1 My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
be wholly thine.
2 May thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
as thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
pure, warm, and changeless be,
a living fire.
3 While life's dark maze I tread,
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow's tears away,
nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.
4 When ends life's transient dream,
when death's cold, sullen stream
shall o'er me roll,
blest Savior, then, in love,
fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above,
a ransomed soul.
Source: Trinity Psalter Hymnal #466
|First Line:||My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary|
|Title:||My Faith Looks Up to Thee|
|Author:||Ray Palmer (1830)|
st. 3 = Heb. 12:1-2
st. 4 = 2. Cor. 4:16, 1 Thess. 4:17
Ray Palmer (b. Little Compton, RI, 1808; d. Newark, NJ, 1887) wrote these words while employed as a teacher at a private girls' school in New York. He had experienced a difficult year of illness and loneliness and was inspired to write this verse one night after meditating on a German poem that depicted a sinner kneeling before the cross of Christ. He later stated, "The words for these stanzas were born out of my own soul with very little effort. I recall that 1 wrote the verses with tender emotion. . . . When writing the last line, "O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!" the thought that the whole work of redemption and salvation was involved in those words. . . brought me to a degree of emotion that brought abundant tears."
Palmer jotted the text into a notebook, which he shared two years later while visiting with the composer Lowell Mason (PHH 96) in Boston. Mason's prophecy that Palmer "will be best known to posterity as the author of 'My Faith Looks Up to Thee' " has certainly come true. A hymn of prayer, this song asks for forgiveness (st. 1), for purity of love (st. 2), for divine guidance (st. 3), and for safe homecoming into glory (st. 4). Stanzas 1 and 2 are popularly judged the best and the most useful. The gloom of stanza 3 is similar to some Old Testament laments. The Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee altered stanza 4 to capture a more Reformed theology.
Palmer is often considered to be one of America's best nineteenth-century hymn writers. After completing grammar school he worked in a Boston dry goods store, but a religious awakening prodded him to study for the ministry. He attended Yale College (supporting himself by teaching) and was ordained in 1835. A pastor in Congregational churches in Bath, Maine (1835-1850), and Albany, New York (1850-1865), he also served as secretary of the American Congregational Union (1865-1878). Palmer was a popular preacher and author, writing original poetry as well as translating hymns. He published several volumes of poetry and hymns, including Sabbath Hymn BookHymns and Sacred Pieces (1865), and Hymns of My Holy Hours (1868). His complete poetical works were published in 1876.
Stanzas 1 and 2 are most useful in the service of confession and forgiveness–stanza 1 can initiate the confession; stanza 2 can be a response to words of forgiveness and assurance. Stanzas 3 and 4 are prayers for guidance as the Christian continues the pilgrimage toward glory.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
Ray Palmer wrote this text in 1830 while he was teaching in New York, just after graduating from Yale. According to his own account, he wrote six stanzas as a private expression of his feelings about Christ (as quoted in Louis F. Benson, Studies of Familiar Hymns, p. 77). One day in 1831 in Boston, he met with Lowell Mason, who asked if Palmer had any hymns he could use for a music book he was going to publish. Though it was never intended for publication, Palmer showed the poem to Mason, who thought it was a fine text and included it his book.
Though the hymn was originally written in six stanzas, only four have been published. A few hymnals omit or edit the fourth stanza, perhaps because it reflects a picture of death as terrifying and heaven as an ethereal world. However, most hymnals include all four stanzas with little or no alteration.
This hymn is addressed to God as a prayer. The first stanza is a request for forgiveness by the blood of Christ. The second and third stanzas are petitions for undying love and God's comforting presence, respectively. In the last stanza, the Christian asks that his or her faith may be sustained even in death.
OLIVET was written specifically for this text by Lowell Mason. It was first published in three-part harmony in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship, published by Mason and Thomas Hastings in 1831. It is a rather plain tune, but popular. Congregations generally find it relatively easy, due to its repeated rhythmic patterns and largely stepwise melodic motion. It should be sung in harmony, with firm accompaniment.
This hymn is for general use, though the references in the first two stanzas to Calvary and “As Thou hast died for me” make this a suitable selection for Lent as well. It can be paired with psalms such as Psalm 31, which has some of the same themes. Try using an instrumental setting while a psalm is read, such as “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” a quiet arrangement for handbells and handchimes, or the organ setting with the melody in the pedal from “Three Lenten Hymn Meditations.” For a choral anthem, a simple setting of “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” is accompanied by piano, with varied choral textures.
Tiffany Shomsky, Hymnary.org