Friday, July 7, 2017

Lord We Come Before Thee Now -- William Hammond

This Englishman may have been renewing his faith through an association with a Christian group that was spreading its influence to his own country from continental Europe in the early 1700s. William Hammond and others in this same group may have been heard at that time calling themselves ‘brothers’, though today we would know them as the Moravian Church. The Moravians’ brand of Christian faith was very intently personal, so it was not unexpected to hear that Hammond had crafted something he called “Lord, We Come Before Thee Now” to focus himself and his brothers on the discipline of prayer. Their influence in Hammond’s homeland may have been notable, if in fact a portrait during this period showing some Moravians with the English king (George II) (see it here) depicts an authentic event.  Hammond’s prayer was sixteen verses long; how do yours and mine compare?
The 26-year old William Hammond may have been searching for something in his faith for a while during the period in which he crafted “Lord We Come…”. It’s reported that he joined the Calvinistic Methodists in 1743, perhaps shortly after graduating from St. John’s College in Cambridge. Two years later, he linked himself with the Moravians, the same year that at least some of his hymns—including “Lord We Come…”--were published in Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in London. Whether his composition preceded or followed his Moravian initiation is not clear, but its qualities are consistent with a couple of Moravian characteristics that might have drawn him closer. Their love of music and a pious nature would have been apparent to William, two traits encapsulated in his hymn. Was the Moravian missionary zeal also influential in William’s acceptance of this group as his own? If it was, this was not emphasized in his poetry. All eight original verses (in our time, each is split into two) instead center on the personal redemption, occasional physical healing, instruction, and spiritual adoption which Hammond experienced or aspired to achieve. And, though undoubtedly personal, William very obviously wanted the experience of God to be enjoyed corporately. ‘We’, ‘our’, ‘us’, and ‘all’ dominate the pronouns William used to convey who is addressing God throughout his prayer. Not even once does he employ ‘I’ or ‘me’, indicating he expected others to join in, using his words in a way that recognized each other’s membership in this faith family. We help each other express our hope and loyalty to our Creator. That was indeed a Moravian brother speaking.

If I am honest with myself, what is it I seek when I pray? My prayers most often seem almost at odds with William’s. I want stuff, or I ask God to help heal someone. By contrast, William and his cohorts seem to have thought much more about being in God’s room, about acquiring His nature, and about glowing in his redemptive power. The other aims of prayer—healing, overcoming terrestrial challenges—are present (in Hammond’s 18th Century verses 6 and 8; our contemporary verses 11, 12, and 15), but seem more like background elements in William’s 18th Century prayer. Am I part of the ‘ME’ generation, to a fault? William might say we need to be in His presence, most of all. Grasp that concept, before ‘I’ and ‘me’ are on your lips.         

See following site for scant information on the author/composer, and the original 16 verses (written as eight verses in his time in the 1700s):
See this site for history of the faith group with which the author/composer identified:

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