465

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Scripture References

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

No hope is stronger than that expressed in Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 1: we “…belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ…because I belong to him, Christ by His Holy Spirit assures me of eternal life...”
 
The basic perspective of hope is expressed in Belgic Confession, Article 37 “…the Lord will make them (us) possess a glory such as the human heart could never imagine. So we look forward to that day (of Christ’s return) with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
 
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 15, Question and Answer 42 clarifies what may be misunderstood when it says that even though Christ died for us, we still have to die, but “our death does not pay the debt of our sins. Rather it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.” Additionally, Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 17, Question and Answer 45 explains that Christ’s resurrection “is a sure pledge to us of our blessed resurrection.”
 
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22, Questions and Answers 57 and 58 speak reassurances about the actual event of dying: “Not only will my soul be taken immediately after this life to Christ its head, but also my very flesh will be raised by the power of Christ, reunited with my soul, and made like Christ’s glorious body,” and “even as I already now experience in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life I will have perfect blessedness such as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined: a blessedness in which to praise God forever” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 22, Question and Answer 58).
 

Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 56 summarizes our hope by testifying, “We long for that day when our bodies are raised, the Lord wipes away our tears, and we dwell forever in the presence of God. We will take our place in the new creation, where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, and the Lord will be our light. Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Tune Information

Name
PRECIOUS LORD
Key
A♭ Major
Meter
irregular

Recordings

Hymn Story/Background

In 1932, a week after the death of his wife in childbirth and the subsequent death of his newborn son, Thomas Andrew Dorsey wrote this text. He also arranged the George N. Allen tune PRECIOUS LORD to match his text. Dorsey is, considered the "father" of the African American gospel tradition (in distinction from the spiritual tradition) and was an active writer in this style from the 1920s through the 1950s. "Precious Lord" is the most popular of the early group of gospel songs that arose in the United States. Martin Luther King, Jr., chose the hymn as one of the "freedom anthems" of the Civil Rights Movement; since that time it has been included in many hymnals.
 
Given the circumstances surrounding Dorsey's writing of this text, it is not surprising that it has the character of the Old Testament lament psalms: we confess our own helplessness (st. 1), and we utter a cry for divine help (st. 2), but even in the face of death we are confident of God's saving power (st. 3).
 
Thomas A. Dorsey wrote this text following the death of his wife and their newborn son. He adapted an old hymn-tune, MAITLAND, by Oberlin professor George Allen, to fit his Old Testament lament-style text. Dorsey is considered the "father" of Black gospel hymnody and had a distinguished career as a composer and conductor.
 
Intense spirituality of African American gospel music like PRECIOUS LORD thrives in musical improvisation and flexibility in performance; this is especially true when it is performed by a soloist or a trained choir. When led by improvisation at the keyboard, sing this hymn in unison. Otherwise the congregation may well sing in harmony, even unaccompanied, in the tradition of African American spirituals. Traditional gospel accompaniment consists of piano, or piano and organ together, often with drums and guitars; all these instruments would assist in coloring the harmonization with additional chords, rhythmic figures, and melodic ornaments.
 
Dorsey slightly adapted the tune MAITLAND, composed by George Nelson Allan, which was first published in his 1844 collection of hymn texts and tunes, The Oberlin Social and Sabbath School Hymn Book.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Born into a Baptist preacher's family, Thomas Andrew Dorsey (b. Villa Rica, GA, 1899; d. Chicago, IL, 1993) moved to Atlanta when he was five. There he studied music and came under the influence of local blues pianists. He moved to Chicago in 1915, where he studied at the Chicago College of Composition and Arranging and played in nightclubs as "Georgia Tom" or "Barrelhouse Tom," accompanying blues singers such as Tampa Red, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. Because of his skill as composer, arranger, and pianist, he was in great demand. He also formed his own band, Wildcat's Jazz Band. After suffering from a severe illness in 1926, Dorsey became more involved with the Pilgrim Baptist Church and in 1932 began a forty-year tenure as the church's choral director. He wrote at least two hundred gospel songs (his total works number more than a thousand), organized and was president of the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and frequently directed other esembles, including the Gospel Choral Union. His gospel songs were popularized by singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Roberta Martin, and Clara Ward.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Nearly all of George Nelson Allan’s (b. Mansfield, OH, 1812; d. Cincinnati, OH, 1877) adult life was associated with Oberlin College, Ohio. After his graduation from Oberlin in 1837, he became a faculty member, teaching music and geology. His most lasting contribution was the introduction of choral and instrumental programs, which later developed into the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
— Bert Polman
Hymnary.org does not have a score for this hymn.