Seventh-day Adventist Hymnody
The following is a selective listing of hymn-related musical events and noteworthy hymnals and songbooks in English produced by or for the Seventh-day Adventist church from 1843 to the present. They are extracted from a more detailed listing, "Significant Mileposts in Seventh-day Adventist Hymnody,"available from the Adventist Heritage Center in the Andrews University James White Library.
At a Millerite meeting held in Litchfield Plains, Maine, evangelist James White, begins his meeting by dramatically marching down the center aisle beating time on his Bible and singing, "You will see your Lord a-coming, You will see your Lord a-coming, You will see your Lord a-coming, in a few more days."
White claimed that singing in this manner could "hold nearly a thousand persons in almost breathless silence." He continued to say there was great power in Advent singing in those days. "It seemed to me that not a hand or foot moved in all the crowd before me till I had finished all the words of this lengthy melody. Many wept and the state of feeling was most favorable for the introduction of the grave subject for the evening.
James White publishes the first hymnal, the first book of any kind of the Sabbath-keeping Adventists, fourteen years before the official organization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was titled, Hymns for God’s Peculiar People, That Keep the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus, and was drawn extensively from the Millennial Harp, or Second Advent Hymns, both published by Joshua V. Himes in 1842, 1843, and 1848.
Hymns for Second Advent Believers Who Observe the Sabbath of the Lord, commonly called Advent and Sabbath Hymns, is published. This hymnal includes Annie Smith’s "Long Upon the Mountains Weary," the first published hymn by the sister of Uriah Smith.
Anna White, sister of James White, publishes Hymns for Youth and Children, the first song book for young people.
Hymns for Those Who Keep the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus is published. It is unique in that it contains seventy-six tunes. Previous Adventist hymnals contained only words and no music.
The first official hymnal, Hymns and Tunes for Those who Keep the Commandments of God and the Faith of Jesus, is published by the fledgling General Conference. It has 424 pages, 536 hymns, and 125 tunes. Eighty-seven of the tunes are in the now familiar four-part harmony on two staves. Prior to this time, the tunes were presented in several different ways.
J. Edson White, oldest son of James White, issues his first hymnbook, Hymns of Praise for Use at Lectures and Revival Meetings. It has 64 pages with 60 hymns, mostly from previous hymnals of his father, but includes eight new gospel hymns and music at the back. White also publishes The Song Anchor: A Choice Collection of favorites for Sabbath School and Praise Service.
In the last half of the 19th century gospel songs, characterized by buoyant rhythms, easy-to-sing melodies, and repetition, swept through American churches and the Seventh-day Adventist church as well. Names such as Bradbury, Lowry, Doane, Sankey, Alexander, and Rodeheaver appeared on the pages of America’s hymnbooks. The same was true in the Adventist Church.
The Song Anchor was the Adventist gospel collection. It includes 137 hymns and 133 tunes, ten composed by White. Besides containing gospel songs, this book is noteworthy in several ways. It was printed by Pacific Press, the second Adventist publishing house, in a horizontal instead of vertical format, all hymns were set to music, authors and composers names were listed, copyright notices were printed, and the first works by F. E. Belden were included.
The temperance movement is going strong in America and Adventists are involved as a result of the 1863 visions of Ellen White on healthful living. Edson White prints Temperance and Gospel Songs, for the Use of Temperance Clubs and Gospel Temperance Meetings. Its 134 songs and hymns are, for the most part, new and original, "written especially for the book by the best talent in the land."
The Seventh-day Adventist Hymn and Tune Book for Use in Divine Worship, more commonly known as Hymns and Tunes, "largest and most comprehensive hymnbook ever published by the Church," is released. It has 1,413 hymns, most printed as two staves with one verse in the score and the remaining text and other hymns in the same meter being printed below. F. E. Belden is the largest Adventist contributor with eighty hymn texts and eighty-seven tunes. It will be the official hymnal until 1941.
Christ in Song, one of the most popular songbooks in the Adventist church, is published. It is largely the result of F. E. Belden’s effort and contains 742 hymns and 692 tunes. The 1908 revision is one that later in the century will be remembered with affection by older Adventists. It is designed by Belden to be used as a church, Sabbath school, and young persons’ hymnal and will become the unofficial hymnal of the church, continuing in that role even after the release of the new Church Hymnal in 1941.
The Junior Song Book later changed to Missionary Volunteer Songs, is released by the General Conference Young People’s Missionary Volunteer Department. A collection of songs for young people, it is the first Adventist song book to include spirituals, a total of four.
The Church Hymnal, first official hymnal since l886, when Hymns and Tunes first appeared, is printed. One of the moving forces behind the development and production of this hymnal is Harold Hannum, who helped to get the music in shape for publication. It contains 703 hymns and is not an immediate success because some feel the hymns are too "high" church; others feel there are too many "cheap" gospel songs, and poor-quality tunes. It will not be accepted and used widely for over a decade.
Gospel Melodies and Evangelistic Hymns is released as a reaction against The Church Hymnal. A revision of an earlier compilation of gospel music by Roy Allen Anderson, Gospel Melodies, released in 1931, its content is determined by a review committee of evangelists, musicians, and "ministers of good musical judgment" appointed by The General Conference Ministerial Association.
The General Conference Sabbath School Department publishes Sabbath School Songs in an effort to restore many favorite songs left out of The Church Hymnal. It contains 250 songs, 200 of which are from the 1908 version of Christ in Song. The title will be changed to Songs of Praise in 1956.
The General Conference Young People’s Missionary Volunteer Department introduces Singing Youth, as a response to what the youth want to sing.
In response to the vast increase in gospel songs of the 1960s and early 1970s, the General Conference Youth Department releases Advent Youth Sing. Its compilation of 214 songs includes few traditional hymns and has guitar chords printed above the score.
The Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal is released. As a result of wide-spread dissatisfaction with The Church Hymnal, a committee was established in 1981 to develop a new church hymnal. It is first used at the 1985 General Conference Session in New Orleans, Louisiana. This fourth and most recent official hymnal has 695 hymns.
Additional information on the 1985 Hymnal is available at 1985 SDA Hymnal
This chronology was printed in the Winter 2000 issue of Notes, an IAMA publication.