History of Hymns: “Only Trust Him”

by C. Michael Hawn, July 4, 2013

"Only Trust Him"
John H. Stockton
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 337

Come, every soul by sin oppressed,
there's mercy with the Lord;
and he will surely give you rest,
by trusting in his Word.
Only trust his, only trust him now.
He will save you, he will save you now.

This hymn, like many others of this era, owes it recognition and appearance in current hymnals to the revivals of Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) and Ira D. Sankey (1840-1908). Stirring invitation hymns were an essential part of the revival experience. Following the powerful sermons of the evangelist Dwight Moody, the hymn that followed became the vehicle that allowed those in attendance to respond. The text needed to be straightforward, but not trite. The music should be simple, but avoid cliché. The refrain especially should attempt to speak directly to the heart and invite a response to the gospel message.

"Only Trust Him" by Methodist Episcopal Church minister John H. Stockton (1813-1877) fulfilled many of these criteria, at least for those who sang it originally. Stockton worked with Moody and Sankey in their Philadelphia meetings in 1874, writing several songs for use in the revivals. These were published in Salvation Melodies, No. 1 (1874) and Precious Songs (1875). Hymnologist Paul A. Richardson traces this song, however, to an earlier source, J. E. Knapp's Notes of Joy for the Sabbath School (1869). Originally in five stanzas, four have been maintained in most current hymnals.

The original final stanza, now omitted, literally propels the singer down the aisle in response to the message:
O Jesus, blessed Jesus, dear,

I'm coming now to Thee;

Since Thou hast made the way so clear

And full salvation free.

The Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, notes, "During a trip to England in 1873 while studying the hymn in manuscript, Sankey thought the refrain too hackneyed and changed its first line, 'Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus, Come to Jesus just now,' to its present form." In an extended time of invitation, the song leader often improvised words, especially during the refrain. The Rev. Young cites evidence in the London revival meetings held in Her Majesty's Theater in Paul Mall where Sankey improvised "I will trust him" and "I do trust."

When it was published in Moody and Sankey's Sacred Songs and Solos (1875), Matthew 11:29 appeared on the page with the hymn, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; . . . and ye shall find rest unto your souls."

The hymn begins with the imperative verb, "Come." The first line, "Come, every soul by sin oppressed," is an almost direct quotation from Charles Wesley's famous hymn "Come, sinners to the gospel feast" (UM Hymnal, 339). The third stanza of Wesley's hymn begins, "Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed." The Wesleyan minister, John Stockton, undoubtedly knew the Wesley hymn and was consciously or subconsciously influenced by it.

Another line from Stockton's hymn, "believe in him without delay," seems to draw its inspiration from the opening line of the final stanza of Wesley's hymn as it appears in the UM Hymnal, "This is the time, no more delay." This is stock language, however, for invitation hymns.

Interestingly, Wesley's hymn focuses on the open invitation to all: "Come, all the world!" (stanza two). In stanza three, the invitation is clarified further, including: "wanders after rest," "poor and maimed," and the "halt, and blind." Stockton's hymn centers on the cleansing power of Jesus' "precious blood " (stanza two). His invitation to "plunge into the crimson flood/that washes bright as snow" may have been an allusion to eighteenth-century hymnwriter William Cowper's familiar, "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood," in which he invites sinners to "plunge beneath the flood" and be cleansed of all "their guilty stains."

Stockton, raised as a Presbyterian, was converted to Methodism in a camp meeting at age 21. After becoming a licensed preacher in 1844, he became a full member of the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1857. His active ministry was cut short by illness in 1874, and he died in 1877. Of his many hymns, this one is the only one that has continued in use to this day.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary's sacred music program.

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