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William J. Kirkpatrick: Reminiscences

by George C. Stebbins (1846-1945)

William KirkpatrickThe songs of Mr. William Kirkpatrick I have known, loved, and sung for two score and more years. I came in touch with him through correspondence, but our paths never crossed until he came to Northfield with Dr. Doane. Some years later, accompanied by Mrs. Kirkpatrick, he spent portions of several summers in that pleasant retreat, which afforded me the opportunity of knowing him more intimately and the privilege of delightful conversations on subjects of mutual interest. We also worked together in conducting services of songs in the parlors of the hotel. During those pleasant and memorable days I was able to catch the spirit of the man and discover some of the elements of his power as a writer, and it an honor, as it has been a pleasure, to have had personal contact with so great and gifted a writer of songs which are sung wherever the gospel is preached.

Mr. Kirkpatrick was born in Ireland, February 27, 1838, but at an early age came with his parents to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania. His father was a musician, hence he came naturally by his love and talent for music. He was for years director of music in Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, and organist and choirmaster many years in the Ebenezer Church of the same city. He studied voice, theory, and harmony under prominent teachers; this, with a practical experience in church and Sunday School work, constituted a rare equipment for his life work. In connection with his composition he devoted much time to the conducting of music in conventions and camp meetings.

His first collection of songs was published in 1859 and was entitled Devotional Melodies. He served as fife major of the 91st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, under Colonel E. M. Gregory, in the Civil War, but was returned to Philadelphia and assigned to work as a ship builder.

In 1866, his second book, Heart and Voice, was published. It was a large book and contained every hymn in the Methodist Episcopal hymn book, with many original selections. Some of his most notable songs were first printed in this book, among them "Saved to the Uttermost," "Wait, and Murmur Not," "Resting at the Cross," and "Companionship with Jesus."

In 1880, he became associated with Mr. John R. Sweney in compiling song books, the number of which—during the next seventeen years—is said to be fifty volumes. At the end of that period he retired from most of his public activities and devoted the rest of his life to composition and editing. Among the hymns that have made his name known in every part of the world are: "Wait, and Murmur Not," "Jesus Saves," "Blessed Be the Name," "I'm Coming Home," "He Hideth My Soul," "Tis So Sweet" and "When Love Shines In."

Mr. Kirkpatrick died suddenly, at his residence in Germantown, Philadelphia. Mrs. Kirkpatrick found her husband sitting in his favorite chair fast asleep—as she supposed—about four o'clock on the morning of September 29, 1921. On the floor at his feet was found a manuscript bearing the notation,—"9-29, 2 A.M."—which would indicate that he had heard his Master’s call while yet in the midst of his last prayer, or doubtless he would have written a third stanza.

Just as Thou wilt, Lord, this is my cry:
Just as Thou wilt, to live or to die.
I am Thy servant; Thou knowest best;
Just as Thou wilt, Lord, labor or rest.

Just as Thou wilt, Lord—which shall it be,
Life everlasting waiting for me,
Or shall I tarry here at Thy feet?
Just as Thou wilt, Lord, whate'er is meet.

To voice such words of resignation, then close his eyes on earth to open them—in a moment's time—in the presence of his Lord, is as striking and impressive as it is beautiful. What a glorious awakening his must have been! Well might every child of God covet a similar ending to labor, turmoil, and dying for that rest, peace, and life eternal that awaits the faithful servant of the King of all kings.

From George C. Stebbins: Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories by Himself. New York: George H. Doran Company, ©1924.

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