“I Would Be True”

Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example…” (1 Tim. 4.12)

INTRO.: A hymn which expresses the attitude of one who is an example of the believer is “I Would Be True” (#38 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Howard Arnold Walter, who was born at New Britain, CN, on Aug. 19, 1883. Receiving his education at Princeton University, graduating in 1905, and Hartford Theological Seminary, then doing further study at the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Gottingen, he taught English at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, for a while beginning in 1906. It was during this time that he sent to his mother, Mrs. Henry S. Walter, three stanzas which he had penned on Jan. 1, 1907 and entitled “My Creed.” He said that it represented his philosophy of life which this young man in his early twenties wanted to share with others. Mrs. Walter, impressed with her son’s convictions, especially in view of the fact that she knew that her son had a weak heart, submitted the poem to the magazine Harper’s Bazaar, where it was first published in the May, 1907, issue.

The tune (Peek) was composed by Joseph Yates Peek (1843-1911). A carpenter, farmer, and druggist’s clerk from Schenectedy, NY, he served with Union forces in the Civil War and then worked as a florist from 1881 to 1904. A member of the Nostrand-DeKalb Methodist Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, NY, for many years, he became a Methodist lay preacher in 1904 and travelled to Maine, Florida, and California. During the summer of 1909, Peek met Walter, after the latter had returned from Japan to serve as summer minister at Nostrand-DeKalb, and was given a copy of “My Creed.” The two became good friends. Although Peek possessed no technical knowledge of music or composition, the words brought forth a melody in his mind, which he later whistled to Grant Colfax Tullar (1869-1950). Tullar, a well-known religious musician and music publisher, then set it down and harmonized the melody. It was first published in 1911.

Following his return to the United States, Walter married Miss Marguerite B. Darlington of Brooklyn, NY, in 1910 and served as a minister with the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, CN, from 1910 to 1913. Then in 1913 with the encouragement of John R. Mott, he joined the executive staff of the YMCA for India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to do evangelistic work with Muslim students in India, in spite of doctors’ warnings that life in India would overtax his weak heart. The fourth stanza was added sometime later, perhaps around 1918, and sent to his cousin, Theodore Ainsworth Greene, minister of the First Church of Christ (Congregational) in New Britain. Walter’s headquarters were set up at Foreman Christian College in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab in India (now in Pakistan), where he died on Nov. 1, 1918, at the age of 35 during an influenza epidemic.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Sacred Selections. It is a pity that more of our books have not included this wonderful statement of purpose in life.

The song identifies several aspects of the attitude that is necessary to please God in this life.

I. Stanza 1 encourages personal righteousness
“I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.”
A. We can be good examples unto others only if we are true or faithful unto the Lord: 1 Cor. 11.1, Rev. 2.10
B. We can be good examples unto others only if we are pure: Matt. 5.8, 1 Tim. 5.22, 2 Tim. 2.22
C. We can be good examples unto others only if we are strong and brave to endure the sufferings of this life: Acts 5.41-42, Rom. 8.18, 2 Tim. 3.12

II. Stanza 2 encourages helping others
“I would be friend of all–the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.”
A. We need to be friend of all by loving all men, including our enemies, and doing good to those who are friendless or in need: Matt. 5.44-48, Rom. 12.18-21, Gal. 6.10
B. We need to be giving to others without thought of the gift or receiving anything in return: Matt. 5.42, 10.42; Lk. 6.38
C. And we need to be humble in helping others, rather than having a haughty, “better than thou” attitude, considering our own weaknesses: Gal. 6.1-2, Phil. 2.1-4, 1 Pet. 1.5-7

III. Stanza 3 encourages being students of the scriptures
“I would be learning day by day the lessons
My heavenly Father gives me in His Word;
I would be quick to hear the lightest whisper,
And prompt and glad to do the things I’ve heard.”
A. We need to be daily learning the lessons that God has in His word: Acts 17.11, 1 Thess. 2.13, 2 Tim. 3.16-17
B. We need to be quick in hearing His slightest whispers, which are found in the written word: Matt. 17.5, Mk. 4.9, Jn. 6.44-45
C. And we need to be prompt and glad to do what we have heard, knowing that just hearing is not enough: Matt. 7.21, Jn. 14.15, Jas. 1.22-25

IV. Stanza 4 encourages prayer
“I would be prayerful through each busy moment;
I would be constantly in touch with God;
I would strong to follow where He leads me;
I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod.”
A. We need to be prayerful through each busy moment: Lk. 18.1, Rom. 12.12, 1 Thess. 5.16-18
B. We need to be constantly in touch with God; He speaks to us through His word and we speak to Him through prayer: Matt. 7.7-11, Phil. 4.6-7, Jas. 5.13-18. One source has the third line as reading, “I would be tuned to hear His slightest whisper.” I do not know if this was the original and it has been altered to make it a little different from the almost identical part of stanza 3, or if the original was altered to this for some reason or another.
C. And we need to have the kind of faith that is necessary to keep the path Christ trod: Heb. 11.1-6, Jas. 1.2-8, 1 Pet. 2.21-24

CONCL.: Each stanza concludes with a repetition of the final line.  Sometime after Walter’s death in 1918, three more stanzas were written by his good friend and fellow Congregational minister Samuel Ralph Harlow (1885-1972):
1. “Who is so low that I am not his brother?
Who is so high that I’ve no path to him?
Who is so poor, I may not feel his hunger?
Who is so rich I may not pity him?”
2. “Who is so hurt I may not know his heartache?
Who sings for joy my heart may never share?
Who in God’s heaven has passed beyond my vision?
Who to Hell’s depths where I may never fare?”
3. “May none, then, call on me for understanding,
May none, then, turn to me for help in pain,
And drain alone his bitter cup of sorrow,
Or find he knocks upon my heart in vain.”
The desire to manifest a faithful, helping, godly, prayerful character is an unusual goal for a young person, especially in today’s materialistic and selfish society. Yet, the author’s life is often cited as an outstanding example of his own words. Hartford Seminary placed his name on its honor roll where it can still be seen today. In the First Congregational Church of Christ in New Britain, Cn, there is a memorial tablet place there Feb. 14, 1926, on which the first two stanzas of this hymn are inscribed. Even though Walter is no longer alive, his commitment lives on in these words. In a culture that can easily corrupt even the best of minds, it is important that I seek God’s help in my daily life so that in all things to Him “I Would Be True.”


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