Home History of Hymns: “Precious Name”

History of Hymns: “Precious Name”

Julia Baxter
Lydia Baxter

“Precious Name”
by Lydia Baxter
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 536.

Take the name of Jesus with you,
child of sorrow and of woe;
it will joy and comfort give you:

Take it then, where’er you go.
Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heaven.

Lydia Odell Baxter (1809-1874) was born in Petersburg, New York, and died in New York City. She found her faith through the preaching of Baptist missionary Eben Tucker, and she helped establish the Baptist Church in Petersburg with her sister. Following her marriage, she moved to New York City, where her home was always open to preachers, evangelists, and Christian workers. Though an invalid and bed-ridden for much of her life, she offered advice and inspiration for many. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck notes, “Her friends used to say that a visit to her sickroom was not so much to give her encouragement and comfort as to receive some buoyancy for their own spirits.”

Baxter studied the Bible carefully and particularly enjoyed knowing not only the names of biblical figures, but also the meaning of the names. Of all the biblical names she new, the name of Jesus meant the most to her. Friends and visitors often were astounded that someone with such physical difficulties and limitations could also have such a cheerful disposition, to which she would reply, “I have a very special armor. I have the name of Jesus. When the tempter tries to make me blue or despondent, I mention the name of Jesus, and he [the tempter] can’t get through to me anymore. The name of Jesus means ‘Savior’ and it comes from the same Hebrew root from which the names of Joshua and Joash come.”

The stanzas of “Precious Name” explore the power in Jesus’ name. Stanza one finds “joy and comfort.” Stanza two focuses on Jesus’ name as a “shield” against temptations. Stanza three explores the intimate nature and relationship between Jesus and his followers: “ . . . His loving arms receive us.”

Stanza four is the antithesis of the previous stanza. Referencing Philippians 2:1-11, often called the Kenosis (self-emptying) hymn, Baxter begins:

At the name of Jesus bowing,
Falling prostrate at his feet,

King of kings in heav’n we’ll crown him
When our journey is complete.

Note the similar tone in Philippians 2:9-11: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (KJV).

The refrain, though employing a kind of speech common for its day, may seem somewhat cloying by today’s standards:

Precious name, O how sweet!
Hope of earth and joy of heaven.

This hymn was written in 1870, only four years before the author’s death in 1874. Although she wrote a number of other hymns, this is the only one still in common use. In addition, Mrs. Baxter published a book of devotional poetry entitled Gems by the Wayside (1855).

Soon after the text was penned, William Doane (1832-1915), a well-known gospel songwriter, composed the music. Our hymn was published in Pure Gold for the Sunday School (1871), a collection edited by Doane and another famous composer of gospel songs, Robert Lowry (1826-1899), perhaps known best for his beautiful hymn, “Shall we gather at the river” (The UM Hymnal, 723). The Scripture reference provided in the collection was Psalm 72:19: “And blessed by his glorious name forever.”

The use of “Take the name of Jesus with you” in the Moody-Sankey revivals during the last quarter of the nineteenth century helped to increase its popularity.

William Doane also wrote music for a number of texts written by Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). An active and humble layman, he was also a man of some financial means. Among his projects was the donation of funds that led to the construction of the Doane Memorial Music Building at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

For the complete text of “Precious Name,” see http://www.hymnary.org/text/take_the_name_of_jesus_with_you_child_of.

C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.