Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched
COME, YE SINNERS (BELMONT)
Text: Origins. This hymn by Joseph Hart (1712–1768) was first published in his collection Hymns, &c., Composed on Various Subjects (London: J. Everingham, 1759 | Fig. 1), in seven stanzas of six lines, without music, headed “Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.”
In his plea to the poor, the wretched, the needy, the weary, he was not speaking from a position of condescension. The preface to his collection included a lengthy personal testimony describing his own spiritual struggle, a portion of which will illustrate his journey:
About the twenty-first year of my age, I began to be under great anxiety concerning my soul. The Spirit of Bondage distressed me sore; though I endeavoured (as I believe most under legal convictions do) to commend myself to God’s favor, by amendment of life, virtuous resolutions, moral rectitude, and a strict attendance on religious ordinances. I strove to subdue my flesh by fasting, and other rigorous acts of penance and mortification; and whenever I was captivated by its lusts (which indeed was often the case) I endeavoured to reconcile myself to God, by sorrow for my faults; which, if attended with tears, I hoped would pass as current coin with heaven; and then, I judged myself whole again, and to stand on equal terms with my foes, till the next fall, which generally suceeded in a short time.
Affliction befalling me (in which I was a moderate sufferer, but a monstrous sinner) I began to sink deeper and deeper into conviction of my nature’s evil, the deceitfulness and hardness of my heart, the wickedness of my life, the shallowness of my Christianity, and the blindness of my devotion. I saw that I was in a dangerous state, and that I must have a better religion than I had yet experienced, before I could, with any propriety, call myself a Christian. … I found now, by woeful experience, that faith was not my power; and the question with me now was, not whether I would be a Christian or no; but whether I might; not whether I should repent and believe, but whether God would give me true repentance and a living faith.
In this, Hart’s struggle with a works-based faith was much like some of his predecessors, such as Martin Luther, or John and Charles Wesley.
Hart’s collection went through six editions in the next ten years, without further revision to this text. Alterations by other editors in other collections have been numerous. Six notable variants will be considered here.
Variant 1. The first notable variant was by Richard Conyers, from A Collection of Psalms and Hymns (London: T. & J.W. Pasham, 1767 | Fig. 2), in which he omitted stanza 4, omitted the repeated phrases, and introduced several changes, such as “pity, love, and pow’r” rather than “pity join’d with pow’r,” “Agonizing in the garden,” in place of Hart’s “View him grov’ling in the garden,” or “venture freely” rather than “venture wholly.”
Conyers’ changes are reflected, for example, in Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Collection (NY: 1855) and the Hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church (NY: 1878).
Variant 2. Another early variant is found in Augustus Toplady’s Psalms and Hymns (London: E. & C. Dilly, 1776 | Fig. 3). Toplady used all seven of Hart’s stanzas but followed Conyers’ example by omitting the repeated phrases. Notice Toplady’s “Come, ye thirsty” at the beginning of stanza 2, “Lost and ruin’d” in stanza 4, and “View him prostrate … on the ground” in stanza 5.
Toplady’s changes can be found in John Rippon’s Selection of Hymns (1787), Charles Spurgeon’s Our Own Hymn-Book (1866), and elsewhere.
Variant 3. Many hymnals have used a version of Hart’s hymn beginning “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy.” This first line comes from A Pocket Hymn Book Designed as a Constant Companion for the Pious (York: R. Spence, 1783 | Fig. 4), which is in turn a variation on Conyers. This opening line is still commonly found in hymnals and songbooks.
Variant 4. One other alteration with some circulation is the text beginning, “Come, ye sinners, heavy laden,” which is essentially rooted in the practice of using portions of Hart’s text beginning with the fourth stanza, but altering the first line of that stanza. This version comes from Nathan S.S. Beman’s Sacred Lyrics (Troy, NY: N. Tuttle, 1832 | Fig. 5). Here, Beman has gathered stanzas 4, 3, 5, and 6 from Hart and altered the first line to read “Come, ye sinners, heavy laden.” Beman borrowed elements of both Conyers (“Agonizing in the garden”) and Toplady (“Lost and ruined”), but he seems to be personally responsible for introducing the lines “If you wait till you are better,” “Sinners only,” “Let no sense of guilt prevent you,” and “There he groans, and bleeds, and dies.”
Beman added a fifth stanza in the 1841 edition of his collection (Hart’s stanza 7 | Fig. 6).
Beman’s version appeared in multiple collections, including the Presbyterian Church Psalmist (Philadelphia: 1847), Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Collection (NY: 1855), and the Baptist Praise Book (NY: 1871). The latter two collections included both Beman’s version and a version of Hart’s text based on Conyers’ alteration.
Variants 5-6. Lastly, this hymn is often performed with an additional refrain. The oldest such interjection was with the refrain “Turn to the Lord and seek salvation,” first printed in Hymns and Spiritual Songs, for the Use of Christians (Baltimore: Samuel Sower, 1802 | Fig. 7). This refrain was the preferred text for most of the 19th century and can be found together with “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy” in many hymnals.
Many modern hymnals instead have incorporated the refrain “I will arise and run and meet him,” which was originally associated with the hymn “Don’t you see my Jesus coming.” This hymn is sometimes credited to Caleb Jarvis Taylor (1763–1816) even though the earliest printings of the hymn were unattributed. The earliest known printing of either this hymn or this refrain is in Hymns and Spiritual Songs, for the Use of Christians, 8th ed. (Philadelphia: Jacob Johnson, 1806 | Fig. 8), where it appeared in six stanzas of four lines, without music, including the textual refrain.
The following year, “Don’t you see my Jesus coming” and its refrain appeared in Stith Mead’s General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use (Richmond: Seaton Grantland, 1807 | Fig. 9). The portability of the refrain is evident in the way it had been added to “Come, thou fount of every blessing” elsewhere in the same collection. This pairing with “Come thou fount” was repeated many times in the 19th century. Also notable here in the same collection is the inclusion of “Come, you sinners, poor and needy” with the refrain “Turn to the Lord and seek salvation.”
Fig. 9. Stith Mead, General Selection of the Newest and Most Admired Hymns and Spiritual Songs Now in Use (Richmond: Seaton Grantland, 1807).
The earliest known connection between this refrain, “I will arise,” and Hart’s text can be found as early as Revival No. 3 (see Tune 3 below).
Tune 1. For many years, Hart’s hymn was frequently paired with the tune INVITATION by Oliver Brownson, from his Select Harmony (1783 | Fig. 10). Brownson evidently wrote his tune for Hart’s text. It is in the minor mode (A minor), harmonized for four voices, melody in the tenor part. In the single stanza provided here, he used Conyers’ “pity, love, and pow’r.”
Tune 2. Another common setting, especially in the mid-to-late 19th century, is with a tune by Jeremiah Ingalls, from his Christian Harmony (Exeter, NH: Henry Ranlet, 1805 | Fig. 11). In this printing, the tune was called CELESTIAL WATERING, set to the text “Saviour, visit thy plantation” by John Newton. Notice also the campmeeting refrain “Turn to the Lord and seek redemption,” mentioned above as Variant 5, which had already developed an association with Hart’s text a few years earlier.
The connection between Ingalls’ tune and Hart’s text appeared as early as Songs of Canaan, or the Millennial Harmonist (Boston: D. S. King and Saxton & Peirce, 1842 | Fig. 12).
Ingalls’ tune is sometimes called BELMONT, INVITATION, TURN TO THE LORD, or COME, YE SINNERS.
Tune 3. Modern hymnals most often use the early American shape-note tune RESTORATION. This tune was first printed in William Walker’s Southern Harmony (Philadelphia: E.W. Miller, 1835 | Fig. 13), paired with “Mercy, O thou Son of David” by John Newton.
The connection to Hart’s text appeared in print much later, although it had been suggested a couple of times, possibly indicating an oral practice before a print practice. For example, these elements were very closely associated in Joseph Hillman’s The Revivalist (Troy, NY: Joseph Hillman, 1868 | Fig. 14). On facing pages, 84-85, are multiple tunes and texts, all of which are interchangeable. The texts here include Hart’s hymn, John Newton’s “Mercy, O thou Son of David,” and Robert Robinson’s “Come, thou fount of every blessing.” The tunes include BARTIMEUS from Amos Pilsbury’s United States’ Sacred Harmony (1799), sometimes credited to Stephen Jenks (1772–1856) based on its appearance in his The American Compiler of Sacred Harmony, No. 1 (1803); Ingalls’ tune TURN TO THE LORD (see Figs. 11-12); the RESTORATION tune (see Fig. 13), here called I WILL ARISE; and NETTLETON, the tune more commonly associated with “Come, thou fount of every blessing.”
Some hymnologists point to another interesting printing found in Philip Bliss’ Gospel Songs (Cincinnati: John Church & Co., 1874 | Fig. 15). Here, the refrain “I will arise,” set to RESTORATION, was paired with an anonymous text of unknown origins, “Far, far away from my loving Father.” This printing includes a note indicating “This chorus may be sung … as a response to ‘Come, ye sinners, poor and needy.’”
Curiously, this idea of pairing Hart’s text, the refrain “I will arise,” and the RESTORATION tune was not realized in Philip Bliss & Ira Sankey’s famous Gospel Hymns series. The earliest known printed appearance of this setting came 25 years later in Charlie D. Tillman’s Revival No. 3 (Atlanta: Charlie D. Tillman, 1899 | Fig. 16). This has become the most recognizable setting for Hart’s text.
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
23 May 2019
John Julian, “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (London: J. Murray, 1892), p. 254: Google Books
George Pullen Jackson, “I will arise,” Spiritual Folk-Songs of Early America (NY: J.J. Augustin, 1937), pp. 232-233.
William J. Reynolds, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976), pp. 57-59.
Ellen Jane Lorenz, “I will arise,” Glory, Hallelujah! The Story of the Campmeeting Spiritual (Nashville: Abingdon, 1978), p. 109.
Harry Eskew, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” Handbook to the Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1992), p. 113.
Carlton R. Young, “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), pp. 306-307.
Bert Polman, “Come, you sinners, poor and needy,” Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids: CRC, 1998), pp. 706-707.
Carl P. Daw Jr., “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 421-422.
“Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,” Indelible Grace Hymn Book:
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,” Hymnary.org: