History of Hymns: 'Joys Are Flowing Like a River' ('Blessed Quietness')
By C. Michael Hawn
“Joys Are Flowing Like a River” (“Blessed Quietness”)
By Manie P. Ferguson
The Faith We Sing, 2142
Joys are flowing like a river,
Since the Comforter has come;
He abides with us forever
Makes the trusting heart his home.
Blessed quietness, holy quietness,
Blest assurance in my soul,
On the stormy sea, speaking peace to me,
How the billows cease to roll.
Manie Payne Ferguson (1850–1932), a pioneer of the Holiness Movement in the United States, was born in Carlow County, Ireland. She married Theodore Pollock Ferguson (1853–1920) in 1883. He was a minister in the former United Presbyterian Church and a convert under the ministry of American evangelist Charles Finney (1792–1875) in Oberlin, Ohio. After relocating to Santa Barbara, California, Theodore was fully sanctified in a revival meeting in 1880. He became an itinerant preacher, then moved to Los Angeles with Manie, where they remained the rest of their lives.
In addition to evangelistic work, Manie and her husband founded the Peniel Mission (after Genesis 32:24–30) in Los Angeles in 1886. The influence of this interdenominational holiness rescue mission spread along the west coast of the United States and internationally to Africa, Asia, and South America. The ministry focused, in later years, on single women.
The Holiness Movement sprang from mid-nineteenth-century Methodism, focusing on John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection. A fundamental belief of the movement is that grace is our salvation from sin and the only means through which we may experience holiness. Grace enables a personal experience following regeneration, leading to a holy life empowered by the Holy Spirit. One may grow in grace after a second spiritual experience or second blessing, moving toward perfection and striving to live a life free from the willful practice of sin. The Holy Spirit enables us to become more Christ-like or conformed to the image of Christ.
The Holiness Movement is distinct from American Pentecostalism, although both emphasize the Holy Spirit’s power. However, in American Pentecostalism, a baptism of the Holy Spirit may lead to speaking in tongues. Following the Azusa Street Revival in 1906 in Los Angeles, when Pentecostalism gained increasing influence, the work of the Peniel Mission suffered, and it was finally disbanded in 1949.
Ferguson left a legacy of more than twenty hymns, according to Hymnary.org. The most published are “Fairest of all the earth beside” and “O what shall it profit thee, brother.” “Joys are flowing like a river” is the most well-known hymn from the Holiness Movement. Several of Manie Ferguson’s hymns and poems were included in T.P. Ferguson: the Love Slave of Jesus Christ and His People and Founder of Peniel Missions (ca. 1921), the biography of her husband she self-published after his death.
According to hymnologist Donald P. Hustad, this text first appeared with the tune now universally used in Pentecostal Hymns, No. 3 (Chicago, 1902) under the authorship of Mamie (sic) Payne Ferguson (Hustad, 1978, p. 78). Hymnary.org records an earlier pairing of this text and tune in The Revival, No. 3 (Atlanta, GA, 1899), also with the incorrect first name of the author. The hymn appeared earlier in a words-only form without a designated tune in Highway Hymnal (Nevada, Iowa, 1886), No. 24, published in the year that Manie Ferguson and her husband T.P. Ferguson began the Peniel Mission in California.
The Theology of the Text
Ferguson employs many similes to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a sanctified believer. The first line sets the tone for the entire hymn—“Joys are flowing like a river”—drawn from Isaiah 66:12, while John 14:26 provides the “Comforter.” Stanza 2 describes the serene condition of the one who has received, in the Wesleyan language of Christian perfection, a “second blessing”:
Springing into life and gladness,
All around this glorious Guest,
Banished unbelief and sadness,
And we just obey and rest.
The final line draws upon Deuteronomy 27:10 (“obey”) and Psalm 37:7 (“rest”). An alternative version of the first line begins, “Bringing life and health and gladness.” Later editions adapt the last line of this stanza to “changed our weariness to rest.”
Stanza 3 continues with descriptive similes of the work of the Holy Spirit, concluding with a reference to Luke 3:22, the descending of a dove at the baptism of Jesus:
Like the rain that falls from heaven,
Like the sunlight from the sky,
So the Holy Ghost is given,
Coming on us from on high.
Hustad states that this stanza was Manie Ferguson’s “testimony” as she identified with Christ’s anointing of the Spirit (Hustad, 1978, p. 78). Some hymnals adapt the third line as “so the Spirit, too, is given.”
Stanza 4 includes the image of the “fruitful field” (Phil 1:11) with “streams of life” (Isa 35: 6; 41: 18; 43: 19):
See a fruitful field is growing,
Blessed fruits of righteousness;
And the streams of life are flowing,
In the lonely wilderness.
In the final stanza, the work of the Holy Spirit enables a “wonderful salvation” that allows the believer to “see Christ’s face”—indicating the achievement of Christian perfection:
What a wonderful salvation,
Where we always see his face;
What a peaceful habitation,
What a quiet resting place.
The first two lines draw upon Revelation 22:4. This ultimate destination is a “peaceful habitation” and “quiet resting place,” language taken directly from Isaiah 32:18: “And my people shall dwell in a peaceful habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (KJV).
The refrain, cited at the beginning, expresses the serene state of those who are fully sanctified, drawing upon the image of Jesus who calmed the sea (Matt 8: 24–26)
Alternative versions of the third line of the refrain substitute “he speaks peace to me” and “Jesus speaks to me” for “speaking peace to me.” The narrative of Christ calming the storm was a favored theme in Ferguson’s hymns.
Ferguson uses several terms to describe the work of the Spirit: “Comforter” (stanza 1), “heav’nly Guest” (stanza 2), and “Holy Ghost” (stanza 3). Christ plays a vital role in the refrain, indicating that the Spirit ultimately points to Jesus, who “speaks to me.” The final stanza points to Christ, where, through our salvation, “we [will] always see His face.”
The Music of “Blessed Quietness”
Tracing the origins of the tune may be confusing. Prominent composer William J. Kirkpatrick (1838–1921) composed and copyrighted what may have been the first tune used with this text in Songs of Love and Praise, No. 4 (Philadelphia, 1897). However, this pairing appears only a few times in collections at the turn of the twentieth century. The origins of the tune BLESSED QUIETNESS and its composer have been obscured by a series of erroneous or misleading attributions in publications. W.S. Marshall, about whom nothing is known, appears to have composed the music for his earlier hymn “Do you hear the Savior calling” (“I Am Listening”), an unnamed tune appearing in a United Brethren publication, Songs of the Cross, for the Sabbath-School (Dayton, Ohio, 1876). In this publication, the copyright is registered with the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, by a Rev. W.J. Shuey, who in later publications is listed as the “owner of the copyright.”
The tune was then paired with BLESSED QUIETNESS in The Revival, No. 3 (1899) (no. 49) without attribution in an arrangement by J.H. Filmore (1849–1936) and under copyright in 1898 by L.L. Pickett (1859–1929). T.C. O’Kane (1830–1912) is listed as the copyright holder as of 1900 in the aforementioned Pentecostal Hymns, No. 3 (1902), though he was the compiler. Other collections attribute the music to W.S. Marshall in the early 1900s with various dates of composition, including 1876 and 1897. However, he is not designated as the holder of the copyright. The unknown W.S. Marshall is listed uniformly now as the composer. Most recent hymnals list James M. Kirk (1854–1945) as the arranger of the tune.
In addition to The Faith We Sing (2001), “Blessed Quietness” has a continued presence in recent hymnals in the African American and evangelical traditions, including the Hymns for the Living Church (1974), African American Heritage Hymnal (2001), The New National Baptist Hymnal 21st Century Ed.) (2001), Celebrating Grace (2010), and Total Praise (2011).
Manie Payne Ferguson, T.P. Ferguson: the Love Slave of Jesus Christ and His People and Founder of Peniel Missions(ca. 1921), n.p., https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ien.35556025950692&view=1up&seq=13 (accessed June 15, 2021).
Donald P. Hustad, Dictionary Handbook to Hymns for the Living Church (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Co., 1978).
Charles Edwin Jones, Perfectionist Persuasion: The Holiness Movement and American Methodism, 1867–1936 (Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1975).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.