If teenagers are in our families, there can be stressful situations, at times. But in Henry Alford’s family, I am sure there were moments of rejoicing when he shared his statement of faith that he had written in the front of his Bible.
“I do this day, in the presence of God and my own soul, renew my covenant with God and solemnly determine to become His, and to do His work, as far as in me lies.”
He was born in London, England on Oct. 7, 1810, to loving Christian parents. He was greatly influenced by a grandfather and father who were Anglican clergyman. Their example led to his personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
After his graduation from Trinity College in Cambridge, he began his lifelong ministry as a theologian, poet and musician.
Dr. Alford was appointed as the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, which was known as the “mother-church” of England. His death in 1871 at the age of 61, left a void in the hearts of many people whom God had touched through his ministry. But the world was left with one of the most memorable hymns of thanksgiving in these beautiful words.
“Come Ye Thankful People, Come” was written to express our need to come and rejoice, with deep gratitude, for our many blessings.
They were to celebrate the times of harvest festival in the English countryside. It is also an invitation for all of us to join in loving response to our faithful God:
“Come ye thankful people, come. Raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gathered in, ‘er the winter storms begin.”
The last two stanzas summarize the parable that Jesus tells about the wheat and tares in Matthew 13. The hymn closes with a prayer of anticipation about “our final harvest home” which is in heaven.
Other hymns were written by Dr. Alford and published in three hymnals in 1844, 1867 and 1868. But it is the simple and powerful, hymn of thanksgiving that we remember.
The original tune for “Come Ye Thankful People Come” was sung for only a short time. Later in 1861, there was a new tune composed by George Elvey, who was the organist in the royal chapel of Windsor Castle. That tune is the familiar one that we sing today.
But the original words, by Dr. Henry Alford, fulfilled the commitment to his Lord, as he lived out the promise he made at age 16.
His whole life was a testimony to that promise and this hymn is a tribute to that life.
We will also rejoice at Thanksgiving, as we sing and remember the words from Psalm 100, that proclaim: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all ye lands — Enter His gates with thanksgiving.”
Editor’s note: Lucy Neeley Adams, who lived in Lake Junaluska for decades, now lives in Hermitage, Tennessee. She has written hymn stories for The Mountaineer since the early 2000s. She claims this is her last column, but this editor is hoping she will still send in an occasional hymn story as our readers will be so disappointed if she doesn’t.