History of Hymns: "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy," by Joseph Hart
By Beth Spaulding and Jackson W. Henry
“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”
by Joseph Hart;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 340
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love, and power.
I will arise and go to Jesus;
he will embrace me with his arms;
in the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
This hymn was written by Joseph Hart (1712-1768), a Congregational minister in England. In his early life, Hart was brought up in the church but fell away from it after a while. One of his early publications was a tract denouncing Christianity called The Unreasonableness of Religion, Being Remarks and Animadversions on the Rev. John Wesley’s Sermon on Romans 8:32. He was attempting to convince Wesley that good works were not necessary, only belief in God. Later, after his conversion, Hart repented of writing the pamphlet, issuing an apology to Wesley.
In the year 1757, Hart was converted after hearing a sermon by George Whitefield at a Moravian church. Following this he preached regularly at Jewin Street Chapel in London, where he gathered a large congregation. He was known for his collection of Hymns Composed on Various Subjects, also known as “Hart’s Hymns.” While Hart is often seen as a disciple of Isaac Watts’ school, one way in which he differed from Watts was in his choice of tunes, which were often those of the Methodist Revival. This could be explained by Hart’s association with the Moravians.
“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy” (originally “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Wretched”) is partly based on Matthew 11:25-30:
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (NRSV).
The text itself could be seen as a kind of tracing of Hart’s own spiritual journey. Hart’s original stanza three is omitted from many hymnals:
Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify:
True belief, and true repentance,
Every grace that brings us nigh—
Come to Jesus Christ and buy.
The text is found in hymnals set to a variety of tunes, particularly from the shape-note tradition, including PLEADING SAVIOR, BEACH SPRING and RESTORATION, sometimes called ARISE. As it is found in The United Methodist Hymnal, RESTORATION is harmonized by Charles H. Webb, who served as the service music subcommittee chairperson for the hymnal project. The form of the tune is a simple structure in which the musical contour is mirrored in the stanza and the refrain. Like most shape-note tunes, the melody is based upon a pentatonic scale, which in this case most closely resembles F minor. Tunes within this folk idiom are known for being easy to hear and sing, which aids in the confidence of congregational singing. The tune becomes, then, an ideal vehicle to allow this hymn to be a genuine expression of invitation. Incorporating such an easily singable tune allows for reflection on the text of the hymn—to consider God’s grace, even for the first time, and respond in affirmation to “arise and go to Jesus.”
Works consulted include The Lives of the British Hymn Writers; Hymns Composed on Various Subjects (Joseph Hart); and Hymns…With the Author’s Experience, etc. (Joseph Hart).
About this month’s guest writer:
Beth Spaulding recently received her PhD in liturgical studies from the Boston University School of Theology. This year marks the 20th anniversary of her ordination in the United Church of Christ. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Jackson W. Henry is a United Methodist minister and musician who serves as the Director of Music Ministries at Discipleship Ministries. He is an ordained Deacon in the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church.