History Today – James Montgomery Paul S. Taylor

Paperback, 134pp. Published by Day One Publications, Ryelands Road, Leominster, HR6 8NZ, UK. Price £7.00. ISBN 978-1-84625-209-9.

James Montgomery was the author of some 400 hymns, among the best known are: ‘Hail to the Lord’s Anointed’; ‘Forever with the Lord’; and ‘According to thy gracious word, in meek humility’. In the preface to this book the author indicates that, apart from a seven-volume work by John Holland and James Everett published in 1854, very little has been written about the life of this hymn-writer and adds, ‘This book seeks to rectify that omission and to present a popular but serious evaluation of Montgomery’s varied life’.

James Montgomery was born in Ayrshire in 1771, his father a minister with the Moravian Brethren. In 1777 James was sent to a Moravian settlement in Fulneck, Yorkshire, for his education. While in Fulneck, he developed a love for music and poetry, but was obliged to leave when aged sixteen on account of his indolence; he was described by his tutors as ‘talented but difficult’. James determined to make his own way in the world and for the next fifteen years, as to his spiritual condition, he would later recollect in a poem that he was akin to ‘a star from heaven’ that had gone astray. During those years he went to Sheffield, found employment with the publisher of a local newspaper, the Sheffield Register, quickly rising to become editor and co-owner of it.

After a period of depression and now 31 years old, he began to attend a Bible Study Group which resulted in a renewal of spiritual interests and restoration to the Lord. In subsequent years Montgomery was linked with many educational and missionary societies, as well as occupying prominent administrative posts in the city of Sheffield. In his busy life he championed a number of social issues such as the abolition of slavery and the plight of ‘the climbing boys’ employed in cleaning chimneys. He was involved in the editing and publishing of a number of books on hymns as well as several volumes of his own poetry and a collection of his own hymns, those hymns testifying to his love for Christ and for His word.

James Montgomery has been described as standing alongside Wesley and Watts as one of our greatest hymn writers and in this book Paul Taylor has given a helpful, interesting and comprehensive biography of this outstanding Christian.

[Our thanks to Richard Catchpole, South Norwood, England, for this review]