The reformation was responsible for thousands of Christians fleeing Europe to relocate where they could exercise their faith without persecution. And the result was the spreading of the Gospel throughout the world.
The Hussite movement that became the Moravian Church, was started by John Huss in the early 15th century in what is today, the Czech Republic. Hus protested some of the unbiblical doctrines and the political persecutions executed by the Roman Church. Since the movement predated the Protestant Reformation by a century, some historians claim the Moravian Church was the first Protestant church.
About 400 years later, James Montgomery, a Moravian orphan grew up to become a prominent British journalist and one of England’s greatest hymn writers. As a newspaper editor in Sheffield, England, he developed a reputation for his radical editorials which he used to advocate for social reforms and humanitarian causes. He was passionately critical of slavery, he promoted democracy in government, and the end of the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. Other causes, he championed, included hymn singing in the Anglican church services, foreign missions, and the British Bible Society.
In Europe, in the late 18th century, Christians who spoke against governments or the Church, were often punished or persecuted. And so was James Montgomery. He was imprisoned, twice, in the Castle of York, for his editorial activism. The first time was for printing a poem that celebrated the fall of the Bastille which, ironically, was a French prison for political critics who wrote things that displeased the royal government. A year after his release, he was incarcerated again, for criticizing a judge who forcefully dispersed a political protest in Sheffield.
So, from his prison cell, James used his writing ability to profit from his incarceration. In 1797, he published a pamphlet of poems written during his captivity, that he titled, Prison Amusements, with a subtitle, Words with Wagtails (wagtails are birds that would frequently visit him on his prison windowsill).
In a long poem titled, The Pleasure of Imprisonment, An Epistle to A Friend, he details every moment of his daily routine as a prisoner. I was amused at this verse where he figuratively thumbs his nose at his captors:
“Fanatic dreams amuse my brain, And waft my spirit home again:
Though captive all day long, ‘tis true, At night, I am as free as you;
Not ramparts high, nor dungeons deep, Can hold me – when I’m fast asleep!”
James Montgomery wrote over 400 hymns including the Christmas carol, “Angels We Have Heard on High” and the communion hymn, “I Will Remember Thee.” About him, the writer Alfred H. Miles wrote, “His Christian songs are vigorous in thought and feeling, simple and direct in action, broad in Christian charity, and lofty in spiritual aspiration.”
In 1824, he wrote a children’s hymn for the Red Hill Wesleyan Sunday School anniversary celebration in Sheffield. The song began, “Stand up and bless the Lord, ye children of His choice.” A short time later, the word “children” was changed to “people.”
The text was based on Neh. 9:5: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”
This hymn uses simple and clear language to proclaim the glory of God. It’s a call for God’s people to stand up with courage and praise God, and to boldly speak up and proclaim their faith regardless of the political climate.
Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville, Tennessee. Your comments are welcome. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (951) 321 9235.