I. T. Saunders, Hymnist

Primitive Baptists have a hymn repertoire that I'd refer to as "all our own", except that it's not; it's the hymn tradition that was largely shared by most of this country's churches — and all its Baptists — almost up 'til the Civil War (call it what you will). It centers on the hymns and psalm paraphrases of Isaac Watts, with a sizable admixture of Newton, Anne Steele, Doddridge, Toplady, Cowper, Stenett, and others — mostly not Baptists, by the way. (I could ask the reader to consider how it is that those hymns became unacceptable to other groups, but not to us — but I'll let that pass for another day.)

The hymn-books of Primitive Baptists, however, contain some gems that are not found elsewhere. In the words-only hymn-book of Elder Wilson Thompson, who himself wrote a number of excellent hymns that have not gained a foothold elsewhere, there are several hymns by a man named I. T. Saunders, who was apparently at one point an associate of Elder Thompson. Many of them are a delight: plainly worded, loaded with good doctrine explicitly stated, and full of true Christian experience. Read this one, for example, on the love of Christ for the church and the love of Christians for Christ and for one another:

  1. The unconverted want to know
    Why we should happy be,
    And 'tis to them a myst'ry, too,
    The pleasures that we see.

  2. 'Tis love that makes communion sweet,
    And binds the Church to Christ;
    It makes our union all complete —
    Because He loved us first.

  3. We love to meet where Christians meet,
    To read, and sing, and pray,
    In fellowship each other greet,
    And there desire to stay.

  4. Our mutual burdens we do bear,
    And for each other pray,
    And often feel each other's care
    While walking in the way.

  5. How good and pleasant 'tis to see
    The brethren of one mind!
    In sentiment we all agree,
    And treat each other kind.

  6. Our exercise we often tell,
    And tell how vile we've been;
    How Jesus saved our souls from hell,
    And put away our sin.

  7. We love to praise the blessèd Lamb
    Who bore our sin and pain;
    The Son of God became as man,
    And for His church was slain.

It's full. It explains that the joy of the saints is a mystery to the unconverted; expresses that the saints' love for Christ and each other is nothing humanly possible, but the result of Christ's love for His people; describes the activities of the church: proclaiming the Gospel, singing, praying, and fellowship — and that's just the first three verses!

Saunders' hymns, like those of Elder Thompson, embrace some topics that are not all that common; for example, this one, on the predictable enmity of the world for God's people (as per John 15:20: Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.):

  1. Ye sons of God, while here below,
    Through tribulation you must go;
    Don't marvel, then, or be surprised
    If you are hated and despised.

  2. The world did first your Master hate,
    And for His sake, you'll share His fate;
    Don't think it strange or wonder, then,
    If you're belied by wicked men.

  3. They'll persecute you through this world;
    With lies their banner is unfurled;
    Their fiery darts will swiftly fly —
    Their ends and means they'll justify.

  4. The wicked will your souls pursue,
    Both worldlings and professors, too;
    To sink your standing and your fame,
    With scandal they'll disgrace your name.

  5. Should friends forsake and turn to foes,
    And all the world your way oppose,
    Do what is right; you've nought to fear
    From foes without, within, or near.

  6. The saints of God below are seen
    Like sheep and lambs on mountains green,
    Where wolves and lions 'round do roar
    With rage — they're seeking to devour.

  7. Though wolves may howl by day and night,
    And men and devils vent their spite,
    While Jesus is your Shepherd near,
    The sheep and lambs should never fear.

  8. Since Jesus died to save His sheep,
    Cast off your fears and cease to weep;
    The church of Christ's a chosen band,
    Which soon He'll place at His right hand.

That's not a topic you get to sing about every day, but it's a truth, and shouldn't our hymns reflect the full range of God's truth? And speaking of God's truth, it's hard to find a hymn that expresses the Christian's gratitude for the Scriptures, but I. T. Saunders wrote one:

  1. The Bible is the book of books,
    The Christian's precious chart;
    In search of truth therein he looks,
    And binds it to his heart.

  2. To him, it is the word of God
    By inspiration giv'n;
    He gains instruction from the word
    That lights his path to heav'n.

  3. Eternal truth in ev'ry line —
    A precious treasure, too;
    Each page shows wisdom all divine
    And teaches what is true.

  4. We find the law of God therein;
    The gospel truth beside;
    They show the magnitude of sin,
    And why the Saviour died.

  5. Angels desire to know the mind
    Which God to Zion shows,
    Of secret things the most sublime
    Unfolding joyful news.

  6. If angels try to seek and pry,
    God's holy will to scan,
    We cannot prize that book too high
    Which shows His will to man.

  7. Instruct us, Lord, to use Thy word,
    To fight and never yield;
    To take the Holy Spirit's sword
    And with it take the field.

I especially appreciate the seventh verse, which points out that the written word is useless to the natural man without the aid of the Holy Spirit, and implores God's aid in employing it correctly.

(Maybe I can make this a bit of a series on the unique treasures of Primitive Baptist hymnody. There are certainly others — Elders Wilson Thompson, Isaac Vanmeter, and John R. Daily, among others.)