The story of young Samuel being called by God in the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3:1-20) is this Sunday’s Old Testament reading and the inspiration for the Hymn of the Week.
Entitled ‘The Child Samuel’, the hymn was first published in a book of hymns and prayers by James Drummond Burns entitled The Evening Hymn (1856). The book contains thirty-one hymns, one for each day of the month.
Born in Edinburgh in 1823, Burns became a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and served the congregation at Dunblane. However ill health forced him to recuperate in Madeira, and he was eventually appointed to the presbyterian congregation at Funchal. His health improved sufficiently for him to return to Britain in 1853 and he enjoyed a successful ministry as minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Hampstead. In 1863 Burns contracted a severe cold; he travelled to Menton (Mentone) on the French Riviera for treatment, but died there on 27th November 1864 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.
Burns wrote over a hundred hymns, and translated a further thirty-nine from the German. As far as I am aware ‘Hushed was the evening hymn’ is the only one of his hymns still sung in British churches today. In the Methodist Hymn Book (1933) it is included in the section for children. It has been described as a narrative hymn, though strictly speaking only the first two verses tell the story, but this does limit its use in worship. Part of the attraction of the hymn is undoubtedly the tune SAMUEL by Arthur Sullivan, which was composed for these words.
Hushed was the evening hymn,
the temple courts were dark;
the lamp was burning dim
before the sacred ark;
when suddenly a voice divine
rang through the silence of the shrine.
The old man, meek and mild,
the priest of Israel, slept;
his watch the temple child,
the little Levite, kept;
and what from Eli’s sense was sealed
the Lord to Hannah’s son revealed.
O give me Samuel’s ear,
the open ear, O Lord,
alive and quick to hear
each whisper of thy word,
like him to answer at thy call,
and to obey thee first of all.
O give me Samuel’s heart,
a lowly heart, that waits
where in thy house thou art,
or watches at thy gates;
by day and night, a heart that still
moves at the breathing of thy will.
O give me Samuel’s mind,
a sweet unmurmuring faith,
obedient and resigned
to thee in life and death,
that I may read with child like eyes
truths that are hidden from the wise.
James Drummond Burns (1823-1864)
John Telford, The Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated