“Precious Memories”

"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."

8 thoughts on ““Precious Memories”

  1. I found the discussion about Precious Memories being a "religious" song very interesting. I wanted to sing it as a Sunday morning special in my church. Over the years I had always considered it to be a religious song; however, I really never paid close attention to the words.
    My wife listened to it and didn't think it was appropriate because of the wording. After I studied it I agreed and decided to write my own verses because I loved the melody so well and still wanted to sing it.
    I used the first verse of the original song, added two verses of my creation and then finished with the original chorus. I think it works our very well. The words express some of my "precious memories" as well as praising the Trinity. My verses is as follows:

    Old time Preach'in, Sunday School teach'in,
    The spirit's witness to my soul.
    I remember salvations splendor,
    Hope of Heaven I now hold.

    Loving Father, precious Savior,
    Saved me from a world of sin,
    Christian loved ones gone before me,
    I'll thrill to hold them close again.


    • I sure appreciate those two great verses you wrote! Very good 🙂 & very true for those they apply to.
      May God bless you in many special ways! 🙂

    • Charlie, Any chance that this will still get to you after you posted it in 2008?
      I’d like create a version of Precious Memories, that uses a form of your last verse:

      Loving Father, precious Savior,
      Saved me from a world of sin,
      Christian loved ones gone before me,
      I’ll thrill to hold them close again.

      And I wanted to have your permission to do so.

  2. I sang with the last quartet Frank Stamps had on radio station KRLD in Dallas. It was my blessing to be raised in Limestone County, the same county where J.B.F.Wright grew up. I knew Mr. Wright personally, and still have letters he wrote to me when I was just a teenager. He then lived in Cisco. I will always cherish his friendship and the letters. He was a wonderful Christian gentleman. Al Matthews amatthews1@peoplepc.com

  3. We plan to use this as a poem during our Remembrance Period at our Family Reunion this Summer. We have lost a lot of members since our last reunion in 2009. A few words will be changed to match the occassion.

  4. Precious Memories is a song I have heard frequently as far back as I can remember anything. I grew up in a dynamic Christian home. My father was a full time pastor and every church he pastored was a rural church with those “convention singing schools” rich in their history. The songs I grew up listening to during worship were of a great variety, classic hymns written centuries prior, upbeat more recent hymns from the early years of the previous century, slow, mournful songs of comfort like the one discussed here. It has only been within the past fifteen years or so that I have heard the hymnology of this song challenged. At first, I challenged it myself. In our hymnbook where I pastor (we have both, a denominational hymnbook and the Heavenly Highways hymnal in every pew in our sanctuary.) Each of these versions use the original stanzas written by Mr. Wright plus the one added stanza by Stamps/Baxter. Our hymnals do not have the revised lyrics in any of the stanzas. I have finished an in depth study of these stanzas and have concluded with no doubt in my mind that this song definitely should be classified as a hymn. It is obvious to me that the memories the writer refers to are doubtless his memories of those experiences involving the people and the music in his past that the Lord used to bring about the great encounters with Christ that stand as markers in his memory that brought him from grace to grace and from faith to faith. These memories are so sacred to him that he thinks only angels could be responsible for ministering them to him. Also, the time stamp he gives as to when he experiences the memories are in the “stillness of the midnight”; a most profound and practical time for meditation. He specifies his parents as being “people of distinct prayer”, so much so that they habitually knelt when they prayed. Obviously, his memories of their praying involved his personal spiritual needs, for he states that as his life nears its end, their prayers still follow him, what a glorious truth and thought! Then he recalls the type of singing they taught him to sing, “old time singing, gladness bringing”, must have been of the Gospel or Spiritual nature, for no other type of music can bring about “galdness” like hymns, psalms and spiritual songs. Other kinds of music can bring other types of emotion, but “gladness” is a specified term denoting a rejoicing in the spirit of deep fulfillment and satisfaction. I can think of no other type of song than Gospel that can accomplish this. Then he states that that “old time singing, gladness bringing” is originating from that far-off land somewhere, obviously Heaven, and spilling over into his heart and mind thus allowing him a brief glimpse and a brief over hearing of the praise in the presence of our Lord, again, what a wonderful experience. The last verse states an experience each of us past fifty years can identify with. “As I ponder, hope grows fonder”. Surely, as we ponder upon the promises of God in the Bible, and upon our memory of His faithfulness to His word in our past, our hope does grow fonder and sweeter and even more precious as the years go by. If anyone can provide any more details regarding this hymn and of the experiences of his writing the song, I would greatly appreciate reading it. God bless you all and thank the Lord for this site!
    In Christ,
    Mike Moore

    • Dear Mike, I was looking for inspiration for a Mother’s Day devotion in a newsletter I write for a retirement complex. I thought a history on “Precious Memories” might be uplifting but was rather discouraged at the dissembling response to its lack of spirituality in a church setting. Your reaction was so uplifting and I feel you were drawn to the deeper heartfelt worship this writer was feeling. I hope you don’t mind that I am drawing on your perception that bears witness with the honest feelings of this man.
      Darlene Knight

  5. My name is Regina Wright-Wopperer, and JBF was my great grandpa. His son Calvin was my grandpa, and Deane was my daddy! So many stories about this song, I myself have sung it at many funerals on both sides of my family. It is very special to us! 🙂


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