Ray Palmer

Ray Palmer

Born: No­vem­ber 12, 1808, Lit­tle Comp­ton, RI.
Died: March 29, 1887, New­ark, NJ.
Buried: Al­ba­ny Rur­al Ce­me­te­ry, Me­nands, NY.

Hymns by Ray Palmer

Ray Palmer: Gifted Hymnwriter and Devoted Pastor

Ray Palmer stands out as a shining example of a life dedicated to serving God and inspiring others through the power of hymns. Born on November 12, 1808, in Little Compton, Rhode Island, Palmer was the son of Judge Thomas Palmer and his wife Susanna. Though initially destined for a career in business, young Ray’s path took a different turn when he felt called to pursue a college education and, ultimately, the ministry.

A Stellar Education

After completing his early education in Boston, Palmer attended the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover before enrolling at Yale College. He graduated from Yale in 1830, demonstrating a keen intellect and a passion for learning that would serve him well throughout his life. Following graduation, Palmer taught at a women’s college and continued his theological studies privately, laying the foundation for his future ministry.

Pastoral Ministry and Spiritual Impact

In 1834, Palmer entered the ministry, beginning a long and fruitful career as a pastor and spiritual leader. He served the Congregational Church in Bath, Maine, from 1835 to 1850, and then the First Congregational Church of Albany, New York, from 1850 to 1865. During his tenure at these churches, Palmer made a profound impact on his congregations and the wider community, his message of hope and salvation touching countless lives.

Built in 1917 long after Palmer's death, the new building was named in his honor

A Passion for Hymns

But it was in the realm of hymnody that Ray Palmer truly left his mark. A gifted writer with a deep love for sacred music, Palmer penned 38 hymns that have stood the test of time. His compositions, known for their tenderness, beauty, and reverence, have been cherished by generations of worshippers. As one of the first Americans to translate Latin texts into hymns, Palmer’s work was groundbreaking and influential, inspiring countless other hymnwriters who followed in his footsteps.

Among Palmer’s most celebrated hymns is “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” a stirring expression of devotion and trust in God. Its origins can be traced back to a providential meeting between two men in Boston, 1830. Palmer, at the time a young poet and future doctor of theology, encountered Lowell Mason, a talented musician and composer who would later become a doctor of music. During their conversation, Mason inquired if Palmer had any literary works suitable for inclusion in “Spiritual Songs for Social Worship,” a collection he was compiling with Thomas Hastings.

Palmer shared a poem from his leather-bound book, originally written in six stanzas, which spoke of unwavering faith and complete trust in the divine Redeemer. Mason, moved by the profound beauty and truth within Palmer’s words, meticulously copied the poem in a nearby store. Later that evening, in the solitude of his home, Mason composed the tune OLIVET, which would become the sole melody paired with Palmer’s hymn. The perfect union of Palmer’s heartfelt lyrics and Mason’s inspired composition gave birth to a hymn that would resonate with believers for generations to come.

A Lasting Legacy

In addition to his pastoral duties and hymn writing, Palmer was a prolific author, publishing eleven volumes between 1829 and 1881. His works, including “Closet Hours,” “Hymns and Sacred Pieces,” and “Complete Poetical Works,” have been praised for their literary merit and spiritual insight. W. H. Parker, in his “Psalmody of the Church,” lauded Palmer’s hymns as “unsurpassed by any similar compositions in the language.”

When ends life’s passing dream
When death’s cold threatening stream shall o’er me roll
Blest Savior then in love fear and distrust remove
O lift me safe above a ransomed soul

Ray Palmer’s life was a shining example of a man who used his talents to glorify God and lead others to a deeper faith. Through his ministry, his hymns, and his writings, he left an indelible mark on the American church and beyond. When he passed away on March 29, 1887, at the age of 78, he left behind a rich legacy of devotion, inspiration, and spiritual fervor that continues to resonate with believers to this day.

As we reflect on the life and work of Ray Palmer, may we be inspired to use our own gifts and talents in service to God and others. May his hymns continue to lift our hearts in worship, and may his example of faithfulness and dedication spur us on to a deeper commitment to Christ and His church. For in the end, it is a life lived for God’s glory that truly leaves a lasting impact on the world.

Don Chapman

Don Chapman

Composer/arranger Don Chapman has created HYMNDEX as a labor of love to help new generations learn about the lives, legacies and lyrics of historic hymn writers.