History of Hymns: ‘Come, Christians, Join to Sing’ first published as children’s hymn

“Come, Christians, Join to Sing”
Christian Henry Bateman
UM Hymnal
, No. 158

Come, Christians, join to sing:
Alleluia! Amen!
loud praise to Christ our King:
Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice,
before his throne rejoice;
praise is his gracious choice.
Alleluia! Amen!

 Christian Henry Bateman (1813-1899) was ordained into the Church of England after being a Congregational minister.

His miisterial studies were under the auspices of the Moravian Church, where he served for a time before changing to the Congregational Church at age 30. Following his ministry at Richmond Place Congregational Church in Edinburgh, Scotland, and successive Congregational parishes in Hopton, Yorkshire, and Reading, Berkshire, he took Holy Orders in the Anglican Church at age 56 and served as a curate and vicar in several Anglican parishes.

Australian hymnologist Wesley Milgate (1916-1999) noted that Bateman’s hymn is actually a rewritten version of the hymn “Join Now in Praise, and Sing” by William Edward Hickson (1803-1870). Hickson’s text uses the same melody, MADRID (SPANISH HYMN), and is structured in much the same way. Compare Bateman’s text at the beginning of this article with the first stanza of Hickson’s hymn:

Join now in praise, and sing
Hallelujah, Amen!
Praise to our heavenly King,
Hallelujah, Amen!
By love and gratitude
Still be the song renewed,
And be our hearts subdued,
Hallelujah, Amen!

Bateman probably found the earlier hymn in the collection Hickson published, Singing Master (1836). Hickson’s five stanzas were reduced to three by Bateman and first appeared in a collection published in Edinburgh, Sacred Melodies for Children (1843). The original “Hallelujah, Amen!” was changed by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., in their 1933 hymnal, to “Alleluia! Amen!” It has remained that way ever since.

C. Michael Hawn

C. Michael Hawn

The original incipit (opening line of the hymn) was “Come, children, join to sing.” Though changed in the Presbyterian hymnal to include all age groups, Bateman’s text contains direct, uncomplicated language suited for children. Since very few of the words have more than two syllables and “Alleluia! Amen!” is interjected three times in each stanza, the hymn is easy for children to learn and sing.

Each stanza begins with an exhortation—an imperative command to “Come” or “Praise.” In stanza one, Bateman provides the children with the reason for singing: We offer “loud praise to Christ our King . . . before his throne. . . .” Christ desires our praise: “praise is his gracious choice. . . .”

Stanza two reassures the children (and all of us) that this King is also “our guide and friend” and that “his love shall never end.” This King will “condescend” to be a friend to the children. To condescend surely did not mean to patronize as it tends to mean today, but implies that Christ the King humbles himself to be in a personal relationship with us.

Stanza three ends on an eschatological note. The author reassures children that they need not fear death. Beyond life, our songs will continue on “heaven’s blissful shore . . . singing forevermore: Alleluia! Amen!”

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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