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song supplement

The Prodigal Song, 1759 (Part I)

John Macallan Swan,  The Prodigal Son  (1888). Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889

John Macallan Swan, The Prodigal Son (1888). Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889

I will arise and go to Jesus; He will embrace me in His arms.
In the arms of my dear Savior, oh, there are ten thousand charms.

He didn’t write the words of the chorus, but they describe his testimony perfectly. This month we’re reminding ourselves of the great call to repentance found in Joseph Hart’s “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.”

Hart (1712-68) knew the Christian gospel from an early age. Two years older than George Whitefield, he also grew up in an age of revivals. During his twenties, he began to claim Christ as his own Savior. But by his own account, he spent most of his thirties as a grace-abusing libertine:

I even outwent professed infidels, and shocked the irreligious and profane, with my horrid blasphemies and monstrous impieties. Hardness of heart was, with me, a sign of good confidence.

In the late 1740s Hart began trying to improve his morals. But fear for his soul took over. He would like awake at night, shivering for fear of hell. He attended services under the preaching of Whitefield and other evangelicals but could not escape his fears.

Finally, in 1757, after a sermon on Revelation 3:10, Hart threw himself completely upon the mercy of God. The effect was immediate and drastic:

Tears ran in streams from my eyes for a considerable while; and I was so swallowed up in joy and thankfulness, that I hardly knew where I was.

Two years later, he published a book of “hymns,” devotional poetry drawing deeply on his own experience. One of them began “Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched.” and sounded like a call to repentance:

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of him.

The perspective of the poem soon became a calling; by 1760 Hart was building a church in London. They said that 20,000 people attended his funeral. The prodigal had become a beloved preacher.

Contact us for a copy of “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” Let’s enjoy sharing these powerful words!

Hart’s memoirs quoted in Walter Wilson, History and Antiquities of the Dissenting Churches, vol. 3 (London, 1810), 345-47.