History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 3: Emma’s 1841 Nauvoo Hymnbook

Two hymnals published in the early 1840s displayed a growing divide in opinion over selection of hymns in the Church. In October of 1839, a high council “voted that Sister Emma Smith, select and publish a hymn Book for the use of the Church, and that Brigham Young be informed of the same, and he not publish the hymns taken by him from Commerce.”[1] Emma’s hymnal would be published in 1841 as an updated version of the 1835 hymnal, using the same preface and 77 of the 90 hymns in the older collection. The Prophet indicated his desire that it would contain “a greater variety of Hymns,” and it contained 304 in all.[2] Prior to its printing, both Hyrum Smith and Joseph Smith discouraged printing hymnals other than reprints of the 1835 edition outside of Church headquarters so that the forthcoming new edition could receive the “immediate inspection of Joseph and his councilors” and be considered “a standard work.”[3]

Many of the hymns included in the finished work reflected a shift back to traditional Protestant hymns. The Zionism of previous hymnals was largely replaced by an emphasis on revivalist, grace-oriented phraseology and personal introspection about Jesus and the cross rather than communal rejoicing in God’s redemption of Israel. Several of Phelps’s “corrected” hymns reverted to the original versions, and well-known grace-focused hymns like “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “Amazing Grace,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” were included for the first time.[4] Seventy-eight of the hymns added to the collection were copied from Manchester hymnal published in England the year before. Of the remaining 143 hymns, only 10 were by Mormons. This retrenchment towards Protestant Christianity ran counter to Joseph Smith’s expanding and changing theology in the Nauvoo era of Church history, however, leading to the hymnbook having less of an impact than it otherwise would have in the Latter-day Saint tradition. By contrast, the 1840 Manchester hymnbook reflected an inclination towards hymns that focused on topics important to Mormons, including priesthood, the Second Coming of Christ, and the gathering of Israel. The Manchester hymnal serves as the basis of the branch of Mormonism that followed the Quorum of the Twelve to Utah to this day.

If Brigham Young’s Manchester hymnal and Emma Smith’s Nauvoo hymnal represent diverging paths in hymn selection, then Emma’s work represents the basis of hymnals in the Reorganized Church (now Community of Christ).[5] In fact, Emma edited the first and second hymnals the Reorganized Church printed in 1861 and 1864, largely based on her 1841 collection.[6] Nine major hymnals have been produced by the Reorganized church since their initial 1861 collection. Jan Shipps observed these Saints differed from their Utah brethren in theology over a number of issues, including many of Joseph Smith’s later teachings (especially polygamy).[7] Thus, hymns dealing with Nauvoo doctrines like baptisms for the dead (i.e., “The Glorious Gospel Light Had Shone”) were far less likely to appear in RLDS hymnbooks than their LDS counterparts, while songs that stand out as praising Mormon subjects were often muted, like “Praise to the Man,” which was edited to “Praise to the Lord for the Great Restoration.”[8] Emma’s work in selecting hymns for the official 1841 hymnbook paved the way for later RLDS hymnals, but has had little impact on later LDS hymnbooks.


Examples of Hymns:

Amazing Grace

Much like the other LDS hymnbooks of the time, hymns were printed in the 1841 hymnal text-only. A greater concentration of hymns like “Amazing Grace,” with a focus on grace, the cross and the blood of Jesus are among the notable differences in this hymnbook from most other LDS hymnals.


Come, Thou Fount

The popular hymn “Come Thou Fount” was included in Emma’s Nauvoo hymnbook for the first time in official LDS hymnbooks and has been included off and on since then. Shown here is a printing in the 1909 Deseret Sunday School Songs with an alternative tune to the one that is generally used today.


Time is Far Spent

A few new LDS hymns were included for the first time in Emma’s hymnbook. “The Time is Far Spent” is one of those hymns that is included in the current LDS hymnbook.



[1] “History, 1838–1856, volume C-1 [2 November 1838–31 July 1842],” p. 972, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-185-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/154

[2] “Letter to Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 14 May 1840,” p. 146, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-orson-hyde-and-john-e-page-14-may-1840/1

[3] “Letterbook 2,” p. 80, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letterbook-2/85 and “Letter to Orson Hyde and John E. Page, 14 May 1840,” p. 146, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-to-orson-hyde-and-john-e-page-14-may-1840/1

[4] Emma Smith, A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Nauvoo, IL: E. Robinson, 1841).

[5] See Hicks, Michael (2012) “Emma Smith’s 1841 Hymnbook,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Vol. 21: No. 1 , Article 3. Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/jbms/vol21/iss1/3

[6] Shane Chism, A Selection of Early Mormon Hymnbooks (Lulu.com, 2011), 244. Also, Richard Clothier, 150 Years of Song: Hymnody in the Reorganization, 1860-2010 (Independence, MO: Herald Publishing House), 8.

[7] Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 84-85.

[8] Clothier, 19.

6 comments for “History of LDS Hymnbooks, Part 3: Emma’s 1841 Nauvoo Hymnbook

  1. James Olsen
    June 29, 2018 at 6:23 am

    These are fascinating—keep them coming!

    The Time Is Far Spent then is an exception to the general trend of the 1841 hymnal, with it’s very Mormon-theological feel. It would be interesting to track the ratios of unique-to-Mormonism-content hymns vs. other hymns in each version of our hymnbook to see the trend over time. We clearly continue to write both types—like the hymns from the “A Mother There” art & poetry contest on the one hand and the Pres. Faust’s popular “This Is the Christ” on the other.

  2. JR
    June 29, 2018 at 8:35 am

    Eliza R. Snow’s “The Time is Far Spent” was a 3 stanza hymn of 8 lines each. The Manchester hymnal split it into 6 stanzas of 4 lines each. A later hymnal dropped out 2 of those. Only part of Eliza’s hymn is included in the present hymnal. Why one would choose to end the hymn with “demons” contrary to Eliza’s intention, I don’t know. I rather prefer her final 4 lines:

    “Press on to the mark of eternal perfection,
    Determin’d to reap the celestial reward,
    That you may come forth in the first resurrection,
    And feast at the supper of Jesus the Lord.”

    Perhaps a new hymnal can more accurately tell us when a hymn has been altered or abridged and does not in fact reflect the words of the author to whom it is attributed.

    Someday I’ll get finished with my write-up on the multiple uses of the tune used for “The Time is Far Spent.”

  3. The Other Clark
    June 29, 2018 at 11:40 am

    My least favorite hymn alteration is “the world has no use for the drone” in “Have I Done Any Good.” Bring back the original lyrics!

  4. Clark
    June 29, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Bring back the verse “you who unto Jesus” which got changed because people thought it was “yoohoo, Jesus!”

  5. jpv
    July 1, 2018 at 10:09 am

    My least favorite hymn alteration is “the world has no use for the drone” in “Have I Done Any Good.” Bring back the original lyrics!

    Not in there anymore unless you stopped singing it pre-85.

  6. Grandpa
    July 4, 2018 at 11:04 am

    The thing that strikes me about the Nauvoo Hymnal every time I read through it is that, riding on the heels of the nightmares of the Missouri persecution, it celebrated God’s love and Christ’s saving Atonement. It in essence was thanking Heavenly Father for His love and strength through the trials the members had survived.

Charitable Comments Welcome

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.