Next to the scriptures or four standard works (the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), the Church’s hymnals may be its most influential doctrinal works. In the revelation that is now section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord declared to Emma Smith, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (verse 12). In the revelation, He commanded Emma “to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church” (verse 11).
Emma Smith, with help from the Church’s printer, William W. Phelps (see Doctrine and Covenants 57:11), compiled the first hymnal for the Church.
To see an original copy of the first hymnal and page through it, click here. You will note that the hymns are just lyrics with no music. But there is an abbreviation for the meter. Hymn 1, for example, gives the meter of “L. M.” next to the hymn number.
“L. M.” means long meter. Any tune that fit the meter could be used to sing the hymn. Sometimes multiple tunes became popular among the Saints, as reflected in later hymnals in which hymns might be included twice with different tunes.
Original copies of the original Emma Smith hymnal are very rare and go for six-digit prices when they become available for sale. For example, a copy auctioned at Christie’s Auction House in New York City in 2006 sold for $273,600. Replicas are available inexpensively online.
The preface in the first hymnal reads: “In order to sing by the Spirit, and with the understanding, it is necessary that the church of the Latter Day Saints should have a collection of ‘SACRED HYMNS,’ adapted to their faith and belief in the gospel, and, as far as can be, holding forth the promises made to the fathers who died in the precious faith of a glorious resurrection, and a thousand years’ reign on earth with the Son of Man in his glory. Notwithstanding the church, as it were, is still in its infancy, yet, as the song of the righteous is a prayer unto God, it is sincerely hoped that the following collection, selected with an eye single to his glory, may answer every purpose till more are composed, or till we are blessed with a copious variety of the songs of Zion.”
Today’s Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contains twenty-six of the ninety hymns in the 1835 Emma Smith hymnal.
For an excellent video produced by the Church in 2018 on this topic, view Emma Smith and the First Mormon Hymn Book.
For more on the history of hymns in the Church, click here.
Photo credit for image at top of post: Detail from title page of hymn book prepared by Emma Smith and others, public domain, copied from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Hymns_Emma_Smith_1835.jpg (accessed May 23, 2021).