two Gods instead of one,
For by Christ’s teaching you may see,
That God and mammon don’t agree,
And those who love God by protest,
And love the world a little best,
Will find we hope small company,
In the fair City of Voree.

To Sabbath-breakers we will say,
Do not profane God’s holy day;
It is a day the Lord hath blessed,
A day of peace and sacred rest;
Then call the Sabbath a delight,
And in God’s worship all unite,
That you may dwell there, long and free,
In the fair City of Voree.

We’ll not invite our brethren there,
Who would not of such things beware.
And call on Israel’s God to aid,
That Satan’s hellish power be staid;
Fore surely he comes down in power,
Among the saints — in this sad hour,
In fair Nauvoo — but let them flee,
They will be safe in fair Voree.

Then let the heralds loud proclaim
These tidings, in the Saviors name,
Yea, let the messengers of peace,
Proclaim old Israel’s full release;
Let Zion in her beauty shine,
Being clothed upon with light divine,
Her converts come and be made free,
In the fair City of Voree.

Ye angels shout the harvest home,
The time to reap the wheat has come,
Be careful how you bring the tares,
They prove to saints mischievous snares,
Let all the bad fish ‘scape the net,
We’ve had enough — Lord save us yet
From Satan’s power — that we may be
A holy people in Voree.

Now let the saints with heart and voice,
In these glad tidings, all rejoice,
For darkness brooded o’er God’s cause,
While chosen men transgressed his laws;
But now the light doth shine so clear,
We’ll cast away all doubt and fear;
Forsake our sins, and gathered be,
In the fair City of Voree.

Like what you hear? There’s still time to register and be a part of our conference this month, Sept. 25-28th, in the fair City of Voree! Hope to see you there.

VIEW THE COMPLETE JWHA PROGRAM HERE
REGISTER TO ATTEND THE CONFERENCE HERE

___________________________________________
NOTES
[1] “An Epistle of the Twelve,” Times and Seasons 5:15 (Aug. 15, 1844).
[2] For the history of Thompson’s group, see Junia Braby, “Charles B. Thompson: Harbinger of Zion or Master of Humbuggery?” in the JWHA Journal 23 (2003): 149-164.
[3] For the history of William Smith, see Kyle R. Walker, “William Smith’s Quest for Ecclesiastical Station: A Schismatic Odyssey, 1844-93″ in Bringhurst and Hamer, Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism (Independence, Missouri: John Whitmer Books, 2007), 92-114.

Comments

  1. Larry the cable guy says:

    I am submitting The City of Voree as this week’s rest hymn.

  2. I started researching more about other LDS Restoration traditions back in April, when I wanted to understand more about what was going on with the FLDS church, and it is so fascinating to me. Interesting to see points of doctrine I think of as obscure KFD things popping up in hymns that our forebears used to sing. Great post, wish I could join you all!

  3. Re Larry’s rest hymn – That would be awesome. If my husband ever gets in another music calling, we are so doing that.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    I’ve been singing “The Prophet J. J. Strang” in my office to the tune of “Book of Mormon Stories.” It doesn’t quite work but it sounds awesome. The Beaver Island Hymnal must be a good’un (was there one?).

  5. Rebecca, just so you know — John’s Scattering of the Saints: Schism within Mormonism is the definitive work on the various branches of the Restoration. It is a _must have_ book.

  6. And I thought “I Believe in Christ” seemed long!

    This is great fun, thanks for sharing them with us. Of course I would argue some nuances in the Brigham/Sidney and Brigham/William kerfuffles (grin).

  7. “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition”

  8. Mike, hunh?

  9. Yes! Mike T if it helps. -

  10. Really fascinating stuff. There’s just so much about the early days of the church I haven’t learned yet. Thanks.

  11. Larry (1): if you guys skip some of the verses, be sure you sing the Solomon one:


    We look at Solomon the wise,
    And see how wide his glory lies;
    He talked with God as face to face,
    Yet stained his name with deep disgrace;
    For he had seven hundred wives,
    (Poor things, they must have led sad lives,)
    We want no Solomons you see,
    In the fair City of Voree.

    That one’s especially ironic given the fact its author, William, was already a polygamist.

    Rebecca (2-3) and meems (10): Couldn’t agree more, I’m constantly fascinated by the things I learn as I look at the movement’s diversity.

    Steve (4): I have the music and I just had Mike play it for me on the piano. It’s very catchy, but I don’t recognize it.

    Mark (5): Thanks for the plug!

    J (6): Quibbling the nuance is half the fun.

    Mike (7,9): I second Steve’s hunh… (8)

  12. Robin Jensen says:

    John, great post. I worked a bit with Brian on these hymns and have only a little to add.

    The music for “A Church without a Prophet” can be found here:

    Michael Hicks has written on this song in several of his articles and his book. I recall seeing a reference to a meeting of Brighamites singing the song, so I don’t believe they completely dropped the song from their repertoire, but the feeling from the Strangites was that the Brighamites certainly did (“dropped it like a hot potatoe” are the words I seem to recall being used in the Voree Herald).

    The second song can obviously be sung to the tune “Now we Sing with One Accord” LDS Hymn number 25. It’s a classic W. W. Phelps hymn, which I’m sure means Phelps got the words and music from another source (I’m sure Hicks has traced the song’s history, but I’m too lazy to look it up).

    There was no attribution to “The City of Voree,” when it was first published in the Voree Herald (July 1846), but we assume it was William Smith by the reference to him in the Friends’ Weekly Intelligencer (October 17, 1846) available here:

    William Smith, in addition to his apostolic and patriarchal character, is a rhymer. I have several of his poems in my possession, — two verses of one of his efforts in that line, may not be inappropriate here. [followed by two stanzas of the poem]

  13. Fun post, John. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to make it to JWHA this year.

  14. Hicks notes that “The God that Others Worship” “made its way into the Mormon hymnbook and was even sung by choirs,” citing the Deseret News‘s coverage of Lehi’s July 24th celebration in 1857 (Mormonism and Music, 73n.61). Brigham Young excommunicated all 25 choir members the next day for daring to sing that cursed song.

    Dan Jones also printed the hymn in the July 1848 issue of Prophet of the Jubilee.

  15. Holden Caulfield says:

    Given the length of “The City of Voree” I’m recommending it for High Council Sunday (each month).

  16. John, I take back what I said yesterday. As a musical person, this article may be even cooler to me than yesterday’s.

  17. John Hamer says:

    Thanks, Robin (12) and Justin (14) for setting the record straight on “The Church without a Prophet”/”The God that Others Worship.” We’ll try to avoid getting anyone excommunicated for singing it this year.

    Following up on the story of William the Rhymer: after he left Strang and organized his own church, he published a tract that included a fantastic Williamite hymn, which proclaimed his right to the presidency by blood lineage:

    The Seer William God doth call,
    His brothers to succeed,
    He welcomes home good Mormons all
    He’s of the promised seed.

    There’s no denying it, that man could rhyme!

  18. Brigham Young excommunicated all 25 choir members the next day for daring to sing that cursed song.

    Holy Moly–that BY! That’s one way to kill a ward choir!

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    Very fun, John. I am so bummed that I have a conflict for JWHA this year. I’m hoping next year will work better for me.

  20. John Hamer says:

    Christopher (13) and Kevin (19): we’ll miss you guys too, but we’ll catch you next year when JWHA will once again go back to everyone’s favorite county to go back to: Jackson County, Missouri.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,625 other followers