“Let the Lord Be Praised, O Zion”

"O praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise Him Him, all ye peoples" (Ps. 117.1)

     INTRO.: A song which encourages all nations and peoples to praise the Lord is "Let The Lord Be Praised, O Zion." The text was written and the tune was composed both by James Benjamin Franklin, who was born on Nov. 8, 1876, in Grimes County, TX, to W. Manuel and Jane McMahon Franklin, in the same little log cabin where his mother had been born. She was the daughter of Daniel B. and Priscilla East McMahon, who had come to Texas around 1835 and received land granted to them as part of Stephen F. Austin’s colony. When young Franklin was about seventeen, his family went to a farm in Limestone County, TX, and lived near Scence Hall for a few years, then moved to West Texas for a short while. However, they were forced to sell everything that they had because of a severe drought in 1887 and returned to Limestone County where they settled permanently with their seven children. At some point the Franklin family became members of the church of Christ. When James was growing up, his family and neighbors would sing in the fields while working and together in the evenings for entertainment, so he learned to love singing at a very early age. The Franklins all had beautiful singing voices, according to their neighbors and close friends, John K. and Elizabeth W. RIce, who also had several children. The Rices owned an organ, and Jim, as he was called, would go to their house and pick out tunes on it. He eventually fell in love with Edna Gertrude Rice when he was 21 years old and she was nineteen. They were married on Dec. 12, 1898, in a double ceremony with her brother, Hense Rice, and Jim’s sister, Della Franklin. The young married Franklin couple moved onto a tenant farm and settled down to raise a family in the country, but their first child, Carrie Emma, died at the age of three. This was such a terrible blow that for a while they were afraid to risk having any more offspring. However, when the next child, Bertha Irene, was born they found that their fears had been unfounded and went on to raise nine healthy children.

     While engaged in farming, Franklin was constantly humming a tune and would drop his plow, or whatever he was doing, rush into the house, jot down a few words or bars of music, then go back to his work. Going to every gathering and function that had anything to do with music, he spent as much time as possible during the months that he was not needed on the farm at schools which taught music composition and singing, especially around Waco. One day, while he was helping his father unload some supplies from the wagon, the team bolted and started to run away. When he tried to stop them, he fell between the wheels and broke an ankle. This ended his farming business for a while, so he invested what little money he had in a blacksmith shop in the little town of Watt, TX, hired a friend to take care of it for him, and went West Texas to go to a singing school. Here he made many contacts, sich as F. L. Eliand, J. E. Thomas, and Emmet S. Dean, who were valuable to him much later in his career as a songwriter and soloist. Eventually the Franklins settled down in nearby Groesbeck, TX, since the family had grown to such proportions that farming alone did not meet their needs. Franklin worked for a while as an Assistant County Clerk, served a short while on the Groesbeck Journal staff, and finally ended up working for the Williams and Bradley Abstract Company. With the advent of the Mexia oil boom, he became fairly wealthy and invested wisely in real estate around Groesbeck. His work left him little time to devote to his music, but he would often come home from the office, walk right over to the piano, and start playing a melody that had been running through his mind all day. He always kept a notebook of lined paper handy and could have a song transcribed in a matter of minutes in spite of the confusion and noise in the household. It is believed that Franklin provided words or music or both for over one hundred songs. In later years, the old piano became worn out from childish abuse, but he could still coax a tune fromit and was still writing songs occasionally.

     The story is told that one night, U. S. Senator Morris Sheppard was present in the audience where Franklin rendered a solo in a minor key.  When the last soul-appealing note had scarcely faded to silence, Senator Sheppard exclaimed, "I have never heard a gospel song so beautifully rendered." Probably Franklin’s best known song, for which he produced both words and music, is "Let the Lord Be Praised, O Zion," which was copyrighted by the Firm Foundation in 1911 and appeared in several of their older books. I have two books published by the Quartet Music Co. of Ft. Worth, TX, Song Service of 1922 and Searchlight Songs of 1923. Both were edited by J. E. Thomas and listed J. B. Franklin as one of the assistants.  They contain some songs of Franklin’s which are not much remembered today, such as "The Reaper’s Song," "Beautiful Harbor Lights," and "King of Gloryland." Other songbooks contain a song, "Follow On," with words by Mrs. E. Greer Floyd beginning, "My soul o’er-flows with joy and peace Where Jesus shows His face," for which Franklin did the tune. In his book Our Garden of Song, Gene C. Finley uses "Wondrous Love," in which Franklin wrote the text and J. E. Thomas the tune, as the representative song for Franklin. Franklin had kept in touch with Thomas for several years, and at the time of Thomas’s death in 1946 was collaborating with him on a new song with words that Thomas had sent to Franklin to provide music. Franklin’s daughter believes that this was the last song which her father did. After retiring from the abstract business, Franklin returned to a part-time job with the Groesbeck Journal. One Thanksgiving Eve in 1948, he came home from work and remarked to his wife that an old friend of his had suddenly died that morning. She replied that no one knows when his time would come, and he responded, "When I go, I hope it’s that way."  At eight o’clock that evening he had a heart attack and was gone.    Among hymnbooks published during the twentieth century by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, "Let the Lord Be Praised, O Zion" appeared in the 1938/1944 (New) Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb.  Today it may be found in the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 1999 Into Our Hands edited by Leland R. Fleming.

     The song offers several reasons why we should praise the Lord.

I. Stanza 1 says that we should praise Him for His holy name:
"Let the Lord be praised, O Zion! Magnify His holy name;
In triumphant adoration Far and near His praise proclaim."
 A. Zion originally referred to a mountain, then the city of Jerusalem which was partly built on that mountain, then symbolically to the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant, and prophetically to the citizens of the spiritual kingdom that would be established by the Messiah: Isa. 2.2-4
 B. Zion should magnify the Lord’s name because it is reverend and holy: Ps. 111.9
 C. It should always be our desire to proclaim His praise, which is the fruit of our lips: Heb. 13.15

II. Stanza 2 says that we should praise Him for His victory
"Shout aloud, all ye hosts victorious, Conquerors in His worthy cause.
Spare ye not the homage due Him; Look not for the world’s applause."
 A. God has promised that His people will be victorious through faith: 1 Jn. 5.4
 B. As a result, we are more than conquerors through His Son: Rom. 8.37
 C. Therefore, we should give the homage due Him and not look for the world’s applause, knowing that friendship with the world is enmity with God: Jas. 4.4

III. Stanza 3 says that we should praise Him for His kingship
"Praise Him, all creation, praise Him; Heaven and earth unite and sing
Praises of this mighty Ruler, Whom the angels crowned their King."
 A. All creation, over whom the Lord is ruler, should praise Him: Ps. 148.1-5
 B. Heaven and earth should unite and sing to Him: Ps. 69.34
 C. This is because the Lord is the King of the universe: Ps. 10.16

CONCL.: The chorus continues to urge countless hosts to raise their voices in praise to the Lord.
"Prince of peace, o’er death victorious, Countless hosts their voices raise;
Hear the cry from the walls of Zion, ‘Let the Lord be praised.’"
As is true with so many other earlier songwriters among churches of Christ, Franklin’s songs are not as well-known today, but in my opinion, most of them are a lot better than the so-called "praise choruses" which are so popular today. Rather than just saying, "Praise the Lord" over a dozen or so times, this song actually speaks to God’s people and urges them, "Let The Lord Be Praised, O Zion."


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