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John Leland's Hymns
By Henry S. Burrage, 1888

     Elder John Leland, as he was generally known, was born in Grafton, Mass., May 14, 1754. When twenty years of age he was baptized at Northbridge by Rev. Noah Alden, of Bellingham. Shortly afterward he decided, in accordance with his conviction of duty, to devote himself to the work of the Christian ministry, and, in the autumn of 1774, he united with the Bellingham Baptist church, from which he received a license to preach. In October, 1775, he went to Virginia, where he was ordained. He labored in various parts of that State, and under his pungent preaching
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of the truth hundreds were brought to Christ. He remained in Virginia about fifteen years, and during this time he preached three thousand and nine sermons, and baptized seven hundred converts. Returning to his native state, he took up his residence in Cheshire,where he spent the remainder of his life. His evangelistic labors were continued, and the number of the persons he had baptized, down to 1821, he gave as one thousand three hundred and fifty-two. His last sermon was preached at North Adams, Mass., January 8, 1841. Taken severely ill that night, he lingered until the evening of the fourteenth, when he gently entered into rest.

     Mr. Leland was a prolific writer. His occasional sermons and addresses and essays, on a great variety of subjects, moral, religious and political, were published, after his death, in a large octavo volume, with notice of his life by Miss L. F. Greene, of Lanesborough, Mass. Many of his hymns are included in this collection. The best of these is the following, found in most of the hymn books of .the present day:

The day is past and gone; 
The evening shades appear; 
Oh, may I ever keep in mind, 
The night of death draws near! 

I lay my garments by, 
Upon my bed to rest; 
So death shall soon disrobe us all 
And leave my soul undrest. 

Lord keep me safe this night, 
Secure from all my fears; 
May angels guard me while I sleep, 
Till morning light appears. 

And when I early rise, 
To view the unwearied sun, 
May I set out to win the prize, 
And after glory run. 

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And when my days are past, And I from time remove, Oh, may I in thy bosom rest, The bosom of thy love.

     Of this hymn the late Rev. S. W. Duffield ("English Hymns," p. 515) says: "There is an Ambrosian simplicity about this hymn which suggests at once a pure and unaffected piety, like that of the early church. The piece is really classic in its unpretending beauty." And he cites from the "Century Magazine," September, 1885, the following incident, in which there is a reference to this hymn. It is from a lady's record in a diary kept during the siege of Vicksburg (June 5, 1863), when the house where she lived was struck by a shell.

     "The candles were useless in the dense smoke, and it was many minutes before we could see. Then we found the entire side of the room torn out. The soldiers who had rushed in said: 'This is an eighty-pound Parrott.' It had entered though the front, burst on the pallet-bed which was in tatters; the toilet service and everything else in the room smashed. The soldiers assisted H to board up the breaks with planks to keep out prowlers, and we went to bed in the cellar as usual. This morning the yard is partially ploughed by a couple that fell there in the night. I think this house, so large and prominent from the river, is perhaps taken for headquarters, and specially shelled. As we descend at night to the lower regions, I think of the evening hymn that grandmother taught me when a child:

'Lord, keep us safe this night, 
Secure from all our fears; 
May angels guard us while we sleep, 
Till morning light appears.'" 

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     The following hymns by Mr. Leland, beside the one now given, were published as early as 1809: "Wandering pilgrims, mourning Christians," "Blessed be God for all," "Come and taste along with me," "How arduous is the preacher's fight," "Brethren, I have come once more," "Think, O my soul, the dreadful day," " I set myself against the Lord," "Christians, if your hearts be warm."

     Writing concerning his labors in Virginia in 1788, Mr. Leland says: "I had a meeting at John Lea's, in Louisa, when something seemed to descend on the people, like that which took place at Mr. Hodgers' but the effects were not so great. The next day there were five to be baptized. The day was very cold. While Mr. Bowles was preaching to the people, I composed the hymn, "Christians, if your hearts be warm." This hymn, a great favorite with the fathers, first contained three stanzas, and three were subsequently added. Another hymn by Mr. Leland. Now the Savior stands a pleading, was found in most Baptist collections a half century ago. Mr. Leland was also the author of "Once there was a precious season," "Come heavenly muse, inspire my heart," "Prostrate before our weeping eyes," "How long, dear Savior, O how long," "How solemn the rite we behold," "If grace coufd reach the dying thief," "Jesus, who reigns in heaven above," "Attending angels long have waited,"

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"When the Savior, long triumphant," "When God revealed his grand design," "Thus saith the eternal God," and many other hymns.

[From Henry S. Burrage, Baptist Hymn Writers and their Hymns, 1888. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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