Life of Robert Lowry
Reverend Robert Lowry, a distinguished figure in the realm of gospel preaching and gospel hymn composition, hails from Philadelphia and was born on March 12, 1826.
His roots trace back to his parents, Crozier Lowry and Elizabeth Bannatyne Lowry.
Crozier, an early 19th-century immigrant from Northern Ireland, was a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church in America.
From a young age, Robert’s affinity for music shone brightly.
It was evident in his penchant for immersing himself joyfully in the exploration of any musical instrument that crossed his path.
His spirit seemed to resonate with the harmonious notes, creating an intimate bond between him and the world of melodies.
This early connection with music would later pave the way for his remarkable contributions to the world of gospel hymns.
Early Life and Education
When Robert turned 17, he decided to leave the Presbyterian Church and join the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia.
It was there that he became actively involved in church activities, taking on roles in the Sunday school and church choir as a teacher and chorister.
His pastor, Reverend George Barton Ide, saw great potential in him and encouraged him to pursue Christian ministry.
Following this advice, Robert embarked on his educational journey at the University of Lewisburg, now known as Bucknell University, located in Pennsylvania.
At the university, Robert’s musical prowess shone through as he established a choir for the college.
He also had a fondness for teaching music to his fellow students.
Over time, Robert gained a reputation as both a hymn writer and a preacher.
In 1854, at the age of 28, Robert graduated with the highest honors in his class.
It was a remarkable achievement, marking the culmination of his dedication and hard work.
Shortly after, he was ordained as a priest in the Baptist Mission, setting the stage for his future endeavors in the ministry.
This pivotal moment marked the beginning of a new chapter in Robert’s journey of faith and music.
After Robert Lowry graduated, he began his ministry journey and also tied the knot with Anna Rhees Loxley in the same year.
His first assignment was at the First Baptist Church in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he served from 1854 to 1858.
Following this, he moved on to the Bloomingdale Baptist Church in New York, dedicating two years of service from 1859 to 1861.
Robert then continued his pastoral duties at the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York, where he remained until 1869.
After an enriching eight-year tenure at Hanson Place, he returned to take up the role of pastor at the newly established First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a post he held from 1869 to 1875.
Remarkably, during this period, he also served as a professor of rhetoric at the University in Lewisburg and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) degree in 1875.
Reverend Dr. Robert Lowry was a man of rare qualities, possessing outstanding administrative skills, eloquence in preaching, and a profound understanding of the Bible.
His dedication and leadership were evident in the successful completion and dedication of the new First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, in June 1870.
Through his persuasive speaking, he rallied the congregation, who were not financially well-off, to contribute $10,000 towards clearing the church’s debt.
In 1875, he graciously stepped down from his professorship at Lewisburg to continue his ministry at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Plainfield, New Jersey.
At each stop along his journey, Reverend Dr. Robert Lowry’s stories of faith and devotion proved to be a resounding success.
Reverend Robert Lowry as a Hymnist
Reverend Robert Lowry’s dedication to spreading the gospel went hand in hand with his passion for creating music and writing hymns.
Even amidst his busy ministry schedule, he never ceased composing heartfelt melodies and crafting inspiring hymns.
A notable example is the beloved hymn “Shall We Gather at the River,” which he penned during his time at Hanson Place in 1864.
Additionally, he lent his musical talent to setting the tune for the hymn “Marching to Zion,” originally penned by Isaac Watts in 1867.
Then, in 1874, he gifted the world with the Easter hymn “Christ Arose!” where he both wrote the lyrics and composed the music for the uplifting piece known as “Low In The Grave He Lay.”
In 1868, Reverend Lowry stepped into the role left by William Bradbury as the editor of Sunday School song collections at Biglow & Main publishers in New York City.
This marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration that spanned nearly three decades, working alongside esteemed hymn writers like William H. Doane and Ira D. Sankey.
During his tenure at the company, Reverend Dr. Robert Lowry oversaw the publication of over 20 hymnals, leaving an indelible mark on the world of Christian music.
What set Lowry apart was his unique ability to compose both the lyrics and the music for his hymns—a rare talent indeed.
At times, he would even add a chorus or refrain, seamlessly weaving the words into the melodies with a touch of musical genius.
His contributions continue to resonate, inspiring hearts and souls through the power of music and faith.
Dr. Robert Lowry Contribution to Hymnody
Robert Lowry, a prolific hymn writer, has left an indelible mark on the world of Christian music with a vast collection of cherished hymns.
He is estimated to have composed around 500 hymns during his lifetime. His hymns have had a significant impact on Christian worship.
Furthermore, Lowry’s hymns have deeply touched the hearts of many with their powerful messages of faith and devotion.
These hymns continue to be treasured by congregations around the world.
Published Hymn Collections
Here is a compilation of hymn collections attributed to Lowry, either individually or in collaboration with others.
Notably, the widespread popularity of these collections is exemplified by the remarkable success of “Pure Gold,” which, in 1871 alone, saw sales exceeding a million copies.
Some of his published hymn collections are listed below:
- 1865 Happy Voices
- 1868 Gospel Melodies
- 1868 Chapel Melodies (with Silas Vail) Biglow & Main
- 1869 Bright Jewels Biglow & Main
- 1871 Pure Gold (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1871, 1872, 1873 Hymn Service
- 1873 Royal Diadem (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1873 Temple Anthems
- 1874 Tidal Wave
- 1875 Brightest and Best (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1877 Gospel Music Biglow & Main
- 1877 Welcome Tidings (with W. H. Doane and Ira D. Sankey) Biglow & Main
- 1878 Chautauqua Carols
- 1879 Gospel Hymn and Tune Book (with W. H. Doane)
- 1879 Hymn Service for the Sunday School (with W. H. Doane and others) Biglow & Main
- 1880 Good as Gold (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1880 Hymn Service No.2 (with W. H. Doane and John Vincent) Biglow & Main
- 1881–1886 Cantatas for Christmas
- 1882 Our Glad Hosanna (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1882–1887 Cantatas for Easter
- 1884 Joyful Lays (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1886 The Glad Refrain (with W. H. Doane) Biglow & Main
- 1889 Select Gems (with W. H. Doane) American Baptist Publication Society
- 1889 The Bright Array (with W. H. Doane)
- 1898 Royal Hymnal (with Ira D. Sankey) Biglow & Main
Hymns by Dr Robert Lowry
Some of his most beloved compositions include:
- “A Brighter Day Is Breaking”
- “All the Way My Savior Leads Me”
- “Awake, Ye Soldiers of the Lord”
- “Cast Your Care on Jesus He Will Share It”
- “Come, Let Us Sing with the Sacred Throng”
- “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”
- “Gentle Savior, Bless the Children”
- “Gone to the Grave Is Our Loved One”
- “How Much Our Parents Cared for Us”
- “I Need Thee Every Hour”
- “In the Far Off Time a Hundred Years Ago”
- “Lead Them, My God, to Thee”
- “Marching On, Marching On”
- “My Life Flows on in Endless Song”
- “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus”
- “O Watch, Ye People, Watch and Pray”
- “Only a Step to Jesus”
- “Rejoice and Hail the King”
- “Rolling Downward Through the Midnight”
- “Savior Mine, I Am Thine”
- “Shall We Gather at the River”
- “Take the Wings of the Morning”
- “The Crystal Fount Is Flowing Free”
- “The Sun May Warm the Grass to Light”
- “The Tidal Wave Is Flowing On”
- “Weeping Will Not Save Me”
- “We’re Marching to Zion”
- “What Can Wash Away My Sin”
- “What Is All the World to Me”
- “What Words of Holy Comfort”
- “When Life’s Labor Song Is Sung”
- “When the Morning Light Drives Away the Night”
- “When We Hear the Music Ringing in the Bright Celestial Dome”
- “Where Is My Wandering Boy Tonight”
These hymns have resonated deeply with people across different cultures and languages, offering comfort, inspiration, and a sense of connection with their faith.
Lowry’s ability to craft lyrics that speak to the human experience, combined with memorable melodies, has ensured that his hymns continue to be sung and cherished to this day.
Robert Lowry’s Legacy and Honor
Robert Lowry possessed a remarkable gift for speaking that some later commentators, like William McNeill, described as truly captivating.
Interestingly, Lowry himself once mentioned that he found more joy in delivering a sermon to an audience that welcomed and embraced his message than in composing a hymn.
He considered preaching to be his primary calling and was somewhat modest about his success as a hymn writer, viewing it as a secondary endeavor.
However, it is primarily for his hymns that he is fondly remembered.
As Hall aptly puts it, his hymns have endured through time, becoming an integral part of the emotional fabric of the entire Christian world.
In a way, we all owe a debt of gratitude to him for the inspiration his hymns continue to provide.
The collections overseen by Lowry were a significant contribution to the 19th-century Sunday School movement.
Their influence has extended into the realm of gospel music in the modern era of revival.
According to Methodist hymnologist Carl F. Price, the music of Lowry, Doane, and Sankey beautifully illustrates the evolution of American prayer meeting tunes.
It progresses from the more solemn rhythm of traditional church music to the catchy, lively melodies reminiscent of popular ballads.
Lowry believed that a hymn should be clear and easily understood, resonate with the writer’s own powerful experiences, and be filled with words that inspire.
During his lifetime, Robert Lowry received high honors from Bucknell University and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
He was also among the inaugural inductees into Bucknell’s Academy of Artistic Achievement Awards.
Remarkably, twelve years after Lowry’s passing, a memorial stone was unveiled at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Plainfield, a fitting tribute to a man whose contributions to music and faith continue to be cherished.
Later Life and Death
In 1880, because of his health, Robert took a much-needed break and ventured to Europe for some rejuvenation.
Then, in 1885, feeling the need for a more extended period of rest, he made the decision to step away from his ministerial duties.
After this much-needed hiatus, he returned to his ministry work with renewed vigor and improved health.
However, life dealt him a difficult blow in 1890 when he lost his beloved wife, Anna.
Yet, two years later, he found love again and married Mary Jane Runyon.
Throughout this time, Robert continued to serve as a pastor at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Plainfield.
It was a role he held with great devotion and dedication until his passing on November 25, 1899.
He found his final resting place at Hillside Cemetery in Plainfield.
Although he is no longer with us, Robert’s legacy endures through the timeless sermons embedded within his gospel songs.
They continue to resonate and inspire, ensuring that his spirit lives on in the hearts of those who hear his music.
Robert Lowry’s life was a testament to his deep faith and musical talent.
Through his prolific hymn writing, he left an enduring legacy in the world of Christian music.
Estimated to have composed around 500 hymns, Lowry’s contributions have had a profound impact on Christian worship, resonating with congregations worldwide.
His hymns are cherished for their powerful messages of faith and devotion, and they continue to inspire and uplift people to this day.
Whether in grand cathedrals or humble chapels, the melodies and lyrics of Robert Lowry’s hymns serve as a bridge between the earthly and the divine, connecting generations in shared worship and reverence.
Lowry’s enduring influence is a testament to the enduring power of music to touch the human soul and draw hearts closer to God.
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