Saturday, March 4, 2017

In the Hour of Trial -- James Montgomery

Was he putting himself in the apostle’s shoes when he scrawled out some words, pleading with God from a troubled place? James Montgomery had been reading something pretty profound, and the ancient words resonated in his spirit. He thought of the apostle, and a bit of himself too, when he prayed with the words “In the Hour of Trial” in 1834. He’d had some rough experiences, so could what he had written be superimposed upon his own circumstances at a particular point in his life? He was aging, so maybe he was thinking about what lay not too far into the future, too.  

James Montgomery’s life in Britain was anything but a casual, carefree existence in the 18th and 19th Centuries, and that may provide a window into his frame of mind when he wrote about a trial in 1834. He was a native Scot, but moved to Sheffield in northern England as a young man, hoping to launch a literary career in poetry. He’d already had a challenging life, as his missionary parents died when he was but 12 years old, leaving him to cut his own path into the adult world. He apparently failed in school, and was subsequently apprenticed in two different areas (a baker, then a storekeeper) before finding himself in the employ of a newspaper editor. After 22 years, he found himself in charge of the newspaper (the Sheffield Iris), and during the next few years was imprisoned twice, being accused of sedition. Nevertheless, he stayed with the paper for 32 years as its editor, but garnered more notice for his poetry’s social justice themes, including abolition of slavery. He even wrote some of his most notable poetry (Prison Amusements) from a prison cell! By the early 1830s James had retired from the newspaper, but was still engaged in poetry and hymn-writing; over his lifetime, he composed over 400 hymns. It was during his retirement years, at age 63 and probably while in Sheffield (perhaps the 1809 painting here of Sheffield Manor’s ruins was not unlike what James might have seen), that he apparently read the biblical account of Peter’s denial of Christ, spurring his poem-song “In the Hour of Trial”. He evidently put himself in Peter’s shoes (v.1), entreating the Lord that He would extend to him the same grace that He had toward the Apostle. Would it be a stretch to imagine that James was in a reflective mood, thinking about his own life experiences (vv. 2-3)—his own trials as an orphan and a prisoner? Indeed, was he looking to the future too, to his own spiritual inheritance (v.4), which he gained some 20 years later?  Montgomery didn’t wallow in his trials, but made his prayer for deliverance an active, life-motivating adventure, as an advocate for people around him who were ill-treated. Casual and carefree he was not.

‘Pay it forward’ was a motto that James Montgomery might have embraced. You see conditions in your world that you think are unfair, even abhorrent? James could have just looked after his own needs, given what happened to him early in life, yet he seemed to use much of what happened to himself as a springboard – like his poetry while he was incarcerated. Sounds a little like somebody named Joseph (Genesis 39-41), doesn’t it? James wasn’t afraid to put himself at risk to speak out for others, perhaps because he’d already been in precarious spots and knew that someone was watching over him. So why not throw caution to the winds? Say what needs to be said to impart camaraderie to others about you who are struggling, and maybe your selflessness will prompt others to do the same. Then, see how you feel praying about your trials…that’s what James Montgomery did.    

The following website has the lyrics for the song:

This website has the composer’s biography:

See here also for biographic information on the composer:
See more information on the song discussed above also in The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; and Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990.  

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