Take my life, and let it be
with PATMOS, HENDON
Text: Origins. The background circumstances and events behind this hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836–1879), in her own words, were preserved by her sister Maria Havergal in Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1880):
It was on Advent Sunday, December 2nd, 1873, I first saw clearly the blessedness of true consecration. I saw it as a flash of electric light, and what you see you can never unsee. There must be full surrender before there can be full blessedness. God admits you by the one into the other (p. 126).
Maria noted, “if we did thus yield ourselves to the Lord, we could not take ourselves back again,” to which Frances replied:
Yes, just so. Still, I see there can be renewal of the surrender, as in our Communion Service, where we say, “And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies” (p. 127).
In this latter statement, Frances was quoting the Communion rite of the Book of Common Prayer. Some time later, she described a visit to Areley House, in Worcestershire:
I went for a little visit of five days. There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer, “Lord, give me all in this house!” And He just did! Before I left the house, every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another, till they finished with, “Ever, ONLY, ALL for Thee!” (pp. 132-133).
In the index to Havergal’s Poetical Works (1884), the date of this event (the date of composition) is given as 4 Feb. 1874. On 19 March 1874, she described part of her creative process and the quiet period that followed the composition of her hymn:
I can never set myself to write verse. I believe my King suggests a thought and whispers me a musical line or two, and then I look up and thank Him delightedly, and go on with it. That is how the hymns and poems come. Just now there is silence. I have not had the least stir of music in my mind since I wrote that tiny consecration hymn, a most unusually long interval; and till He sends it there will be none. I am always ready to welcome it and work when it comes, but I never press for it (pp. 135-136).
Her consecration hymn, “Take my life and let it be,” was first published by Charles Snepp in the Appendix to Songs of Grace and Glory (London: James Nisbet, 1874 | Fig. 1), in six stanzas of four lines, headed with 2 Samuel 19:30 (“And Mephibosheth said unto the king, ‘Yea, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house,’” KJV). The designated tune was PATMOS (more on the tune, below).
Fig. 1. Charles Snepp, Appendix to Songs of Grace and Glory (London: James Nisbet, 1874). British Library copy, with annotations by Hubert P. Main (1839–1925).
Havergal’s text was also printed in her own collection, Loyal Responses (London: James Nisbet, 1878 | Fig. 2), with a couple small differences from Snepp’s printing. Here, the text is presented as a series of twelve couplets rather than six quatrains. The second couplet begins “At the impulse of Thy love,” and the eighth ends “Every power as Thou shalt choose,” otherwise the text is substantially the same. The Loyal Responses version includes the same quote from the Book of Common Prayer that was mentioned in the Memorials (1880). The collection itself was intended as a daily devotional resource, including thirty-one poems, with this text being the first.
Fig. 2. Frances Ridley Havergal, Loyal Responses (London: James Nisbet, 1878).
Just prior to her death in 1879, Frances Ridley Havergal prepared a small devotional book called Kept for the Master’s Use, which was an extended commentary on her hymn. Each chapter of that collection expands on a couplet from the hymn. For example, the opening chapter begs the question:
“Take my life!” We have said it or sung it before the Lord, it may be many times; but if it were only once whispered in His ear with full purpose of heart, should we not believe that He heard it? And if we know that He heard it, should we not believe that He has answered it, and fulfilled this, our heart’s desire? … Have we not been wronging His faithfulness all this time by practically, even if unconsciously, doubting whether the prayer ever really reached Him? And if so, is it any wonder that we have not realized all the power and joy of full consecration? By some means or other He has to teach us to trust implicitly at every step of the way (p. 11).
Text: Analysis. The quoted passage from the Book of Common Prayer calls to mind Romans 12:1 (“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” KJV). The fourth couplet, about swift and beautiful feet, probably alludes to Isaiah 52:7 or Romans 10:15. The sixth couplet echoes the sentiments of Psalm 51:15 (“O Lord, open thou my lips, and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise”). The seventh is likely an allusion to either Luke 12:59 or the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4). The tenth recalls passages such as Romans 5:5 (“the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost”) or 1 Corinthians 6:19 (“know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you?”). The idea of pouring love on the feet of Jesus in the eleventh couplet is probably in reference to women who poured ointment on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37-38 / John 12:3). In the other couplets, many other allusions are possible.
Tune 1. After the death of her father, William Henry Havergal (1793–1870), a composer of church music, Frances assisted in editing his final collection, Havergal’s Psalmody and Century of Chants (London, 1871 | Fig. 3), and at the same time worked with Charles Snepp to coordinate this collection of tunes with the texts in Snepp’s Songs of Grace and Glory (London, 1872). The prefaces in both collections mention the connection. Havergal’s Psalmody included the tune PATMOS, written in 1869, set to “Thine forever! God of love” by Mary Fawler Maude (Snepp’s Songs, no. 953).
When Frances wrote her text “Take my life, and let it be” in 1873/4, she probably had her father’s melody in mind, or at the very least, she would have been involved in choosing PATMOS as her preferred tune when Snepp published his Appendix in 1874.
Tune 2. Frances Havergal’s text is also frequently set to HENDON by César Malan (1787–1864), first published in Soixante Chants et Chansons Pieuses (Geneva, 1837 | Fig. 4).
Fig. 4. Soixante Chants et Chansons Pieuses (Geneva, 1837).
Malan’s melody was intended for his text, “Qu’aujourd’hui toute la terre / S’égaie au Nom du Seigneur!” (“May the whole earth today / rejoice in the name of the Lord”), which had appeared the previous year in his Chants de Sion (Geneva, 1836), without music. The melody was also included in his tune book, Musique des Chants de Sion (Geneva, 1837), no. 269, harmonized by Wolff Hauloch (Fig. 5). A musical eye/ear may detect the unexpected 3-bar phrase starting in measure 5; otherwise, the melody is very recognizable in this form.
American tunesmith Lowell Mason visited Malan during a trip to Europe in 1837. In his journal, on 11 August 1837, he recounted part of the meeting:
He asked me when I was converted—and whether I knew it to be so or only hoped it to be so. Not being satisfied with my answer, he went on to prove that every Christian should at all times know and be assured of his acceptance and good standing with God. Hoping is not enough—we ought all to have assurance. … He then got the Bible and spent perhaps 3/4 of an hour in showing what true faith is—simply receiving God’s testimony—then those who believe shall be saved—wherefore doubt?
Two days later, Mason heard Malan preach at his chapel, met his family, and sang French hymns. It was probably during his visit with Malan, or because of it, he became acquainted with Malan’s melody. Mason introduced it to American church music in his Carmina Sacra (Boston: J.H. Wilkens & R.B. Carter, 1842 | Fig. 6), where he named it HENDON. It was credited to Malan, and it was adjusted musically in the second phrase to fill out four-bar phrases. The text here is a paraphrase of Psalm 23 by James Merrick (1720–1769).
The connection between HENDON and Havergal’s text seems to have started with (or was at least popularized by) Ira Sankey’s collections, starting with Gospel Hymns No. 5 (1887 | Fig. 7).
by CHRIS FENNER
for Hymnology Archive
29 October 2018
Michael Broyles, A Yankee Musician in Europe: The 1837 Journals of Lowell Mason (Ann Arbor: UMI Press, 1990), p. 105.
Frances Ridley Havergal, Loyal Responses (London: James Nisbet, 1878): PDF
Frances Ridley Havergal, Kept for the Master’s Use (London: James Nisbet, 1879): PDF
Maria Havergal, Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1880): PDF
John Julian, “Take my life and let it be,” A Dictionary of Hymnology (1892), p. 1114: Google Books
William J. Reynolds, “Take my life and let it be,” Companion to Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1976), pp. 206, 331.
Frank Colquhoun, “Take my life, and let it be,” Hymns that Live (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1980), pp. 266-274.
Carl P. Daw, Jr. “Take my life,” Glory to God: A Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016), pp. 664-665.
J.R. Watson, “Take my life and let t be,” Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology:
“Take my life and let it be,” Hymnary.org: