Another hymn often associated with Thanksgiving is, “Come, Ye Thankful People Come.” However, this hymn was written in England and meant for the post-harvest season, separate from the American celebration of Thanksgiving. Even so, as Thanksgiving does take place in the post-harvest season, and this hymn speaks of thankfulness and the plentiful harvest of God, it is a fitting hymn for this season of Thanksgiving and the end of the church year about to begin anew.
This hymn was written by Henry Alford, a man born into a family with a long history in the Anglican Church, five generations, in fact. Henry was born on the 7th of October, 1810, in London, England, to a lawyer turned clergyman and the daughter of a banker. Sadly, their marriage was short-lived, and Henry’s mother died in childbirth, leaving his father to raise Henry alone. At first, he was sent away to be cared for by family. But, alone and heartbroken, his father brought Henry home to Wiltshire, England.
As his father was a learned man, and Henry an only child, his father readily began teaching him. Unsurprisingly, young Henry was an exemplary learner and had written a small book by the time he was six years old. Within the next couple of years, he wrote a few works in Latin, a history of the Jewish people, and a book of sermons before most modern American children would have begun middle school. These habits and skills translated into his adult years. Alford became known as one of the most “accomplished churchmen of his day — poet, preacher, painter, musician, biblical scholar, critic, and philologist.” During the times that he actually attended a formal institution, even during his youth, he excelled at and greatly enjoyed his studies, his masters amazed by the gift of such a student.
In the fall of 1827, Henry began to attend Cambridge University. By early 1832, he began to teach others, and not just young students – his own companions to MP’s were under his tutelage. A year later, he was made a deacon and worked in Ampton. He was later made a fellow at Trinity College and also a vicar to serve in Leicestershire. Through the years, he was often offered the position of Bishop, but just as often, he declined. Around this same time, he worked at Somerset House, where he taught various subjects of the classical arts (though he was once mistaken for a student because of his youth!). In 1835, he married a distant relative named Fanny, daughter of a clergyman. We owe much to Henry’s wife, for it is because of her that we now know of most of his work, as she later edited and brought to the public’s attention after his death.
Henry was not one easily dissuaded from a challenging task, as evidenced by his childhood studies and later endeavors, which were appreciated by all around him. He even once went on to give a speech after being thrown from a horse! His diligence and love for service were well marked. There is little wonder why he was approached so often to hold various leadership positions.
Even so, Henry loved the finer works of writing and reading. Towards the end of his life, he spent a great deal more time translating the Scriptures, preaching in a chapel his father served in, and working on various pieces of classic literature, such as the Odyssey. It was during this time, in 1844, that he wrote “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” for the harvest festivals in the villages. Originally, it had seven stanzas when published in his collection Psalms and Hymns. However, it was shortened in further collections of his, and altered in other hymnbooks by others, a practice he was not fond of. Even so, the text below is a modified text for the LSB. The tune we attribute to it today, called “ST. GEORGE’S WINDSOR,” was composed by contemporary George Elvey and added to the hymn in 1858.
By the end of the 1850s, he was made a dean of Canterbury. He wrote many philological works at this time and even became the editor of a paper. As any good English churchman would, he loved, and edited, a tome of Donne’s works and penned volumes of his own poetry. As mentioned above, Alford was involved in many scholarly pursuits, and he wrote about as many books as his learnings allowed.
Idleness was not a characteristic of Henry Alford, and it is said he was working up until the day of his death. He went to be with the Lord just after Epiphany in 1871 in peace after a life well-lived. Though few of his works are sung today, it is fitting that the one remembered best is “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Henry was a thankful person and a minister in all that he did. His service to God and the church was fruitful then and is still at work today in the many great works he has written and in this simple hymn for the simple gifts we have in Harvest, Home, and the Lord.
Come, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;
all be 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.
As we have adopted this hymn to our Thanksgiving tradition, we begin with praise and thanks to God. And yet, this is a hymn not only of thanks for the gifts God has given but of hope for the promises in store for us. The hymn begins with a call to come together and raise our praises home, which is with God. We are thankful to God for all He has provided for us and for His promises to us. So now, as we go into the cold, scarce winter months, we rest assured that He will continue to care for us (Rom. 8:25, 2 Cor. 1:20, Phil. 4:4-7, Jas. 1:17). So now, in response to promises answered and awaiting, we gather together to raise our praises and thanks to God (Psa. 65:11, 67:6-7, 100:4, Heb. 13:15).
All the world is God’s own field,
fruit unto His praise to yield;
wheat and tares together sown
unto 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.
The second verse is of a different kind of harvest than that found in the first verse, though the metaphor here would be natural to people who had just been harvesting grain. Here we are brought back to two parables of Jesus when He speaks of the kingdom of God. A man sows seed and it grows little by little until the time for harvest (Mar. 4:26-29). Yet in another parable, while the sower is sleeping, an enemy sows bad seed, or “tares,” a type of grain similar but different from wheat (Matt. 13:24-30). These then grow up together, and their fate is met in the following stanza. While we are in this field of God, the world and His creation, we offer up as gifts the fruit we have, both material and spiritual (1 Cor. 3:8-9). Yet we also ask that while we are in the world, sown among joy and sorrow, good and bad, with forces that wish to grow us for God and choke us out, that God would make us “wholesome grain,” pure and ready for the harvest of God (1 Cor. 3:12-15, 2 Cor. 7:1, 2 Pet. 1:4, Rev. 19:6-9).
For the Lord, our God, shall come,
and shall take His harvest home;
from the field shall in that day
all offenses purge away,
give His angels charge at last
in the fire the tares to cast;
but the fruitful ears to store
in His garner evermore.
We ask that the Lord make us clean and ready for the harvest because “our God shall come” and not delay! And when He comes, He will be taking those who are in Him home to dwell with Him forever. But first, there will be sifting at the threshing floor (Mic. 4:12, Matt. 3:11-12, Rev. 14:14-19). Here, all that is good only for the fire – the chaff, tares, and weeds – will be cast out, but the good seed will remain with God forever (Matt. 13:36-43, 16:27). Thus, we recognize that we are the harvest, and we will be living in the world until that great day of the Lord. So we ask that He continue to keep His promises to guide us and preserve us for the day of everlasting we know is coming soon (Isa. 26:3, Gal. 5:18-26, 1 Pet. 5:10, Rev. 3:11, 22:12, 20).
Even so, Lord, quickly come,
to/bring thy final harvest home;
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there, forever purified,
in thy garner/presence to abide;
come, with all thine angels, come,
raise the glorious harvest home.
Finally, we repeat the closing words of Scripture (Rev. 22:20). We know this day is coming, and we await it eagerly and with trembling (Rom. 8:22-25). Here, you will notice that some verses have two words divided. The first is what we find in the LSB, the second in most other hymnals. While all of these verses have been altered in some way for the LSB, I found the more original text in this verse interesting and worth preserving.
We look forward to the day when we will be brought home, as the Lord has promised (Matt. 24:30-31, Luk. 21:27-28). Here, we will be free from the consequences of sin, now purged, pure, and restored to stand before the throne of God (1 Pet. 1:20-25, Rev. 19:6-9, 21:4, 22:6-7). So we ask the Lord to come (Rev. 22:20-21). And at this second coming, the Lord will, as He has promised, return to this last harvest, those who have remained in Christ, to restore all things and us to Him, the now glorious harvest that He brings to our eternal Home (Jhn. 14:1-4, Acts 1:11, 1 Thes. 4:16-17, Rev. 22:14-17, 20-21). We ask, reflecting on the first verse where we brought our fruits to God, for Him now to bring us, the fruit of His Word, home to be with Him.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig
“892. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” The Lutheran Service Book. 2006.
“Come, ye thankful people, come.” Hymnary.org.
“Henry Alford.” William Charles, Mark Kent. The Encyclopaedia Britannica.