1771 - 1854 Scripture: Luke 2:8-20 Author (st. 1-3) of "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" in The Presbyterian Hymnal James Montgomery (b. Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1771; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1854), the son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school, Montgomery inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He was editor of the Sheffield Iris (1796-1827), a newspaper that sometimes espoused radical causes. Montgomery was imprisoned briefly when he printed a song that celebrated the fall of the Bastille and again when he described a riot in Sheffield that reflected unfavorably on a military commander. He also protested against slavery, the lot of boy chimney sweeps, and lotteries. Associated with Christians of various persuasions, Montgomery supported missions and the British Bible Society. He published eleven volumes of poetry, mainly his own, and at least four hundred hymns. Some critics judge his hymn texts to be equal in quality to those of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley . Many were published in Thomas Cotterill's Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1819 edition) and in Montgomery's own Songs of Zion (1822), Christian Psalmist (1825), and Original Hymns (1853).
Montgomery, James, son of John Montgomery, a Moravian minister, was born at Irvine, Ayrshire, Nov. 4, 1771. In 1776 he removed with his parents to the Moravian Settlement at Gracehill, near Ballymena, county of Antrim. Two years after he was sent to the Fulneck Seminary, Yorkshire. He left Fulneck in 1787, and entered a retail shop at Mirfield, near Wakefield. Soon tiring of that he entered upon a similar situation at Wath, near Rotherham, only to find it quite as unsuitable to his taste as the former. A journey to London, with the hope of finding a publisher for his youthful poems ended in failure; and in 1792 he was glad to leave Wath for Shefield to join Mr. Gales, an auctioneer, bookseller, and printer of the Sheffield Register newspaper, as his assistant. In 1794 Mr. Gales left England to avoid a political prosecution. Montgomery took the Sheffield Register in hand, changed its name to The Sheffield Iris, and continued to edit it for thirty-one years. During the next two years he was imprisoned twice, first for reprinting therein a song in commemoration of "The Fall of the Bastille," and the second for giving an account of a riot in Sheffield. The editing of his paper, the composition and publication of his poems and hynms, the delivery of lectures on poetry in Sheffield and at the Royal Institution, London, and the earnest advocacy of Foreign Missions and the Bible Society in many parts of the country, gave great variety but very little of stirring incident to his life. In 1833 he received a Royal pension of £200 a year. He died in his sleep, at the Mount, Sheffield, April 30, 1854, and was honoured with a public funeral. A statue was erected to his memory in the Sheffield General Cemetery, and a stained glass window in the Parish Church. A Wesleyan chapel and a public hall are also named in his honour. Montgomery's principal poetical works, including those which he edited, were:—
(1) Prison Amusements, 1797; (2) The Wanderer of Switzerland, 1806; (3) The West Indies, 1807; (4) The World before the Flood, 1813; (5) Greenland and Other Poems, 1819; (6) Songs of Zion, 1822; (7) The Christian Psalmist, 1825; (8) The Christian Poet, 1825; (9) The Pelican Island, 1828; (10) The Poet’s Portfolio, 1835; (11) Original Hymns for Public, Private, and Social Devotion, 1853. He also published minor pieces at various times, and four editions of his Poetical Works, the first in 1828, the second in 1836, the third in 1841, and the fourth in 1854. Most of these works contained original hymns. He also contributed largely to Collyer's Collection, 1812, and other hymnbooks published during the next 40 years, amongst which the most noticeable was Cotterill's Selections of 1819, in which more than 50 of his compositions appeared. In his Christian Psalmist, 1825, there are 100 of his hymns, and in his Original Hymns, 1853, 355 and 5 doxologies. His Songs of Zion, 1822, number 56. Deducting those which are repeated in the Original Hymns, there remain about 400 original compositions.
Of Montgomery's 400 hymns (including his versions of the Psalms) more than 100 are still in common use. With the aid of Montgomery's MSS. we have given a detailed account of a large number. The rest are as follows:—
i. Appeared in Collyer's Collection, 1812.
1. Jesus, our best beloved Friend. Personal Dedication to Christ.
2. When on Sinai's top I see. Sinai, Tabor, and Calvary.
ii. Appeared in Cotterill's Selection, 1819.
3. Come to Calvary's holy mountain. The Open Fountain.
4. God in the high and holy place. God in Nature. The cento in Com. Praise, 1879, and others, "If God hath made this world so fair," is from this hymn.
5. Hear me, O Lord, in my distress. Ps. cxliii.
6. Heaven is a place of rest from sin. Preparation for Heaven.
7. I cried unto the Lord most just. Ps. cxlii.
8. Lord, let my prayer like incense rise. Ps. cxxxix.
9. O bless the Lord, my soul! His grace to thee proclaim. Ps. ciii.
10. Out of the depths of woe. Ps. cxxx. Sometimes "When from the depths of woe."
11. The world in condemnation lay. Redemption.
12. Where are the dead? In heaven or hell? The Living and the Dead.
iii. Appeared in his Songs of Zion, 1822.
13. Give glory to God in the highest. Ps. xxix.
14. Glad was my heart to hear. Ps. cxxii.
15. God be merciful to me. Ps. lxix.
16. God is my strong salvation. Ps. xxvii.
17. Hasten, Lord, to my release. Ps. lxx.
18. Have mercy on me, O my God. Ps. li.
19. Hearken, Lord, to my complaints. Ps. xlii.
20. Heralds of creation cry. Ps. cxlviii.
21. How beautiful the sight. Ps. cxxxiii.
22. How precious are Thy thoughts of peace. Ps. cxxxix.
23. I love the Lord, He lent an ear. Ps. cxvi.
24. In time of tribulation. Ps. lxxvii.
25. Jehovah is great, and great be His praise. Ps. xlviii. Sometimes, "0 great is Jehovah, and great is His Name."
26. Judge me, O Lord, in righteousness. Ps. xliii.
27. Lift up your heads, ye gates, and wide. Ps.xxiv.
28. Lord, let me know mine [my] end. Ps. xxxi.
29. Of old, 0 God, Thine own right hand. Ps. lxxx.
30. O God, Thou art [my] the God alone. Ps. lxiii.
31. 0 Lord, our King, how excellent. Ps. viii. Sometimes, "0 Lord, how excellent is Thy name."
32. O my soul, with all thy powers. Ps. ciii.
33. One thing with all my soul's desire. Ps. xxvii. From this, "Grant me within Thy courts a place."
34. Searcher of hearts, to Thee are known. Ps. cxxxix.
35. Thank and praise Jehovah's name. Ps. cvii.
36. Thee will I praise, O Lord in light. Ps. cxxxviii.
37. The Lord is King; upon His throne. Ps. xciii.
38. The Lord is my Shepherd, no want shall I know. Ps. xxiii.
39. The tempter to my soul hath said. Ps. iii.
40. Thrice happy he who shuns the way. Ps. i.
41. Thy glory, Lord, the heavens declare. Ps. xix.
42. Thy law is perfect, Lord of light. Ps. xix.
43. Who make the Lord of hosts their tower. Ps. cxxv.
44. Yea, I will extol Thee. Ps. xxx.
iv. Appeared in his Christian Psalmist. 1825.
45. Fall down, ye nations, and adore. Universal adoration of God desired.
46. Food, raiment, dwelling, health, and friends. The Family Altar.
47. Go where a foot hath never trod. Moses in the desert. Previously in the Leeds Congregational Collection, 1822.
48. Green pastures and clear streams. The Good Shepherd and His Flock.
49. Less than the least of all. Mercies acknowledged.
50. Not to the mount that burned with fire [flame]. Communion of Saints.
51. On the first Christian Sabbath eve. Easter Sunday Evening.
52. One prayer I have: all prayers in one. Resignation.
53. Our heavenly Father hear. The Lord's Prayer.
54. Return, my soul, unto thy rest. Rest in God.
55. Spirit of power and might, behold. The Spirit's renewing desired.
56. The Christian warrior, see him stand. The Christian Soldier. Sometimes, "Behold the Christian warrior stand."
57. The days and years of time are fled. Day of Judgment.
58. The glorious universe around. Unity.
59. The pure and peaceful mind. A Children's Prayer.
60. This is the day the Lord hath made (q. v.). Sunday.
61. Thy word, Almighty Lord. Close of Service.
62. What secret hand at morning light ? Morning.
63. While through this changing world we roam. Heaven.
64. Within these walls be peace. For Sunday Schools.
v. Appeared in his Original Hymns, 1853.
65. Behold yon bright array. Opening a Place of Worship.
66. Behold the book whose leaves display. Holy Scriptures.
67. Come ye that fear the Lord. Confirmation.
68. Home, kindred, friends, and country, these. Farewell to a Missionary.
69. Let me go, the day is breaking. Jacob wrestling.
70. Not in Jerusalem alone. Consecration of a Church.
71. Praise the high and holy One. God the Creator.
In common with most poets and hymnwriters, Montgomery strongly objected to any correction or rearrangement of his compositions. At the same time he did not hesitate to alter, rearrange, and amend the productions of others. The altered texts which appeared in Cotterill's Selections, 1819, and which in numerous instances are still retained in some of the best hymnbooks, as the "Rock of Ages," in its well-known form of three stanzas, and others of equal importance, were made principally by him for Cotterill's use. We have this confession under his own hand.
As a poet, Montgomery stands well to the front; and as a writer of hymns he ranks in popularity with Wesley, Watts, Doddridge, Newton, and Cowper. His best hymns were written in his earlier years. In his old age he wrote much that was unworthy of his reputation. His finest lyrics are "Angels from the realms of glory," "Go to dark Gethsemane," "Hail to the Lord's Anointed," and "Songs of praise the angels sang." His "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire," is an expanded definition of prayer of great beauty; and his "Forever with the Lord" is full of lyric fire and deep feeling. The secrets of his power as a writer of hymns were manifold. His poetic genius was of a high order, higher than most who stand with him in the front rank of Christian poets. His ear for rhythm was exceedingly accurate and refined. His knowledge of Holy Scripture was most extensive. His religious views were broad and charitable. His devotional spirit was of the holiest type. With the faith of a strong man he united the beauty and simplicity of a child. Richly poetic without exuberance, dogmatic without uncharitableness, tender without sentimentality, elaborate without diffusiveness, richly musical without apparent effort, he has bequeathed to the Church of Christ wealth which could onlv have come from a true genius and a sanctified! heart.
--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)