“Sweet the moments, rich in blessing” (or “Looking unto Christ”) was written by Walter Shirley, and appears as follows in A Select Collection of Hymns, Universally Sung in the Late Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapels (1820 printing).
193 Looking unto Christ. 8.7. (p. 293)
1. Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend;
Life and health and peace possessing
From the sinner’s dying Friend.
Here I’ll sit, forever viewing,
Mercy’s streams in streams of blood;
Precious drops, my soul bedewing,
Plead and claim my peace with God.
2. Truly blessèd is the station,
Low before his cross to lie;
While I see divine compassion
Floating in His languid eye;
Here it is I find my heaven,
While upon the Lamb I gaze;
Love I much? I’ve much forgiven,
I’m a miracle of grace.
3. Love and fear my heart dividing,
With my tears his feet I’ll bathe:
Constant still in faith abiding,
Life deriving from His death.
May I still enjoy this feeling,
In all need to Jesus go,
Prove his wounds each day more healing,
And himself more deeply know!
We often sing this in The Sacred Harp and The Christian Harmony, with Shirley’s first stanza and a second stanza that was added to The Christian Harmony 1958 revision:
2. Had I heart to hold its pleasure,
Had I tongue to tell its bliss;
Could I share with all my treasure,
O that all my friends were his.
Nothing else could quite so charm me,
Nor my ev’ry idol hold.
Satan now no more can harm me,
I’ve a home in realms of gold.
Listen to Palmetto HERE (tune by William Hauser, 1859; 54t in The Sacred Harp, Revised Cooper Edition, 2012).
Another stanza that sometimes appears with Shirley’s “Sweet the moments” is:
Lord, in ceaseless contemplation
Fix my heart and eyes on Thee,
Till I taste Thy full salvation,
And unveiled Thy glories see.
For Thy sorrows I adore Thee,
For the griefs that wrought my peace;
Gracious Savior, I implore Thee,
In my heart Thy love increase.
Shirley’s hymn is an adaptation of “While my Jesus I’m possessing” by James Allen. It is printed in A Collection of Hymns for the Use of Those that Seek, and Those that Have Redemption in the Blood of Christ, by James Allen and Christopher Batty; commonly known as the Kendal Hymn Book (1757).
LIV, p. 60
1. While my Jesus I’m possessing,
Great's the happiness I know;
And while him I am caressing,
Sweetest odours round me flow:
Happy I’m in his embraces,
Proving all his kisses sweet;
Singing never-ceasing praises,
Mary-like before his feet.
2. Oh! how liappy are the moments,,
Which I here in transport spend;
Life deriving from his torments,
Who remains the Sinner’s Friend:
Here I’ll sit for ever viewing,
How the blood flows from each vein,
Ev’ry stream, my soul bedewing,
Mortifies the carnal flame.
3. Really blessèd is the portion
Destin’d me by sov’reign grace;
Still to view divine compassion
In the Saviour’s bruisèd face:
’Tis my fixèd resolution
Jesus Christ my Lord to love;
At his feet to fix my station,
Nor from thence a hair’s breadth move.
4. Here it is I find my heaven,
While upon my Lamb I gaze;
Love I much, I’ve more forgiven;
I’m a miracle of grace:
Filled with sinner-like contrition,
With my tears his feet I’ll bathe;
Happy in the sweet fruition
Of my Saviour’s painful death.
5. From his pierc’d and wounded body
Issued streams of sacred gore;
From his hands and feet so bloody
Flow’d a med’cine for each sore:
From his side, that fountain precious,
Pardons with the blood did flow;
This to taste is most delicious,
Causing all within to glow.
6. May I still enjoy this feeling,
In all need to Jesus go;
Prove his wounds each day more healing’
And from hence salvation draw:
May I have the Spirit’s unction
Filling me with holy shame;
Still retain a close connection
With the person of the Lamb.
Carl Price tells the following concerning Walter Shirley’s writing of “Sweet the moments.”
In its present form this hymn was wrought out of a bitter experience in the life of Sir Walter Shirley, who was at the time Rector of Loughrea in the County of Galway, Ireland. His brother, the Earl of Ferrars, a man of evil habits, engaged in a quarrel with one of his servants, who had long been in his employ, and in the passion of his anger he murdered the old man. He was at once imprisoned; and Shirley, though mortified by the terrible disgrace which the revolting crime had brought upon his family, journeyed to his brother’s prison and remained near him during the distressing weeks that followed. The Earl was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn. After the execution Shirley, worn out by his long vigil and humiliated in spirit, returning to his parish, finding comfort only in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Discovering an imperfect expression of his emotions at that time in a hymn, “O How Happy Are the Moments,” by the Rev. James Allen, he adapted and revised the hymn so completely that it became practically a new composition, truly poetic in language and form, and tenderly eloquent of his own experience.