Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain
"Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain." This hymn text was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854), a Scotchman amongst whose favorite hymns are “Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” The son of a Moravian minister, he attended seminary in Yorkshire but tired of that and soon became a writer for the Sheffield Register, which he soon took over and which he used to promote his spiritual and political beliefs. For 31 years he remained a Sheffielder, being imprisoned twice for his political ideas, and yet somehow ending his life with a royal pension. Although Montgomery was certainly not an Anglican, his hymns quickly found their way into the gargantuan monument of nineteenth-century hymnody, Hymns Ancient and Modern, from which Lutherans drew early in the twentieth century when they quickly had to find English hymns to supplant the German (with the advent of WWI.)
There is a monument and a stained glass window devoted to Montgomery in Sheffield Cathedral, in which the writer of music notes played a concert a few years ago. Prior to the concert, he was doing his best to overcome jetlag and a long train ride from London, whilst having to practice on the rather unique organ in the cathedral. He was not able to visit the monument until after his concert.
This hymn takes as its inspiration Isaiah 25: 6-8: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And we will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Although in the Old Testament, this verse was quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15: 55 as an encapsulation of the Gospel: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.” Although Jesus was unknown in the Old Testament, the mercy of God was not, and His mercy if fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the “mountain.”
If anyone wishes to see a handwritten manuscript of a different Lenten hymn by James Montgomery (“He Saved Others,” Scorners Cried”), the writer of music notes will have it at the organ console after church!