The Familist's Hymn

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The Familist's Hymn
by John Greenleaf Whittier

The Puritans of New England, even in their wilderness home, were not exempted from the sectarian contentions which agitated the mother country after the downfall of Charles the First, and of the established Episcopacy. The Quakers, Baptists, and Catholics were banished, on pain of death, from the Massachusetts Colony. One Samuel Gorton, a bold and eloquent declaimer, after preaching for a time in Boston against the doctrines of the Puritans, and declaring that their churches were mere human devices, and their sacrament and baptism an abomination, was driven out of the jurisdiction of the colony, and compelled to seek a residence among the savages. He gathered round him a considerable number of converts, who, like the primitive Christians, shared all things in common. His opinions, however, were so troublesome to the leading clergy of the colony, that they instigated an attack upon his "Family" by an armed force, which seized upon the principal men in it, and brought them into Massachusetts, where they were sentenced to be kept at hard labor in several towns (one only in each town), during the pleasure of the General Court, they being forbidden, under severe penalties, to utter any of their religious sentiments, except to such ministers as might labor for their conversion. They were unquestionably sincere in their opinions, and, whatever may have been their errors, deserve to be ranked among those who have in all ages suffered for the freedom of conscience.


Father! to Thy suffering poor
Strength and grace and faith impart,
And with Thy own love restore
Comfort to the broken heart!
Oh, the failing ones confirm
With a holier strength of zeal!
Give Thou not the feeble worm
Helpless to the spoiler's heel!

Father! for Thy holy sake
We are spoiled and hunted thus;
Joyful, for Thy truth we take
Bonds and burthens unto us
Poor, and weak, and robbed of all,
Weary with our daily task,
That Thy truth may never fall
Through our weakness, Lord, we ask.

Round our fired and wasted homes
Flits the forest-bird unscared,
And at noon the wild beast comes
Where our frugal meal was shared;
For the song of praises there
Shrieks the crow the livelong day;
For the sound of evening prayer
Howls the evil beast of prey!

Sweet the songs we loved to sing
Underneath Thy holy sky;
Words and tones that used to bring
Tears of joy in every eye;
Dear the wrestling hours of prayer,
When we gathered knee to knee,
Blameless youth and hoary hair,
Bowed, O God, alone to Thee.

As Thine early children, Lord,
Shared their wealth and daily bread,
Even so, with one accord,
We, in love, each other fed.
Not with us the miser's hoard,
Not with us his grasping hand;
Equal round a common board,
Drew our meek and brother band!

Safe our quiet Eden lay
When the war-whoop stirred the land
And the Indian turned away
From our home his bloody hand.
Well that forest-ranger saw,
That the burthen and the curse
Of the white man's cruel law
Rested also upon us.

Torn apart, and driven forth
To our toiling hard and long,
Father! from the dust of earth
Lift we still our grateful song!
Grateful, that in bonds we share
In Thy love which maketh free;
Joyful, that the wrongs we bear,
Draw us nearer, Lord, to Thee!

Grateful! that where'er we toil,--
By Wachuset's wooded side,
On Nantucket's sea-worn isle,
Or by wild Neponset's tide,--
Still, in spirit, we are near,
And our evening hymns, which rise
Separate and discordant here,
Meet and mingle in the skies!

Let the scoffer scorn and mock,
Let the proud and evil priest
Rob the needy of his flock,
For his wine-cup and his feast,--
Redden not Thy bolts in store
Through the blackness of Thy skies?
For the sighing of the poor
Wilt Thou not, at length, arise?

Worn and wasted, oh! how long
Shall thy trodden poor complain?
In Thy name they bear the wrong,
In Thy cause the bonds of pain!
Melt oppression's heart of steel,
Let the haughty priesthood see,
And their blinded followers feel,
That in us they mock at Thee!

In Thy time, O Lord of hosts,
Stretch abroad that hand to save
Which of old, on Egypt's coasts,
Smote apart the Red Sea's wave
Lead us from this evil land,
From the spoiler set us free,
And once more our gathered band,
Heart to heart, shall worship Thee!