Hymn History: “Yield Not to Temptation”

2 min

One Sunday afternoon, a woman walked into New York state’s Sing Sing prison. Her purpose was to lead a religious service for the imprisoned women. Sing Sing was a high-security prison that reputedly held the worst criminals. As she entered, the visitor heard the loud clunk of the heavy steel door lock securely behind her. Before her, the female inmates gathered in the hallway to attend the religious service. 

Hateful tension existed between the guards and the incarcerated women. On this particular afternoon, a guard gave a harsh order which sparked the prisoners’ anger. Instantly, they reacted! Long-standing bitterness and fury flamed to the surface, and within moments a riot broke out!

Hastily, the desperate guard called for reinforcements. The revolting prisoners proved difficult to subdue. Quickly the uprising escalated! 

Suddenly, over the noisy cursing and shouting, a voice clearly sang out these words: 

Yield not to temptation For yielding is sin,
Each vict’ry will help you Some other to win;
Fight manfully onward, Dark passions subdue,
Look ever to Jesus—He will carry you through. 

The rioters paused to hear the words. Other voices joined in. The singing grew louder and stronger. Shouting ceased as more prisoners began to sing. 

Shun evil companions, Bad language disdain,
God’s name hold in rev’rence, Nor take it in vain;
Be thoughtful and earnest, Kindhearted and true,
Look ever to Jesus—He will carry you through. 

Soon repentant sobs filled the hallway. Amazed guards escorted the now-compliant inmates back to their cells. The report spread: a prison riot had been quelled by a simple hymn! 

What if the lone person had not obeyed the Spirit’s prompting to sing? What if the prisoners had not heeded the hymn’s message? What if the hymn writer had not composed this song?

Horatio Palmer wrote the words to “Yield Not to Temptation.” How he came to write the words is a powerful illustration of self-control, which is “instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.” Mr. Palmer recorded in his journal the following words: 

This song is an inspiration. I was at work on the dry subject of “Theory” when the complete idea flashed upon me, and I laid aside the theoretical work and hurriedly penned both words and music as fast as I could write them. . . . I am reverently thankful that it [the hymn] has been a power for good. 

Because Mr. Palmer set aside his own priorities to respond immediately to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, the Church has enjoyed this hymn for decades. Just as Mr. Palmer and the courageous woman at the prison obeyed the Holy Spirit, may we also follow His leading. Like Jesus, may we not yield to temptation!

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