William Walford was an old blind man who owned a small novelty shop in Coleshill, England about 200 years ago. Every day he would sit and carve small knick-knacks and useful items from pieces of bone that he sold in his shop.
And while he worked, he prayed and recited the scriptures. Even though he had no formal education, he had an incredible memory. He had memorized volumes of scriptures that he could quote verbatim. In fact, many of his friends thought he had memorized the entire Bible.
Because he was often called upon to preach in a rural English church, he composed all his sermons in his head and memorized them.
In 1842, an American clergyman, Thomas Salmon, spent some time in Coleshill, England, where he met William. He recorded this story of what happened one day while visiting the blind pastor:
“…(William recited) two or three pieces (of poetry) which he had composed, and, having no friend at home to put them to paper, he had put them away in the warehouse inside.
“Then he asked, ‘How is this going to be?’ as he (recited) the lines of (another four-stanza poem).
“I quickly wrote the lines with my pencil, as he spoke them.”
Three years later Salmon showed the poem to the editor of the New York Observer and SWEET HOUR OF PRAYER was published in 1845.
Now that’s history, but mysterious doubts have been raised about William Walford’s true identity. After the poem was set to music and became well known, some hymnology students attempted to authenticate its authorship. They couldn’t find anyone by that name who matched the description given by Salmon. They were able to locate a Reverend William Walford in a location near Coleshill, England, but he was well-educated and not blind. Nevertheless, the history and authorship of William Walford is generally undisputed.
One commentator has noted that the first stanza of this hymn reads like a good three-point sermon outline; what would be expected of a preacher of the gospel.
1. It deals with our present condition. In this “world of care”, we all have “seasons of distress and sorrow”.
2. It indicates a remedy; a “SOFT HOUR OF PRAYER”.
3. And this assures us of our hope; we can “escape the tempter’s trap.”
William Walford experienced many trials and difficulties in his life and there are several references to these issues in his hymn. But his remedy was still the same remedy available to all Christians. Whenever we are troubled, we can approach our God in prayer. He always has time to listen and he brings peace to our souls.
There is a fourth stanza which is omitted from most hymnals. It’s a reference to a strange-sounding place; Mount Pisgah. It was from this mountain that Moses was able to see the land of Israel before God took him to heaven. The imagery there is that one day we will no longer need prayer time because we will be in the very presence of our God.
Ralph M. Petersen and his wife, Kathy, are the owners of the OLDE TOWNE EMPORIUM at 212 E. Main St. in Rogersville. Comments are welcome. You can contact him at [email protected] or by phone at (951) 321 9235.