History of Hymns: 1956 hymn responds to Great Commission
“Go, Make of All Disciples”
Leon M. Adkins
UM Hymnal, No. 571
Go, make of all disciples.
We hear the call, O Lord,
that comes from thee, our Father,
in thy eternal Word.
Inspire our ways of learning
through earnest, fervent prayer,
and let our daily living
reveal thee everywhere. *
This hymn begins with the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:19-20, KJV)
The poet then proceeds to offer those who sing this hymn a response to the words of Christ at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. In stanza one, “fervent prayer” leads to the transformation of our lives—lives that should reflect Christ “everywhere.”
Indeed Acts 1:8, a companion passage to Matthew 28, gives us an indication of the extent of “everywhere”: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Stanza two focuses upon the classic baptismal formula, “in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Spirit),” that has linked the church for 2,000 years. The bond through our baptism is the essential link with believers of every time and place. As the final phrase of the stanza states, our work of “redeeming soul and body” takes place “by water and the word.” This stanza also reflects a theology that is an improvement on earlier mission hymns that focus on saving souls. Perhaps the focus on both “soul and body” reflects the influence of the social gospel which had been prominent since the turn of the 20th century.
Stanza three introduces a wonderful phrase that indicates our partnership with the Holy Spirit in the task of spreading the gospel: “We cultivate the nature God plants in every heart.” The purpose of evangelization is not just to save the lost from hell but to transform “each life’s vocation” into a commitment that “accents thy holy way.”
The final stanza assures us of God’s presence with us as we fulfill our mission by quoting Matthew 28:20: “Lo, I am with you always.” Though “the task looms large before us,” we press on “without fear.” Our ultimate goal is to work toward bringing the realm of God on earth with God’s help: “In heaven and earth thy power shall bring thy kingdom here.”
The Rev. Carlton R. Young, UM Hymnal editor, provides the context for this hymn: “The hymn was first sung at the commissioning of teachers and church school officials during Christian Education Week, 1955, at University Methodist Church, Syracuse, where the author was pastor.
The hymn was printed in the February 1956 issue of Church School and first appeared in a hymnal in the 1966 Book of Hymns.
Leon McKinley Adkins (1896-1986) was born in New York and died in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was a Methodist pastor, serving congregations between 1921-1955, and an administrator, serving at the Board of Education of the Methodist Church in Nashville from 1955-1966.
The website of First United Methodist Church, Schenectady, N.Y., gives insight into the more practical aspects of his ministry there: “Dr. Leon McKinley Adkins became pastor in April 1937 and left in May, 1950, making his the longest service of any UMC minister. A few accomplishments of his ministry were: began The Spire [the church newsletter], illuminating the Rose Window, adoption of the unified budget, providing child care for working mothers during WWII, building the Pine Room, formation of Young Marryners, Feast of the Green Corn, provided equipment to ring the church bell.”