The Hymns: “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”

Come, Ye Thankful People, Come is one of the great and traditional hymns of thanksgiving to the almighty God that is popularly sing during the Christian Harvest Festival and was written by Revd. Henry Alford. Thanksgiving is an uncommon virtue and harvest is a blessing.

Anyone who has ever lived in a farming community knows the urgency associated with the harvest.  The fruit of a whole year’s work hang on the harvest, which cannot be accomplished until the crop is ready and which must be accomplished quickly then lest it be spoiled by pests or weather.  During the busy harvest season, farmers literally work day and night to get the job done.  Only after the harvest is there time to relax and celebrate.

But even if we aren’t farmers, we can appreciate the urgency of deadlines' the joy of an important job well done, the relief of a respite after a busy time at work. This is aspect of thanksgiving of the hymn. Thanksgiving is acknowledging the God behind our blessing, the God behind any good thing in our life (gift of life, joy, peace). To acknowledge means to admit, to recognise, to accept, to reply – to reply God that He is behind the blessings in our life, e.g. we can talk, our legs and hands can move, God is behind it. It doesn't matter whether our blessings are small or big, God is behind it.

In the fall of 1844, while Revd. Henry Alford was at Wymeswold, his first charge, the people of this hamlet decided to have a festival, rejoicing in the abundant harvest already gathered into their barns. For this particular occasion Alford wrote a song, “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”, which has been sung, perhaps millions of times during Harvest Thanksgiving celebrations.

This popular Harvest Festival hymn was first published in Revd. Henry Alford Psalms and Hymns in year 1844  when Dean Alford was only 34 years old. It has been revised through the years and reduced from the original seven stanzas to the now popularised version of four stanzas. The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnody details several revisions of the text both by Alford and others, resulting in the author’s final revision in 1868.
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come is one of the great and traditional hymns of thanksgiving to the almighty God that is popularly sing during the Christian Harvest Festival
Hymn Singing
Only the first stanza deals directly on the physical harvest, an image used throughout scripture from early in Genesis through Revelation. The first stanza focuses with the temporal harvest here on earth. The other three portray the spiritual harvest of precious souls and the time when God shall come to 'gather in' His people.
The following two stanzas are an interesting commentary on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares as recorded in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

The second stanza begins Alford’s expansion upon the parable of Jesus concerning the wheat and the tares (weeds) from Matthew 13:24-30. It is a challenging parable, which Alford interprets in this hymn to describe how joy and sorrow grow together in life, and how God does not eliminate sorrow until after the final harvest when God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”3

The third stanza moves more directly to the apocalyptic with “For the Lord our God shall come.

The final stanza is a prayer for the Lord’s return–”the final harvest home”– the culminating event that Henry Alford sees as the ultimate demonstration of God’s goodness in His eternal purpose of man’s Redemption..
Come ye thankful people Come Christian Harvest Festival and was written by Revd. Henry Alford.

The author, Rev. Henry Alford DD, was born in London, England, on October 7 1810. Born into a long line of Anglican clergymen, Alford was raised early by his father and later by his uncle, Rev. Samuel Alford, due to his mother’s death during his birth. This resulted in his early education being scattered between private tutoring and a variety of schools, but in 1827 he became a scholar at Trinity College where he received all his secondary education (B.A. 1832, M.A. 1835). He was ordained a priest in the Anglican church in 1834, served in the vicarage at Wymeswold in Leicestershire (18 years), at Quebec Street Chapel in Marylebone, London (4 years), and as Dean of the Chapter of the Cathedral of Christ Church, Canterbury, England (14 years).

It is said that at the end of a hard day’s work, as well as after every meal, it was customary practice for “Dean” Alford to stand to his feet and give thanks to God for the blessings just relieved or enjoyed during the day.  This spirit of perpetual gratitude is clearly evidenced throughout this hymn.

Because of Alford’s strenuous efforts and unlimited activities in the Christian ministry, he suffered a physical breakdown in 1870, and died on January 12, 1871.  His passing was mourned throughout the entire Christian world.  During his lifetime one of the “Dean’s” unfulfilled, cherished dreams was to visit the Holy Land.  Although this dream was never realized, it was said of him that is eyes were fixed upon the Heavenly Jerusalem toward which he journeyed.  On his tombstone the following appropriate inscription is found: “The Inn of a Pilgrim Traveling to Jerusalem.”

The composer of this tune, “St. George’s, Windsor”, was George J. Elvey, who served as the organist for forty-seven years at the historic, royal chapel at Windsor Castle in England.  He originally composed the music for James Montgomery’s text “Hark! The Song of Jubilee,” published in E. H. Throne’s Selection of Psalms and Hymn Tunes in 1858.  In 1861, this tune first appeared wedded to Henry Alford’s text in the well-known Anglican Church hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern.  It has found a place in nearly every published hymnal to the present time.

George Elvey was knighted by Queen Victoria, in 1871, for his many years of faithful service to the royal family as well as for his various musical publications, including several oratorios, anthems, and collections of service music.  Elvey is also the composer of the familiar hymn tune “Diademata,” generally used with such hymn texts as “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “Soldiers of Chris Arise.”

As noted above, some reviewers of the hymn have pointed to the incongruity of this sturdy and joyful tune with the text, but there is some beauty in this pairing as well, especially concerning painting of the text. Among others, one such case is the use of a dotted rhythm, balanced throughout the music, as a compelling invitation to sing, notably on the opening “Come.” One might also notice the phrase “all is safely gathered in” where the pitch begins and ends on A, but feels “gathered” by the use of the neighboring tones, Bb and G. Midway through the hymn, the phrases, “first the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear,” are sung in an ascending sequence that seem almost like corn growing in the field, and later the leap upward for ‘raise the song’ and ‘raise the glorious’ helps to paint the intent of the final phrases in stanzas 1 and 4.

The Hymn Full Text

Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God's own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God's own field,
fruit as praise to God we yield;
wheat and tares together sown
are to joy or sorrow grown;
first the blade and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come,
and shall take the harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
giving angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in the garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come,
bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.

           TEXT BY: Henry Alford (1844)