The Story Behind “Come, Thou Almighty King”

“Come, Thou Almighty King” is one of our oldest English hymns, but its authorship is unknown. It was published in or before 1757, and one of the oldest imprints is in a four-page Methodist pamphlet. Some people have attributed it to Charles Wesley. But most hymnologists reject that attribution since it’s written to a meter that Wesley never used and the great hymnist never claimed it as his own. A number of old sources speculate that the real author was Rev. Martin Maden (1726-1790), who was an English lawyer-turned-Methodist-preacher with a reputation as a stirring orator and a gifted musician.

At first, this hymn was sung to the same tune as “God Save the King.” On the American side of the Atlantic, we use the same tune for “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” Just as an experiment, try singing a verse of “Come, Thou Almighty King” to this slower, more somber melody.

There’s an interesting story connected with it. During the American Revolution, while British troops were occupying New York City and appeared to be winning the war, a group of English soldiers went to church one Sunday morning in Long Island. The setting was tense. The occupiers demanded the congregation sing, “God Save The King” in honor of King George III. The organist was forced to begin playing the tune – but instead of singing “God Save the King,” the congregation broke out in “Come, Thou Almighty King.”

Point made.

I don’t remember not knowing this hymn. In the mountain church I attended in childhood, it was one of three songs that opened almost every Sunday morning service, the others being “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “O Worship the King.” I love those hymns to this day. After all, what better prayer than a church offer than: “Come, and Thy people bless, and give Thy Word success!”

As it’s given in most hymnals, “Come, Thou Almighty King” is a Trinitarian prayer addressed to God the Father (first stanza), God the Son (second stanza), God the Holy Spirit (third stanza), and to the entire Trinity (fourth stanza).

Since 1769, the majestic tune Italian Hymn has been used as the musical setting for “Come, Thou Almighty King.” It was composed by Felice de Giardini, the Italian composer and violinist.

–From my new book Then Sings My Soul Book 3.