The History of Hymns: Gently Raise the Sacred Strain

By GEORGE D. PYPER, General Superintendent of the Deseret Sunday School Union and First Assistant Chairman of the Church Music Committee

Originally printed in the Improvement Era, July 1938

Gently Raise the Sacred Strain

This hymn, used by the Salt Lake as a theme song for its nationwide broadcast, which begins its tenth year on the air this month, was written by the early Church poet, William W. Phelps, a short sketch of whose life was printed in The Improvement Era for March, 1937. It was included in the collection made by Emma Smith in 1835 under divine authority. There is no dramatic story known concerning the origin of the hymn. It was no doubt written while Brother Phelps was under the spell of the Sabbath and the solemn sacrament. It expresses gratitude for the return of the day of rest and its attendant blessings, thoughts on eternal life, the great reward, and the day of sacrament in remembrance of the Lord, a day for gifts of broken hearts and willing sacrifices—a type of blessed things to come, when the Saints will be gathered in eternity, to praise God in sweet accord. It sings of repentance and forgiveness, enjoins all to fast and pray, as God ordains, for his goodness and his love while the Sabbath remains.

The Tune and Its Composer

The tune for this devotional hymn has been made popular as the theme or signature of the coast-to-coast KSL-Columbia network broadcast of the Tabernacle choir each Sunday morning. It was selected from 421 contained in Latter-day Saint Hymns, The composer was the late Thomas C. Griggs, an English convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was born in the town of Dover, County of Kent. Shortly after his baptism May 17, 1856, he and his mother emigrated to America, arriving in Boston, July 11, 1857. It was here he first became interested in music, joining a brass band in that city. At the close of the Civil War, mother and son crossed the plains in Captain Joseph Horne’s Company, arriving in Salt Lake City, September 13, 1861. He played in John Eardley’s and Mark Croxall’s bands. During the early sixties he was employed by Walker Brothers in their branch home at Camp Floyd. There he joined a class in vocal training and became leader of the choir at that place. He dated his career as a choir leader frcfitn that time. Returning to Salt Lake City he joined the Tabernacle Choir and sang under five of the leaders—C. J. Thomas, Robert Sands, Ebenezer Beesley, George Careless, and Evan Stephens. In April, 1880, while on a mission to Great Britain, he was named as conductor of the Tabernacle Choir, with Ebenezer Beesley as his assistant who conducted during Brother Griggs’ absence. Upon his return, Brother Griggs graciously suggested that Brother Beesley continue as conductor with himself as assistant, and that was done. For ten years previous to his mission and two years upon his return, he directed the Fifteenth Ward Choir, then one of the best in Salt Lake City.

From 1874 to 1891, Elder Griggs was superintendent of the Fifteenth Ward Sunday School and from 1891 to 1901 superintendent of the Salt Lake Stake. In 1889, he was sustained as a member of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board which position he held until his death. He and Brother Beesley compiled the first Deseret Sunday School Song Book and assisted in the compilation of the Latter-day Saints Psalmody. In May, 1900, he was named business manager for the Union, which position he held until his death. He was an indefatigable worker and did much to improve music in the Church. He died August 12, 1903.

GENTLY RAISE THE SACRED STRAIN

By William W. Phelps

Gently raise the sacred strain, For the Sabbath’s come again. That man may rest,

And return his thanks to God,

For His blessings to the blest.

Holy day, devoid of strife;

Let us seek eternal life,

That great reward.

And partake the Sacrament In remembrance of our Lord.

Sweetly swells the solemn sound, While we bring our gifts around Of broken hearts,

And a willing sacrifice,

Showing what His grace imparts.

Happy type of things to come, When the Saints are gathered home, To praise the Lord,

In eternity of bliss,

All as one with sweet accord.

Holy, holy is the Lord,

Precious, precious is His word; Repent and live;

Though your sins be crimson red, Oh, repent, and He’ll forgive.

Softly sing the joyful lay.

For the Saints to fast and pray As God ordains.

For His goodness and His love, While the Sabbath day remains.

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