Benson, a layman, had an eye toward the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene’s Third General Assembly, scheduled to meet in Nashville in October 1911, and the prospect of union between the Pentecostal Nazarenes and McClurkan’s band. Benson anticipated a national audience for the songbook and was not disappointed. Jewel Songs was a hit at the assembly. Nazarenes from around the country and the world sang from the book at the nightly services conducted in the Ryman Auditorium, and visitors took Jewel Songshome and ordered large quantities for their camp meetings, revivals, and gospel choirs.
The Nazarenes met in Nashville in 1911 for several reasons. The city’s Union Station was one of America’s grand railroad destinations, accessible to delegates from all corners of the country. Nazarenes also longed to launch a joint publishing venture with Benson’s printing company for the denomination’s many publishing enterprises and its new paper, Herald of Holiness, launched after the General Assembly. Benson’s enterprise published songbooks and a paper, Living Water, edited by McClurkan, which billed itself as “an undenominational advocate of Bible Holiness.” McClurkan had acquired the paper from another Tennessee holiness leader, B.F. Haynes, soon to be the editor of Herald of Holiness. Benson had a good trade in publishing religious books and holiness pamphlets and sermons, including works by McClurkan, end-times evangelist W.B. Godbey, and dispensationalist W.A. Mason, a Mississippi Baptist whose works were also published by Moody Bible Institute and the Disciples of Christ, and who drew the dispensationalist charts which adorned his work. The publishing concern also printed discipleship tracts (like The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century Carmelite monk), Bibles, and wall motto plaques “suitable for homes, Sunday schools, the Y.M.C.A. and other meeting rooms.” Benson understood the printing business, and the Church of the Nazarene saw the prospect of bringing the Pentecostal Mission and its publishing company into the fold.
Jewel Songs was a glorious amalgam of holiness songs that were popular and spiritually fruitful. The music ranged from 18th-century English hymn standards by Charles Wesley (“A Charge to Keep I Have”) and Isaac Watts (“Jesus Shall Reign”) to Luther Bridger’s “He Keeps Me Singing” (“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know”), a ‘hot’ new praise number written in 1910 in that decade’s popular style. There were popular revival songs with hymn-like pieces (“The Solid Rock” and “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”), camp meeting favorites (“Is Not This the Land of Beulah”), gospel songs (“I Will Praise Him,” “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” “Glory to His Name,” and “He Leadeth Me”), and altar call selections (“Whiter than Snow” and “Where He Leads Me”). Jewel Songs taught assurance (Fanny Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance”) and grace that is prevenient and free (“Whosoever Will Let Him Come” arranged by Charlie Tillman, and “Whosoever Will” with music by the Methodist Charles H. Gabriel), two hallmarks of Wesleyan theology. Benson always looked for new talent, and Jewel Songs included two songs (“More than Conquerors” and “Beautiful Crowns”) by a recent convert to the holiness movement named Haldor Lillenas.
The book also included settings for the Lord’s Supper (“There is a fountain filled with blood”) and standard doxological texts ancient (“The Gloria Patri”) and modern (“Old 100” or “Doxology” written by the Anglican Thomas Ken in 1674). Under one cover and available for 15 cents (or less in large quantities), Benson had a songbook that featured ‘classic’ songs of Nazarene worship in churches, revivals, camp meetings, and devotional life. Jewel Songs helped establish the spiritual life of the denomination in its formative decades and has continued to do so.
This cornucopia of spiritual strength and musical delight might account for its popularity, but the songbook’s innovative, evangelistic, and technological genius accounted for its far-reaching effectiveness. Pentecostal Mission songbooks were used in evangelistic meetings in Nashville as early as 1900. Whether in tents, street corners, or in Saturday meetings in Centennial Park from the horse-drawn Holiness Wagon , the songbooks proved innovative. Affordable and easily transported in a suit-coat pocket or purse, the songbooks made holiness theology accessible and singable on the street, in the jail, and on the revival platform. Pentecostal Mission graduates and ministers took Benson’s songbooks with them. In 1908, Benson sent a quartet of young unmarried men from the Pentecostal Mission to provide special music for revivals and camp meetings and to sell the books at those meetings.
These methods spread the holiness message in song, increased songbook sales, and drew unmarried female students to Trevecca College. Benson sold songbooks by the thousands and started a songbook publishing trend that caught national fire at the 1911 General Assembly. The method was quickly copied by James D. Vaughn, who started his own publishing company in 1911, The Musical Visitor, a shaped-note rival of The Benson Printing Company. By the decade’s end, Vaughn employed 16 quartets. Vaughn pushed things farther and started Tennessee’s first commercial radio station, WOAN, and a monthly subscription music service, The Vaughn Family Visitor, with new music and spiritual advice. These platforms provided new commercial opportunities for holiness songbooks. The Visitor became the most widely-distributed musical publication in the South and was printed well into the mid-1960s, decades after Vaughn’s death in 1941.
What can we learn from such a story? It teaches us that Nazarenes are a singing people in heart and practice. “Holiness in Song” is more than a watchword or a catchy phrase: it is where our past teaches us how much more effective we are together than we are separated. Singing puts the gospel into motion—at the streetmeeting, on the railway, over the airwaves, and in devotional practices shaped by the act of singing our faith together. It is in singing that we become united as Nazarene worshipers of the God who has come in Christ Jesus our Lord, with mutual doctrines and mutual affection for one another. Popular, interesting, and theologically literate songs brought together a people from different regions, with differing views about church, and commitments to firmly established ministries they held dear, and turned them into a people determined to minister together in the future that God was leading them into. Perhaps it can still do the same for us.
The story of Jewel Songs also teaches that new technologies may be partners and not enemies. Innovation is a hallmark of our story, and we need to remember that as we move ahead into a future of burgeoning technological, internet-based opportunities for evangelism and ministry. Maybe a renewed songbook that is affordable, easily transported, and filled with a theological vitality for the masses is somewhere in our future. Who knows? Jewel Songs is proof that our past has much to teach us. All we have to do is pay attention.
STEVEN HOSKINS is an Associate Professor of Religion at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee