Before a collection made for the Society
for the Propagation of the Gospel.

From Greenland's icy mountains,
From India's coral strand,
Where Afric's sunny fountains
Roll down their golden sand;

From many an ancient river,
From many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver
Their land from error's chain!

What though the spicy breezes
Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle,
Though every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile:

In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strown,
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone!

Can we, whose souls are lighted
With Wisdom from on high,
Can we to men benighted
The lamp of life deny?

Salvation! oh, Salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim.
Till each remotest nation
Has learn'd Messiah's name.

Waft, waft, ye winds, his story,
And you, ye waters, roll,
Till like a sea of glory
It spreads from pole to pole!

Till o'er our ransom'd nature.
The Lamb for sinners slain.
Redeemer, King, Creator,
In bliss returns to reign!

Commentary by Brown and Butterworth

The familiar story of this hymn scarcely needs repeating; how one Saturday afternoon in the year 1819, young Reginald Heber, Rector of Hodnet, sitting with his father-in-law, Dean Shipley, and a few friends in the Wrexham Vicarage, was suddenly asked by the Dean to “write something to sing at the missionary meeting tomorrow,” and retired to another part of the room while the rest went on talking; how, very soon after, he returned with three stanzas, which were hailed with delighted approval; how he then insisted upon adding another octrain to the hymn and came back with —

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,
And you, ye waters, roll;

— and how the great lyric was sung in Wrexham Church on Sunday morning for the first time in its life. The story is old but always fresh. Nothing could better have emphasized the good Dean's sermon that day in aid of “The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts,” than that unexpected and glorious lyric of his poet son-in-law.

By common consent Heber's “Missionary Hymn” is the silver trumpet among all the rallying bugles of the church.

Related Material from Guppy (see below)

The Tune: The union of words and music in this instance is an example of spiritual affinity. “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” The story of the tune is a record of providential birth quite as interesting as that of the hymn. In 1823, a lady in Savannah, Ga., having received and admired a copy of Heber's lyric from England, desired to sing it or hear it sung, but knew no music to fit the metre. She finally thought of a young clerk in a bank close by, Lowell Mason by name, who sometimes wrote music for recreation, and sent her son to ask him if he would make a tune that would sing the lines. The boy returned in half an hour with the composition that doubled Heber's fame and made his own.

In the words of Dr. Charles Robinson, “Like the hymn it voices, it was done at a stroke, and it will last through the ages.”


Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York, 1906. Project Gutenberg version by Juliet Sutherland, David Wilson, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team

Guppy, Henry. The John Rylands Library, Manchester. A Brief Historical Description of the Library and Its Contents. Manchester: Sherratt and Hughes, 1914. Uploaded to the Internet Archive. by Cornell University Library. Illus. 25. Web. 3 August 2012.

Heber, Reginald. The Poetical Works. Boston: Little, Brown, 1853. [available at Internet Archive/Google.]

Created 28 May 2011

Last modified 16 January 2024