Hymn Stories: “I Would Be True”

Many of our great hymns of the faith have heart-warming histories. Born out of the daily struggle, toil, and victory of saints gone before us, they ring through the ages. Hymns give us light, truth, and hope. They encourage us to keep our eyes on heaven and our hands busy in His service. Today, let’s peek into the past—at the story behind the hymn “I Would Be True.”

At Princeton University, we meet a remarkable young man named Howard Arnold Walter. Howard was noted for his joyful attitude, his wise counsel, and his complete consecration to Christ.  A student of theology, he graduated with honours in 1905. After Princeton, Howard studied at Hartford Theology Seminary. A keen mind, he could have chosen a prominent, comfortable field of service. Perhaps his family wished he would return to his native Connecticut and settle nearby.  However, this was not to be.

Setting sail for Japan, Howard taught English for a year at Waseda University. During this time, he wrote the first three verses of the hymn “I Would Be True.” He sent it to his mother as a Christmas greeting. (The other three verses were written later by Ralph Harlow.) 

Howard then returned to American soil. He became an assistant Congregationalist pastor in Connecticut for a time. However, his heart was burdened for foreign missions. Howard signed on with the YMCA (then the Young Men’s Christian Association) as a missionary to Lahore, India. 

Unfortunately, this young pastor had a weakened heart condition. His doctors strongly discouraged him from returning to India. With his precarious health, it would be a great risk. Despite this, Howard insisted that he “must be true.” He bravely sailed for India, committing his life to the high calling of missions in a foreign field.

In 1918, the doorbell rang at the home of Howard’s parents. Trembling, they answered the door…only to receive a message from India. A flu pandemic had broken out in the British Raj and reached the Foreman Christian College. Howard had caught the flu, and he had gone Home(no more to set foot on his native land). The glory of his brief life is captured for us in his own words, “I Would Be True.”

1  I would be true, for there are those who trust me;

I would be pure, for there are those who care;

I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;

I would be brave, for there is much to dare;

I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

2  I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;

I would be giving, and forget the gift;

I would be humble, for I know my weakness;

I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

I would look up, and laugh, and love and lift.

3  I would be faithful through each passing moment;

I would be constantly in touch with God;

I would be strong to follow where He leads me;

I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod;

I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod.


Will you be true to the Lord? Learn more about God each week by worshipping with the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church – Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call (902) 736-6465 or email northside1178@gmail.com

2 Responses to “Hymn Stories: “I Would Be True””

  1. Dichun Rwangmei says:

    Since my childhood I sang this song in the old village’s church evening services. I was born there and learned basic knowledge about God.
    Now, I am in my mid and missed the old church. Howard Wallter you had run and accomplished the race! My tears is rolling down unknowingly while reading this. Dear Howard Walter one thing I wish to say, I would be also true to this Living God!
    We shall meet you in glorious body on His appointed day. Amen!

    • What a beautiful testimony! The old hymns have so much truth and beauty. And we will truly enjoy meeting the writers someday and hearing how God gave them such beautiful songs to sing. Thank you so much for sharing! May God bless you!

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