My faith looks up to thee

Hymn #449
Text: Ray Palmer (1808-1887)
Music: Lowell Mason (1792-1782)
Tune name: OLIVET



The author of several volumes of religious poetry, Ray Palmer was a Congregational minister in New England, New York and New Jersey. In his study Hymns and Human Life, British hymnologist Erik Routley writes that most American hymns from Palmer’s time “have the stamp of Boston, Massachusetts on them — serene culture, settled prosperity.” They are “always neat, always polished, never written at high devotional pressure,” unlike the earlier (and English) hymns of Watts and Wesley. Ray Palmer’s hymns broke this mold: “he has all the American polish, but is unique in the warmth of his devotion to the person of Christ. . . . [H]e is the nearest the Americans have ever had to a mystical hymn-writer.”

This hymn was written in 1830, early in Palmer’s career, shortly after he completed his studies at Yale College and before his ordination. At the time it was composed, he was teaching at a private girls’ school in New York, and had experienced a very difficult year of illness and loneliness. The hymn prays for forgiveness, zeal in faith, and divine presence in this life and the next.

1. My faith looks up to thee,
thou Lamb of Calvary,
Saviour divine:
Now hear me while I pray,
take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day
be wholly Thine.

2. May Thy rich grace impart
strength to my fainting heart,
my zeal inspire;
As thou hast died for me,
O may my love to thee
Pure, warm and changeless be,
a living fire.

3. While life’s dark maze I tread,
and griefs around me spread,
be thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day,
wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray
from thee aside.

4. When ends life’s transient dream,
when death’s cold, sullen stream
shall o’er me roll;
blest Saviour, then, in love,
fear and distrust remove;
O bear me save above,
a ransomed soul.



The composer of OLIVET was Lowell Mason, who was born in Massachusetts in 1792 to a family which had settled there in 1653. Trained in music by the local schoolmaster, the village bandmaster, and a neighboring violinist, Mason was conducting singing schools and leading the village choir by the age of 16. In 1812 he moved to Savannah, Georgia where he worked in a bank and became the organist and choir-master at a Presbyterian church. He also received more formal training in harmony and composition, and was involved in the establishment of a firm that sold musical instruments (in addition to dry goods). He contributed original compositions and harmonizations for the 1821 edition of The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music. This involvement resulted in his moving to Boston in 1827 where he was music director in three churches and, in 1833, helped to found the Boston Academy of Music. With Mason’s guidance, the Academy became a major force encouraging music education in Boston public schools. A 1946 biography of Mason is subtitled The Father of Singing among Children.

In addition to his tireless work in music education, Lowell Mason was the father of over 1,100 original hymn tunes (six are in our Hymnal) and the arranger of another 500 (we have three of these), mainly from European sources. Many of these tunes were disseminated in tune-books that he published, the most famous of which was Carmina Sacra, which is estimated to have sold over 500,000 copies in its thirteen editions between 1841 and 1860.

Ray Palmer give the text of “My faith looks up to thee” to Lowell Mason shortly after he wrote it, and Mason composed OLIVET for the hymn’s initial publication in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship (1834 edition).

Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.