Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hymns & Hymn Writers: I'm A Pilgrim by David R. Kenney

The song “I’m A Pilgrim” is dated to 1841, and some sources state the music is “Italian Air” (some sources call it Buono Notte which is Italian for “Good Night”.)  The words were written by Mary S. B. Dana.  She also wrote “Flee as a Bird” with music cited as “Spain Air”. 

Mary Stanley Bunce Palmer Dana Shindler (1810-1883), Lyricist

Mary Stanley Bunce Palmer Dana Shindler was born February 15, 1810 in Beufort, SC.  Her father was a pastor of the Congregational Church.  She married Charles Elutheros Dana June 19, 1835.  They moved to Bloomington, IA in 1839, and her husband died shortly after.  She returned to Beufort, SC.  In May 1848 she remarried Robert Doyne Shindler, who was a professor of Shelby College in Kentucky.  She began as a Presbyterian, switched to Unitarian, and then ended with the Protestant Episcopal Church for which her husband was a clergyman.  Her change of religious views was a source of conflict with her family.  In fact, her largest published work was Letters to Relatives and Friends on the Trinity (1845) which explained her change in views to Unitarian.  She published some of her music including the Southern Harp (1840) and the Northern Harp, (1841) which is the main source for her hymns.  The Song “A Pilgrim and A Stranger” comes from Northern Harp, where it has her name as “Mrs. Dana”, and the music as an “Italian Melody”.  Her second husband preceded her in death in 1874.  Mary Stanley Bunce Palmer Dana Shindler died February 8, 1883 in Nacogdoches, TX where she lived with her son.  She was buried there in the Oak Grove Cemetery next to her second husband.  Her stone reads “Mary Palmer Dana Shindler”, records her DOB and DOD, and includes lyrics from “Free as a Bird”. 

I’m A Pilgrim

In the New Testament, the term “pilgrim” or “pilgrims” appears in 3 verses of the NKJV (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 1:11; 1 Pet 2:11).  The term pilgrim [#3927, parepídēmos, par-ep-id'-ay-mos ] means “…pertaining to staying for a while in a strange or foreign place, sojourning, residing temporarily…of Christians, who are not at home in this world…” (BDAG, 775)  This meaning is clearly understood as used by the apostle Peter:  “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12, NKJV).

The song “I’m A Pilgrim” has three verses; however, the original work was six verses.  One of the verses included these determined words about friends who will not obey the gospel:  “Farewell, neighbors, with tears I’ve warned you, I must leave you, I must leave you and be gone!  With this your portion, your heart’s desire, Why will you perish in raging fire?  Another one speaks of family who will not follow in the gospel:  “Father, mother, and sister, brother!  If you will not journey with me, I must go!  Now since your vain hopes you will thus cherish, Should I, too, linger, and with you perish?”  Sometimes no matter how much we desire, some neighbors, family, and friends will not follow.  The important matter is to make sure your Christian life is showing them the way.

It is generally believed that the “day of visitation” written by Peter is the judgment day, but how would these “glorify God” then?  The key is to recognize that these Gentiles were speaking evil of Christians at first; but as they saw their good works and character of the Christian, they were acceptable to the gospel. So, when the “day of visitation” comes, they indeed would be so thankful that Christians had lived a distinct life of example in front of them.  James MacKnight described it this way:  “It is well known, that the patience, fortitude, and meekness, with which the first Christians bare persecution for their religion, and the forgiving disposition which they expressed toward their persecutors, made such an impression on the heathen who were witnesses to their sufferings, that many of them glorified God by embracing the gospel.” (James MacKnight, Apostolic Epistles, Vol. 5, p. 459)  Marshall Keeble asked a very important question when he said “How you going to convert your neighbor drinking with him?”  Are we influencing others to obey the gospel by, or in spite of, our influence or daily living? 

Tom Winter Butterfield used to say “Brethren, let’s go to haven, but let’s ALL go!”  We are journeying through this world and onto the next.  How we live here will determine where we will be there.  Where do you want to be?


Dana, M. S. B., “A Pilgrim and A Stranger,” The Northern Harp – Consisting of Original Sacred and Moral Songs, New York:  Dayton & Saxton, 1842, pp. 54-55

Howard, V. E., and Broadus E. Smith, eds.  Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX:  Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

“Mary S. B. Shindler.” No pages. Cited 25 February, 2017. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_S._B._Shindler.

“Mary Stanley Bunce Dana Shindler.”  No pages. 25 February, 2017. Online:  http://cyberhymnal.org/bio/s/h/shindler_msbd.htm

“Mary S. B. Dana Shindler.” No pages. Cited 25 February, 2017. Online: http://www.hymnary.org/person/Shindler_MSBD?tab=texts.

“Mary Stanley Palmer Shindler.” No pages. Cited 25 February, 2017. Online: https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=6273599&PIpi=23383988.

Wiegand, John P., Editor. Praise for the Lord. Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

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