"The memory of the just is blessed…" (Prov. 10.7)
INTRO.: A very popular song through the years with many brethren that might be construed to talk about the memory of the just has been "Precious Memories" (#464 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #397 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune was composed both by John Braselton Fillmore Wright, who was born to George Washington and Cassandra Coley Wright in Tennessee on Feb. 21, 1877, the fifth of twelve children. When he was but two years old, his family moved to Limestone County, TX, where he grew up in the community of Box Church near Groesbeck, attended the community school, and married a local girl named Fannie Jackson, who bore him seven children. A farmer by trade, he took his young bride in 1902, left the homestead, and rambled over Texas for many years. His mother was well known as a singer and his earliest memories were of singing together by her and his father of the songs of their youth. As a result of this upbringing, he produced over 500 songs. In 1909, he learned that his mother had died, and his father followed five years later. Many of his early songs were sentimental numbers, based on the scenes of his childhood, which have been long forgotten.
However, on a the crisp, still, autumn night of Oct. 23, 1923, at his home near Hamlin, TX, about a year and a half after the death of his youngest son, Everett Jackson Wright, from diphtheria at age five, Wright, now a middle-aged farmhand, turned his thoughts again to the days of his youth before the family circle was unbroken and he penned his most famous song. It first appeared in the 1925 Harbor Bells edited by V. O. Stamps and published by the Stamps-Baxter Music Co. It listed J. B. F. Wright as the owner but with no copyright date. A cousin reported that there was a verbal agreement for Wright to get a certain percentage royalty each time the song was recorded, but he only received $36 from the first recording because after Mr. Stamps died his heirs would not honor the agreement. Sometimes the date of 1938 is given for the song, but that may be when the Stamps-Baxter Co. finally got around to filing a copyright on it in their own name.
Later, Wright became a custodian and nurseryman for Cisco Junior College in Cisco, TX, from which he retired in the early 1950’s before his death sometime around 1959. In 1966 Stamps-Baxter "renewed" the copyright with an additional stanza by Lonnie B. Combs, a favorite tactic of theirs to bring under their domain songs for which either the copyright had run out or there was some question about the original copyright. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Precious Memories" appeared in the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will S. Slater; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1959 Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1965 Christian Hymnsongs and the 1973 Great Inspirational Songs both edited by Albert Brumley. 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 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord, edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, and Sacred Selections.
The song explains why the memory of the righteous is blessed.
I. Stanza 1 says that precious memories are like unseen angels
"Precious memories, unseen angels, Sent from somewhere to my soul–
How they linger, ever near me, And the sacred past unfold."
A. We may not know precisely what they do or how they do it, but the Bible does teach that angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation, so they may play a part in helping us to remember things from the past that could help us: Heb. 1.14
B. In any event, it is certain that God does want us to remember what we have been told by others about the history of God’s workings among mankind: Deut. 32.7
C. Thus, the sacred past can unfold as we remember all the marvelous works that God has done: Ps. 105.5
II. Stanza 1 says that precious memories of parents can help us
"Precious father, loving mother, Fly across the lonely years,
And old home scenes of my childhood In fond memory appears."
(Grammar–subject verb agreement–here should require a little change:
And the home scene of my childhood In fond memory appears."
We don’t say, "The scenes appears.)
Ellis Crum in Sacred Selections changed this stanza to read:
"Precious Father, loving Savior, I will love them through the years;
In the vineyard I will labor Till my blessed Lord appears."
A. Surely children are to honor their father and mother: Eph. 6.2
B. Furthermore, it is good to remember the instruction of our parents: Prov. 1.8-9
C. And as we remember the old home scenes of our childhood, we can be thankful for having been brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord: Eph. 6.4
III. Stanza 3 says that He has revealed the truth to us
"In the stillness of the midnight Echoes from the past I hear;
Old time singing, gladness bringing From that lovely land somewhere."
Again, Ellis Crum made some changes in the third and fourth lines of this stanza:
"Saints are singing, brethren bringing Lessons from the Book so dear."
A. The stillness of the midnight is often a good time to clear one’s mind for the sacred memories of the past: Ps. 16.7
B. Some of those memories may be of "old time" singing by the saints in which teaching and admonishing occurred: Col. 3.17
C. Memories of the songs that we have sung or heard sung through the years can help increase our desire for that lovely land somewhere in which the redeemed of all ages join in the sweet redemption song: Rev. 5.8-10
IV. Stanza 4 says that He gives us hope for the future
"As I travel on life’s pathway, Know not what the years may hold;
As I ponder, hope grows finder, Precious memories flood my soul."
A. As we travel on life’s pathway, we do not know what the years may hold: Jas. 4.14
B. However, if we follow Jesus, we do know that we have the hope of eternal life in heaven: Col. 1.5, 1 Pet. 1.3-5
C. Therefore, as we continue our journey, precious memories may help sacred truths unfold as we see God’s will working in our lives and grow in our understanding of His plan: Eph. 3.18-19
CONCL.: The chorus reminds us of how precious such memories can and should be to each of us:
"Precious memories, how they linger, How they ever flood my soul;
In the stillness of the midnight, Precious memories flood my soul."
Let me say now that I have always had a sentimental nature, and the older I get the more nostalgic I become because of the increasing number of "precious memories" that I have experienced. It does not take much reminiscing to bring a tear to my eyes nowadays. However, I have wrestled with whether "Precious Memories" is a suitable song for worship or not. It is not really a psalm, a devotional song that discusses some feature of the nature and work of God as do the Old Testament Psalms; nor a hymn, a song of praise to the Lord; nor a truly spiritual song, one that deals with some aspect of the Holy Spirit’s revelation in scripture. Some have categorized it is "sanctified nostalgia." Many of our books have omitted certain stanzas, especially either two or three, and as noted Ellis J. Crum has reworded those two stanzas in Sacred Selections, in an apparent attempt to reduce the sentimentality. At the same time, there is nothing necessarily wrong with having "precious memories," and as I grow older I am fast reaching the conclusion that it may be part of God’s providential plan to use such memories of the past to help draw us closer to spiritual realities in our lives. It is undoubtedly upon this basis that so many brethren have found comfort in thinking about, and singing about, those "Precious Memories."