The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized in April 1830. The Book of Mormon had been printed and the gospel was being to travel faster than ever. As the church grew, Joseph Smith continued to receive revelations to help him make sure the church he organized, was the one Jesus Christ wanted it to be: His church. Many of these revelations were written down and would later be compiled into what is now the Doctrine and Covenants. One of my favorite revelations was specifically given for Joseph’s wife, Emma Smith.
It’s a beautiful message from a loving Heavenly Father. It also contains an assignment just for her
“11 And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church.
12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” D&C 25:11–12
I find it wonderful that even in its infant stages; the Lord thought it was important for His restored church to have music. I’m grateful that He loves music as much as I do. It’s a part of me that recognizes the love and beauty of God’s promises.
Emma Smith worked for the next five years gathering a collection of hymns. It wasn’t easy, not because there was a lack of good music available, but because her life over the next few years would be very difficult. Above all else, Emma was a devoted wife, homemaker, and mother. She let nothing take the place of her first and most important duties. However, just in fulfilling these roles her life would be filled with many trials. In the spring of 1831 Emma gave birth to twins who would live only a few short hours. To help ease her grief, Emma and Joseph adopted two orphaned twins. While this was a great blessing, it was also the source of a new trial. Shortly after a malicious attack on their home, one of these sweet infants would die from exposure.
I like to think that the Lord gave her this commission not because she needed something to do, but because He knew and loved her. I imagine that part of the reason Emma received this assignment was because she would need it. At least for me, music is a sustaining and uplifting element that can bring comfort and express joy as needed. Perhaps it was a way for the Lord to reach out to her in the coming years, when her heart would need Him most.
She did have a lot of help along the way and eventually the first LDS hymnal was published in August, 1835. This tiny book measuring 3 by 4 ½ inches and containing 90 hymn texts was entitled “A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of the Latter Day Saints”. More than 30 of these hymns would be original works specifically for and by LDS members such as Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and William W. Phelps. This volume of hymns contained only words, because it was the practice at the time to sing the hymns to already familiar tunes rather than assigning their own melodies. This would not happen for the LDS hymnal until 1857.
Our hymnal today is very different from Emma’s first labor of love on our behalf, but it still touches on this history. Twenty-five of the hymns currently within our hymnal were part of Emma’s original selections. Among these are:
Redeemer of Israel
How Firm a Foundation
The Spirit of God
Gently Raise the Sacred Strain
Emma was an amazing woman but if for nothing else, I’m truly grateful for her work collecting music that the saints could sing praises to God with.