The song “He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me” was written by William M. Ramsey and arranged by William W. Slater. Ramsey was one of Slater’s music teachers. Ramsey wrote the words and music in 1932, but Slater arranged the hymn in 1937. What does “arrangement” mean? It means that the song has been altered in some way from the original, but the alteration has not significantly deviated from the substance of the words and music.
William Morgan Ramsey (1872-1939), Lyricist & Composer
William Morgan Ramsey was born in Bell County, Texas on August 24, 1872. His family relocated to Arkansas when he was young. He studied music under E. T. Hilderbrand, S. J. Oslin and B. C. Unseld. William Ramsey was one of the professors of music who trained William W. Slater at the Eureka Normal School of Music in Oklahoma. He was the owner of the Central Music Company of Little Rock, Arkansas and was known as a teacher of shaped note style singing. He is largely credited with publishing shaped note songbooks in the region, having published over 30 songbooks. He also was a Baptist Minister. He has been recognized by both the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame. William Ramsey died March 12, 1939 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and he is buried there in Little Rock at Roselawn Cemetery.
William Washington Slater (1885-1959), Arranger
William Washington Slater was born February 2, 1885 in Logan County, Arkansas, but when he was young the family relocated to Oklahoma. He was the oldest of eleven children, so when his father passed away he had to work to support the family. His primary schooling did not go past thirteen years of age. He did study under a local music teacher while he had opportunity which helped cultivate his interest in music. He and his family obeyed the gospel during a meeting conducted by W. D. Cecil. He married Nettie Mae Wetherington in 1910, and they had four children. They were strong proponents of Christian education as can be seen in their family history. While Slater was too poor to afford a college education in his youth, he and his wife were able to send all four of their children to Abilene Christian College (now University). These would go onto influence Christian education too. For example, his grandson, William Slater Banowsky, served as President of both what are now Pepperdine University and Oklahoma Christian University. Slater was also a gospel preacher among churches of Christ, and he was also prolific in writing and publishing hymnbooks.
Slater studied music at Eureka Normal School of Music in Stigler, Oklahoma, where he learned from E. T. Hildebrand and William M. Ramsey (who wrote the words to this hymn.) He would later work with the Eureka Publishing Company, also serving on their board of directors; plus he would teach at the Eureka Normal School and serve as Secretary for its board of directors too. In 1926 he published his most popular songbook, Gospel Songs and Hymns, which sold thousands of copies. He wrote other popular hymns and published additional songbooks too. He was well known for conducting singing schools in the brotherhood right up to his death.
Slater began preaching in 1915 in the Shiloh School House in Oklahoma. He was known for going to small rural congregations and assisting them with copies of his songbooks. While holding a gospel meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he became ill and died in route to the doctor on August 22, 1959. When he died, the children published a memorial book to him called Glory Land of Song which is rare and hard to find. His wife followed him on February 12, 1965. They are both buried in Blue Bonnet Hills Cemetery in Colleyville, Texas.
He Whispers Sweet Peace to Me
The words to the song were written by Slater’s teacher, William Ramsey, who was also a Baptist preacher and apparently had a misconception of the operation of the Holy Spirit in revealing God’s will for mankind. An examination of some of the phrases from the original composition shows that Ramsey favored the notion that God operates in addition to His word; however, William Slater modified these lyrics to show that the Holy Spirit operates; but through the word of God, not separate and apart from it. For example, Ramsey composed “He speaks in a still, small voice we are told, A voice that dispels all fear; And when I’m in doubt, or troubled in soul, That still small voice I can hear.” William Slater modified these lyrics to “He speaks thro’ His Word, assurance He gives, I’m His and I know He’s mine; And safe in the fold my soul He will keep, I’ll rest in His love divine.” There are other examples of arranging the hymn to bring its teaching into better conformity with revealed truth. William W. Slater believed, “It is as wrong to sing unsound sentiment as to preach it.” He was assisted in this endeavor by preachers such as E. M. Borden, Joe H. Blue and R. A. Robins to keep the content of songs scriptural.
Some underestimate the power of the word of God; however, the Scriptures affirm that “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,” (1 Peter 1:22-23, NKJV). Some may have the impression that the Spirit is the word of God; however, the Scriptures show that the Spirit’s instrument is the word of God—“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;” (Ephesians 6:17, NKJV). Any view with a consequent of disregarding, or minimizing, the word of God in converting the lost and directing the lives of Christians today should be carefully scrutinized according to the divine standard—God’s word, the Bible.
Gene C. Finley, Editor, Our Garden of Song: A Book of Biography of Song Writers of the Church of Christ and Articles and Other Items of Interest of Our Worship in Song, West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing Company, 1980, pp. 427-434.
V. E. Howard, Editor, and Broadus E. Smith, Associate Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.