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The Hymns of John Jaques

L.D.S. Sunday Evening Service

The Hymns of John Jaques

Jan 28 1934

Source: The Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog at keepapitchinin.org.

Narrator: This is KSL, Salt Lake City, Utah, broadcasting from the great Mormon Tabernacle. For the next 30 minutes we shall bring to you the sixth of a series of sketches depicting the origin and meaning of notable hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The music tonight will be sung by the Tabernacle choir under the direction of Anthony C. Lund, with Frank W. Asper at the console.

One of the oldest hymns sung by the Latter-day Saints, the favorite of Wilford Woodruff, their fourth president, was written by the English poet, William Cowper in the middle of the [eight]eenth century.

William Cowper was born November 15, 1731. In 1763 he was recommended by a relative as Clerk of the Journals of the House of Lords. Before confirmation his enemies caused that he should stand an examination at the bar of the house as to his fitness for the position. Having a physical handicap his anxiety so disturbed his sensitive nature that his mind was affected and he attempted suicide. At three subsequent periods, as his malady returned, the poet made other suicidal attempts, but his unfortunate designs were always frustrated by a kindly act of God.

It is said that on one occasion when afflicted he decided to end his life in the River Thames. He rushed out of his room and through a dense fog.

Fade away.

(Sound of cab wheels on cobble pavement.)

Cabby: Whoa! Whoa! A cab, sir?

Cowper: Yes, drive me to London bridge as quickly as possible.

Cabby: Yes sir, but the fog is so heavy we might drive into the river, sir!

Cowper: Never mind. Drive on. We must get there!

Cabby: Very well, sir. (As cab moves.) My, my, I can't see a thing. (Door slams, crack of whip. Sound of wheels over the cobble stone street. After a minute a door opens.)

Cowper: Where are we now?

Cabby: The good God only knows, sir! There be never such a fog!

Cowper: Go on, go on, man! You can't miss it!

Cabby: It seems useless, sir; I can't even see my 'osses 'ead.

Cowper: Go ahead, I'll pay you well, try again.

(Door slams again, wheels rattle.)

Cabby: Giddup!

Cowper (excitedly and incoherently): I'll show them. They can't make a fool of me, ha, ha, the river! the river! the river!

(Cab stops.)

Cabby: I'll go no further in such a night, sir. I can't see anything in this bloomin' fog.

Cowper: Let me see, let me see, where are we now. Lord of heaven, man, we're in front of my own door, where we started from. What fool trick is this?

Cabby: No trick, sir! So help me! The Lord of 'eaven and my 'orse brought you here. I didn't. But in your state of mind I'm glad, sir. "God do move in a mysterious way," sir. Never mind the fare, sir, I'll say good night.

(Sound of cab driving away.)


(Organ softly, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way.")

Narrator: Brought to his senses, Cowper entered his room and then or soon after wrote "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," a hymn that has been sung in all of the Christian nations of the world and has been in the hymn books of the "Mormons" for a century. It is set to an old tune brought into the Church by early converts.

(Choir sings three verses.)

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform;

He plants his footsteps in the sea,

And rules upon the storm.

(Organ to improvise on tune while reader takes second verse.)


Deep in unfathomable mines

Of never failing skill,

He treasures up his bright designs

And works his sov'reign will.


Ye fearful Saints, fresh courage take;

The clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy, and shall break

In blessings on your head.

(Organ as before.)

Reader (three verses):

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,

But trust him for his grace;

Behind a frowning providence

He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;

The bud may have a bitter taste,

But sweet will be the flower.


Blind unbelief is sure to err,

And scan his work in vain;

God is his own interpreter

And he will make it plain.


[Narrator:] A truly beautiful hymn, distinctly "Mormonistic," set to music by the late George Careless (a favorite composer of the Latter-day Saints), was written by an English convert named John Jaques. It is entitled "Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning," and presages the overcoming of spiritual darkness by the gospel's rays of living light, urges the Saints to stand firm and scorn the trials of life. The hymn is in eight stanzas, only two of which will be rendered by the choir.

(Choir sings two verses of "Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning.")

Softly beams the sacred dawning

Of the great Millennial morn,

And to Saints gives welcome warning

That the day is hasting on,

That the day is hasting on.

(Organ interlude.)

Splendid, rising o'er the mountains,

Glowing with celestial cheer,

Streaming from eternal fountains.

Rays of living light appear,

Rays of living light appear.

Narrator: Among other hymns written by John Jaques is one which has taken its place as a classic among the writings of "Mormon" hymnologists. It is entitled "O Say What Is Truth." The music of the hymn was composed by Ellen Knowles Melling, a Scottish convert of Elder Jaques'. Jaques was born in England nearly a century ago. In his youth he was a lover of truth, had a religious trend and a latent talent for writing. He searched for the truth with sincerity and earnestness, and in this quest contacted the elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the so-called "Mormon" missionaries -- and became converted to their doctrines. As an Elder he became an active missionary identified with the branch of the church at Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the immortal Shakespeare. After his marriage Mr. Jaques emigrated with his family to America to join the Saints in their new found Zion. He crossed the plains with a handcart company, in which many lives were lost in the fierce snowstorms in the Rockies. Elder Jaques' eldest daughter was among those who perished before aid came. The little band of survivors reached Salt Lake City, November 30, 1856, "thereafter for half a century John Jaques labored incessantly in that which he firmly believed was the Cause of Human Redemption. In poetry and prose he reflected the light of truth for the benefit of his fellows."

He was called upon to return to England as a missionary from 1869 to 1871 and his missionary work frequently took him to Stratford-upon-Avon, where in our imagination let us drift back through the years and find him sitting in an attractive nook, lost in reverie, composing the verses of a hymn, perhaps feeling the influence of the great Shakespeare himself. A young girl and a young man, just married, have been visiting the hallowed home and grounds of the famous bard, and are approaching the spot where Jaques is engrossed with his work.

Mary: Hasn't our visit here been wonderful, Dick?

Dick: Indeed, it has, Mary! That was a great idea of yours to spend a day of our honeymoon here.

Mary: And to think that Shakespeare himself once trod these very paths.

Dick: One can almost feel his presence ... But it's growing late, my dear, and we've yet to see the arbor where, so it is said, he loved most to muse over his work.

Mary: This walk leads to it -- just beyond those trees -- where that man sits.

Dick: Oh, yes, I see him. He seems to be whispering to himself and writing. I wonder what he could be doing? (Pause, indicating they move on.) Excuse us, sir. We didn't mean to interrupt you.

Jaques: It's quite all right. I, too, am a lover of Shakespeare. I often come here.

Dick: Perhaps you are a playwright?

Jaques: No. I have been composing some verses I've long since felt the urge to write. I've just finished them.

Mary: Oh! Then you're a poet.

Jaques: No, I'm a missionary. My name is John Jaques.

Dick: I'm Richard Manning. This is my wife. You see, we --

Jaques: Oh! you're on your honeymoon.

Dick: Why, yes, sir.

Jaques: I congratulate you.

Dick: You said you are a missionary. May I ask for what Church?

Jaques: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mary: Why, I don't believe I've heard of it. Is it a new sect, Mr. -- er -- Mr. --

Jaques: Jaques -- John Jaques. Our church is but newly organized; yet in fact it is the oldest on earth; for it is the true Gospel of the Savior, just as He revealed it to mankind many years ago. Some people call us "Mormons."

Dick: Oh! "Mormons." I've heard of them all right! (laughing.) A very strange people, from all accounts.

Jaques: You no doubt have heard the slanderous stories concerning my people. Where we are concerned there seems to be no desire on the part of anyone to tell the truth.

Dick: But what is the truth?

Jaques: That question, Mr. Manning, has come down through the ages, ever since it was asked by Pilate of the Savior of the world. Truth is a tiny word of five letters. Yet within it is encompassed the very foundation of the universe. In a figurative sense, those five letters stand as the supporting pillars of the bridge of experience, across only which mankind may enter into the fullness of earthly existence and reach the portals of that higher intelligence which leads, in our belief, to eternal life and happiness. Truth, the key to knowledge, its quest, the noblest desire of man, underlies all our progress -- our civilization. In a religious sense, it is the everlasting way to everlasting life. It offers an explanation to the deep riddle of our being -- the past, the present and the hereafter.

Dick: Have you found the answer, Mr. Jaques?

Jaques: Yes.

Mary: Please tell us about it.

Jaques: Willingly. Come and sit here. (Slight pause and noise as couple take seats.) A few years ago in America a youth named Joseph Smith began ...

Fade out.

Narrator (soft organ music of "Joseph Smith's First Prayer" accompanying): There in the arbor at Shakespeare's birthplace, missionary Jaques gave to the Mannings the story of the heavenly visions received by the boy Joseph Smith; of the restoration of the gospel and the ushering in of the dispensation of the fullness of times spoken of by the prophets of old; of the discovery of the golden plates upon which were written the history of some of the ancient inhabitants of America; of how the prophet was put on probation in preparation for the great work he was to be the instrument of inaugurating in the earth.

Fade in --

Mary: Your story is most interesting, Mr. Jaques.

Jaques: It is also true, Mrs. Manning. And in due time, April 6, 1830, to be exact, Joseph Smith, with five other members organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, etc., as in the days of Christ. But persecution began just as in ancient days when the gospel was preached. Our prophet and patriarch were martyred and our people, under the guidance of the prophet's successor, Brigham Young, began that ...

Dick: The man who led the pioneers to the Rocky Mountains?

Jaques: Yes, and where the Saints could worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, much like the Pilgrims who left England for the same purpose.

Mary: Then the death of your prophet didn't disorganize the Church?

Jaques: Oh, no! Quite the contrary. The old adage "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" truly was exemplified in this case, for the Church has grown rapidly and missionaries are now being sent out to every land to preach the restored gospel. To be one of these, Mr. Manning, is my happy lot.

Dick: You have impressed me, Mr. Jaques, as I've never been impressed before. Have you a pamphlet containing your creed?

Jaques: We have no published creed, but here is a card containing the Articles of our Faith. There's one doctrine of the Restored gospel that should grip you, Mr. Manning. You are on your honeymoon. You have been married under the law "until death do you part." The Mormon church teaches that marriage is a religious sacrament; that when solemnized in the temple of the Lord, by one holding divine authority, it is for time and eternity; that the family ties will be unbroken in the world to come, a celestial state of matrimony without end of days, a glorious conception, Mr. Manning!

Dick: If I could only believe it, Mr. Jaques, but it is all so strange and new.

Jaques: Yes, Mr. Manning, in the words of the immortal Shakespeare, on whose sacred ground we now stand, "it is all as true as it is strange; nay, it is ten times ten times true, for truth is truth to the end of reckoning." I bear my solemn testimony to the truth of the restored Gospel.

Mary: And those verses you have written, Mr. Jaques, have they any part in your mission?

Jaques: They express my joy in having found happiness, in the truth which has made me free, a reason for my Being; they express my conviction in the enduring sovereignty of Truth. To me this has been an ideal spot for such work. I admire Shakespeare because he was a lover of Truth. In the simple truths he expounds through the philosophies of his characters lies the majesty of his work. They are enduring.

Dick: I never thought of it in that light before. But I most certainly agree with you.

Mary: Would it be asking too much to read your verses to us?

Jaques: I'd be only too happy, if you are that much interested. I've called them "O Say What Is Truth?"

O say, what is truth? 'Tis the fairest gem

That the riches of worlds can produce;

And priceless the value of truth will be when

The proud monarch's costliest diadem

Is counted but dross and refuse.

Yes, say, what is truth? 'Tis the brightest prize

To which mortals or Gods can aspire:

Go search in the depths where it glittering lies,

Or ascend in pursuit to the loftiest skies;

'Tis an aim for the noblest desire.

The Sceptre may fall from the despot's grasp,

When with winds of stern justice he copes,

But the pillar of truth will endure to the last,

And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast,

And the wreck of the fell tyrant's hopes.

Then say, what is truth? 'Tis the last and the first,

For the limits of time it steps o'er:

Though the heavens depart, and the earth's fountains burst,

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal, unchanged, evermore.

Mary: They are beautiful, sir, don't you think so, Dick?

Dick: That I do. I congratulate you, Mr. Jaques. But who will set these words to music? Are you also a musician?

Jaques: No, that task is for another. But I feel that this hymn will one day -- and soon -- become a humble instrument for the uplift and encouragement of our Saints in their trials and tribulations. And I feel also that you both will one day hear words and music as members of our Faith in Zion.

Dick: Oh, I rather think "the wish is father to the thought" as the saying goes, Mr. Jaques. At any rate, this has been a very interesting and happy meeting -- one I regret to end but we must be going.

Jaques: What I have told you is but little of the Truth as we understand it. If you are here tomorrow, I'm sure you would find it worthwhile to visit our chapel. We shall be holding services there ... and now goodbye.

Mary and Dick: Goodbye, Mr. Jaques, and good luck.

(Sound of retreating steps.)

Mary: What an extraordinary man, Richard. And how genuine he seemed. Shall we go to the services?

Dick: Our time is pretty well mapped out, my dear.

Mary: But all for pleasure. Our lives are before us, Richard. Somehow I feel we should go. Mr. Jaques has made me think of things that never before occurred to me.

Dick: All right then, Mary. It means only one more day here.

Narrator: That Richard and Mary attended the Latter-day Saint service at Stratford-upon-Avon seems certain, for 30 years later we find them with a group approaching the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. The prelude to the Sunday afternoon service, played by Organist John J. McClellan, is heard coming from the mammoth structure. Richard and Mary are still a handsome couple though they have lost some of the youthfulness noticeable when we first met them in their honeymoon days, at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Mary: Oh, Dick! Surely "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform." What a glorious day it was for us -- that day we found Elder Jaques and the Truth, 30 years ago, at Stratford-upon-Avon!

Dick: Yes, it seems now like it had been planned by some divine unseen power! How we received almost simultaneously a testimony of the Truth! How we were soon on our way to Zion! How we were remarried for time and eternity in the Temple of the Lord. How through many trials and hardships our love has increased and -- think of our lovely boys and girls! It all seems like a dream. If it is, Mary, I hope never to awake.

Mary: It is no dream, Dick; it is a glorious reality. But do you know, as we have been wandering around these grounds. I've had a queer feeling. My mind has been upon John Jaques who so recently passed away, and his wonderful hymn, "Say What Is Truth" that brought us into the Church. I've somehow felt his presence here.

Dick: Come, dear, the service is about to begin. We must hurry to our seats.

Mary: What a fine climax to the day it would be if the choir would sing Elder Jaques' song.

(Organ softly plays indicating progress of service.)

Mary (sotto voce): Haven't the services been wonderful, Dick?

Dick: Yes, Mary.

Presiding Elder: We will close our service this afternoon by the Tabernacle choir, under the direction of Evan Stephens, singing the hymn written by the late John Jaques entitled "O Say What Is Truth."

Mary (sotto voce): Oh, Dick! My prayer has been answered.

Dick: Yes, dear!

(Tabernacle choir sings "O Say What is Truth.")

Narrator: You have been listening to the Sunday evening broadcast of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints under the direction of George D. Pyper representing the Church music committee. The dramatic episodes were written by Mr. Pyper's son, George W. Pyper, and directed by Gordon Owen. All the original participants named in the plays have passed away. The music tonight was rendered by the Mormon Tabernacle choir of Salt Lake City, Anthony C. Lund, conductor, with Frank W. Asper at the organ.

The players were: John Jaques, Byron D. Anderson; Richard Manning, Eleanor Silver; cabman, Chester Dowse.