Forgotten Verses #6: “Sweet Hour of Prayer”

William Walford, a blind preacher, wrote the words to “Sweet Hour of Prayer” in 1845. The words didn’t become well known for another sixteen years; in 1861, William Bradbury—known today for his many collaborations with Fanny Crosby—wrote the melody we sing today. The song made its first appearance in the 1861 hymnal Golden Chain.

The hymn originally had four verses; most hymnals today only offer the first two or three verses. But the fourth verse is a particular treasure; about three years ago, in a post entitled “The Missing Part of the Modern Christian Song,” I explained why. Enough new readers have joined us since that time that it’s worth revisiting this glorious fourth verse in this “Forgotten Verses” series: 

Most modern hymnals either only have verses one and two, or verses one and three; a few have one, two, and three. Yet for years, something about the song struck me as vaguely unsatisfying. It was not until I discovered the fourth verse about two years ago that I realized what it was: Modern hymnals had left out the end of the story.

Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
May I thy consolation share,
Till, from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height,
I view my home and take my flight.
This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise
To seize the everlasting prize,
And shout, while passing through the air,
“Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer!

You see, while we can enjoy prayer on earth—or, more applicably for most of us, work on the habits of spiritual discipline so that we may move toward enjoying it—it is but a weak foretaste of that day when we shall no longer have to pray—for we shall see face to face.

Truth be told, the verse isn’t completely forgotten in Southern Gospel circles. Vestal Goodman recorded it on the classic 1971 Happy Goodmans live recording Wanted Live; that was actually my first introduction to the verse, since it wasn’t in any of the hymnals I used growing up.

Have any other Southern Gospel artists recorded this verse?

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19 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I don’t know off the top of my head what groups recorded it, but I grew up singing that verse, because it’s in the red-back.

    • Cool! And that’s probably where the Happy Goodmans found it, too. I think I can safely say that the redback is a rare, rare exception.

  2. Growing up in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, I’ve always used the Seventh-Day Adventist Hymnal, which has always had that third verse, so I didn’t know that most hymnals don’t have that verse. The SDAH however has only three verses, and that third verse says “In my immortal flesh I’ll rise” instead of “This robe of flesh I’ll drop, and rise.”
    I guess I’ll have to do a google search to find out which verse I’m not aware of.

    • John’s post made me think, and realize that the red-back also has the Pisgah verse as the third verse. The verse that is missing from the red-back, which I don’t remember ever seeing until I googled it just now, is the “joys I fell, the bliss I share” verse.

      • Oops! I Should have refreshed the page before posting the comment below!

    • Just did a search and found a verse that talks about “…the joys I feel…” nice verse! Never seen it before!

  3. In that event, perhaps I should have done this post about that verse! Originally verse 2, it reads:

    Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
    The joys I feel, the bliss I share,
    Of those whose anxious spirits burn
    With strong desires for thy return!
    With such I hasten to the place
    Where God my Savior shows His face,
    And gladly take my station there,
    And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

    This verse’s “strong desires for thy return” sets up that glorious final verse.

    • Sets it up so well, that it’s better suited as the third verse, as opposed to the second!

      • I was thinking the same thing. Even the greatest songwriters aren’t infallible, and could make a mistake in verse order. 🙂

    • I have heard the fourth verse for as long as I can remember, but I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the “joys I feel” verse.

      The _Celebration Hymnal_ that I currently use just has the two most common verses. The “may I thy consolation share” verse must have been in one of the older hymnals I used regularly at some point in the past.

      • I just did a little bit of research. It turns out I have heard the “joys I feel” verse before.

        The 1956 Baptist Hymnal included the “joys I feel” verse, but not the “may I Thy consolation share” verse. I sang from that edition of the Baptist Hymnal regularly from my childhood through high school.

        When they 1975 Baptist Hymnal was published, “joys I feel” was dropped as the second verse and “may I” was added as the third. I sang from that one regularly from around 1992 until 1999 or so when our church purchased the Celebration Hymnal.

        I don’t have a 1991 edition handy to check, but the latest 2008 version is the same as the 1975. I’m guessing the 1991 is the same as the 1975 and 2008 editions. The church where I led music in 1991 bought the 1991 edition when it was published, but I moved to my current church a year or so later, dropping back to the 1975 edition as I mentioned.

      • That’s really interesting!

  4. Troy Burns sings this verse on the Archie Watkins and Smoky Mountain Reunion album “Hymn Time”. They sang it at the Memphis Quartet Show, and I bought the CD there. The album version is good, but they really performed it well live!

    • Neat! I don’t have any of their CDs; I need to change that at some point.

  5. 3 verses in my book and last one is the one you said was left out. Makes me wonder which one was left out in my book published in 1939 by Stamps-Baxter? Page 327. 1st vs. That calls me….22nd vs. Thy wings….and 3rd vs. May I thy consolation share…. we still sing this in our church. So many great song writers and music from what seems long ago,! Thank you for the information, I love gospel music♥♥♥