In the previous chapter the endeavour has been to set forth as simply and lucidly as possible, the story of how we got our popular Gospel song. To do so, one of the pioneers of the work in this particular realm of hymnody was singled out and used as a vehicle by which, as we look back and see this wonderful movement spreading from country to country, and being used of God, we can, in a greater measure, comprehend its remarkable development and far-reaching results. This chapter will be devoted to sketching a brief history of some of the best known Gospel hymn writers of America. As a great number of this particular type of hymn were written during the period with which we have already dealt, this chapter, while running in sequence affords another opportunity to gather still further from the fertile fields of Gospel hymnody of America.
Among the sweet singers of the last two generations, the name of Frances Jane Crosby is a familiar one on both sides of the Atlantic. Her hymns are sung everywhere, and by Christians of all denominations, because they so beautifully express the wonderful spiritual influence upon the heart and life. She was born in the town of Southeast, Putnam County, New York, on March 24th, 1820, and her parents greatly rejoiced because God had sent them a babe. But in a few weeks their joy was turned to sorrow, for the little girl’s eyes began to inflame; the physician made a mistake in his treatment of the trouble, and as the result, Fanny Crosby became hopelessly blind. Fanny, however, was an optimist, dwelling little on her affliction, and not one word did she ever speak of blame for the physician who had been responsible for her sad plight. “It may have been a blunder on the physician’s part,” she said in later years; “it was no mistake of God’s.” Among her greatest blessings she has always counted instruction in the Bible, and when only ten years old, she was able to recite the first five books of the Old Testament, and the first four in the New Testament. At the age of fifteen she was taken to the New York school for the blind, the first of its kind in the country. Always passionately fond of poetry, Fanny began writing verses when quite young, and when she was twenty-four years of age she timidly gathered up a few of her early poems and had them published under the title, The Blind Girl, and other Poems. The book attracted the notice of the celebrated American poet, William Cullen Bryant, who visited Fanny and spoke encouragingly to the young writer. Other volumes followed in quick succession, but it was not till 1864 that she began the great life-work for which she had been unconsciously preparing, the writing of hymns. “I verily believe,” she wrote, “that it was God’s intention that I should live my days in physical darkness, so as to be better prepared to sing His praise and incite others so to do. I could not have written thousands of hymns if I had been hindered by the distractions that would have been presented to my notice.” The year 1850 was a memorable one, for it was the year of her conversion and consecration to God’s service. Gospel meetings were being held in a Methodist Church near by. “Some of us,” she writes, “went every evening, but although I sought peace, I could not find the joy I craved until one evening—November 20th, 1850—I arose and went forward alone. After prayer the congregation began to sing the grand old consecration hymn of Dr. Isaac Watts:
‘Alas and did my Saviour bleed?
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred Head
For such a worm as I?’
And when they reached the third line of the last verse:
‘Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’Tis all that I can do’
—I surrendered myself to the Saviour, and my very soul was flooded with celestial light. I sprang to my feet, shouting ‘Hallelujah!’” Miss Crosby was married in 1858 to Mr. Alexander Van Alstyne, a teacher in the institution for the blind, but her husband wisely and unselfishly urged her to retain her maiden name in connection with her work, and always took a great interest in the genius of his wife.
Fanny Crosby, by which name she has always been known, first met Ira D. Sankey early in his career, and he set to music several of her hymns and used them with remarkable success in his evangelistic missions with D. L. Moody, which stirred the whole world for so many years. The singing evangelist she revered as God’s messenger of living song. They worked together with unison of soul, for the uplift of the downcast by means of sacred song. Mr. Sankey was very fond of the blind poetess, and to the day when he himself lost his sight, there were few who brought more joy and peace to his heart than Fanny Crosby.
Altogether she has written about seven thousand hymns, and some of the best known are: “Safe in the arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the perishing,” “Jesus keep me near the Cross,” “Blessed Assurance,” “I shall know Him,” “I am Thine, O Lord,” “Saved by Grace.”
A remarkable circumstance, not generally known, in connection with this gifted authoress’ hymn writing, is that she rarely composed her verses without a small book or Testament held open before her eyes.
When Fanny Crosby was forty-eight years of age, Dr. W. H. Doane, who has written so many beautiful hymn tunes and was a constant friend of the blind hymn writer, came one day into the office of Biglow and Main in New York, and finding Fanny Crosby there in conversation with Mr. W. B. Bradbury, he said to her, “Fanny, I have just written a tune, and I want you to write a hymn for it.” “Let me hear it,” she replied. After he had played it over for her on a small organ, she exclaimed, “Why, that tune says, ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus,’ and I will see what I can do about it.” She at once went into an adjoining room, and in half an hour returned and repeated to him the words of the hymn:
“Safe in the arms of Jesus,
Safe on His gentle breast,
There by His love o’er shaded,
Sweetly my soul shall rest.
Hark! ’tis the voice of angels
Borne in a song to me,
Over the fields of glory
Over the jasper sea.”
It was first published in Dr. Doane’s book, entitled Songs of Devotion, in 1868. The hymn obtained great favour at once, and is said to be one of the first hymns of its kind the words of which were translated into a foreign language.
There is also her sweet consecration hymn which seems to make the deepest chords of one’s spiritual nature vibrate, as with a touch of Heaven’s own influence:
“I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,
And it told Thy love to me;
But I long to rise in the arms of faith,
And be closer drawn to Thee.
Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,
To the Cross where Thou hast died,
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious bleeding side.”
At the age of seventy-one Fanny Crosby wrote the hymn “Saved by Grace” which has now become so widely known. The story of how it came into being is worthy of relating here. While visiting Mr. Sankey at Northfield, Mass., where the summer conferences were held, Mr. Sankey asked her to make a short address to her many friends, as a message had been sent in by some of those present that they wished to hear her speak. She at first begged to be excused, but on further persuasion, consented to speak a few words. Mr. Sankey led her forward to the desk on which lay the Bible, and after speaking eloquently for a short time, Fanny closed her remarks by reciting this beautiful hymn, beginning:
“Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing,
But O, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!”
The chorus is all the more affecting remembering the blindness of the writer:
“And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story, saved by grace.”
When she had finished, Mr. Sankey turned to her and said, “Why, Fanny, where did you get that beautiful hymn?” “You ought to know,” was her reply
“These are the verses I gave you three years ago, and which I suppose have been put away in the safe with all my other unpublished hymns.” The poetess had a wonderful memory, and although she had composed several hundred hymns since writing the words of “Saved by Grace,” she was able to recite the hymn, word for word, exactly as she had penned it. Mr. George C. Stebbins set the words to an attractive tune, with the result that “Saved by Grace “has become one of the most useful and popular of modern hymns. The last verse is especially beautiful:
“Some day, when fades the golden sun
Beneath the rosy-tinted west,
My blessed Lord will say, ‘Well done,’
And I shall enter into rest.”
That “Some day” came on February nth, 1915, when the sweet singer of America entered into “The Palace of the King “at the age of ninety-five.
Mention has already been made of Philip Phillips, known in the early days as the “Singing Pilgrim.” Though he laid no claim to being an educated musician, nevertheless he has composed many beautiful tunes, and being possessed of a voice of peculiar influence, he was able to impress his earnestness upon his hearers. As has been noted elsewhere, Philip Phillips was among the first to broadcast the Gospel by song, previous to the world-wide work of Moody and Sankey. Probably the hymn most closely associated with his name is, “The home of the Soul.” There is a striking incident related of him when on a visit to the Holy Land, which will illustrate the wonderfully magnetic influence of Philip Phillips’ powerful singing. “One day, as they wandered amid scenes of sacred memory, they were startled by the cry of ‘Unclean! unclean!’ Looking up the mountain side they plainly saw the lepers. After watching them a moment Mr. Phillips began singing that peerless song:
‘I will sing you a song of that beautiful land
The far-away home of the soul,
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand
While the years of eternity roll.’
In silence those helplessly afflicted human beings stood listening as he sang stanza after stanza. They understood not a word he said, possibly, but the soul of the singer seemed to speak in a language that even they could comprehend, and in respectful attention they stood until the song ended, and the little party of American tourists passed from their view.”
The words of “The Home of the Soul “were written by Mrs. Ellen H. Gates, an American lady, after reading the narrative of Christian and Hopeful at the gate of Heaven in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. “When the verses were forwarded to me, in 1865,” wrote Mr. Phillips, “I seated myself in my home with my little boy on my knee, and with Bunyan’s immortal dream-book in my hand, and began to read the closing scenes where Christian and Hopeful entered into the city; wondering at Bunyan’s rare genius, and like the dreamer of old, wishing myself among them. At this moment of inspiration I turned to the organ, with pencil in hand, and wrote the tune. This hymn seems to have had God’s special blessing upon it from the very beginning. One man writes me that he has led in the singing of it at a hundred and twenty funerals. It was also sung at the funeral of my own dear boy, who had sat on my knee when I wrote the tune.” This hymn was sung by Mr. Sankey over the remains of his beloved friend, Philip Phillips, the composer, at Fredonia, New York.
A hymn to be found in most mission hymn books has this chorus:
“Moment by moment I’m kept in His love;
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory shall shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.”
It was written by Major D. W. Whittle, a close friend and colleague of P. P. Bliss, and the author of a considerable number of hymns in popular use to-day. A remark by Henry Varley, the evangelist, to the effect that he did not very much like the hymn, “I need Thee every hour,” “Because,” said he, “I need Him every moment of the day,” gave the idea of the hymn “Moment by moment” to Major Whittle. His daughter, May Whittle, who afterwards became the wife of Will R. Moody, composed the music.
Daniel Webster Whittle was born at Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, November 22nd, 1840. At the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861, he enlisted in the 72nd Illinois Infantry, and saw much active service. At one time he was Provost Marshal on General Howard’s staff, and was with Sherman in his famous march to the sea. It was after a severe engagement at Vicksburg in which he lost his right arm, and was taken prisoner by the enemy, that he was awakened to see his need of a Saviour. While he was recovering from his wound, and having a desire for something to read, he felt in his haversack and found the little Testament his mother had placed there on the morning of his departure for the war. For the first time he opened its pages. He read right through the book several times. Every part was interesting to him, and he found to his surprise that he could understand it in a way that he never had before. He understood the presentation of the truth in Paul’s letter to the Romans and had it plainly before his mind that God gave Jesus, His Son, to be our Substitute, and that whoever would confess their sins and accept Him, should be saved. While in this state of mind, yet with no fixed purpose to repent and accept the Saviour, he was awakened one midnight by an orderly, who said: “There is a boy in the other end of the ward who is dying. He has been begging me for the past hour to pray for him, but I’m a wicked man and cannot.” “Why,” said Whittle, “I can’t pray. I never prayed in my life. I am just as wicked as you are.” “Can’t pray!” said the orderly. “Why, I thought sure from seeing you read the Testament, that you were a praying man. I can’t go back there alone. Won’t you get up and come and see him at any rate?” Moved by his appeal young Whittle arose from his cot and went with the orderly to the far corner of the room. A fair haired boy of seventeen or eighteen lay there dying. There was a look of intense agony upon his face, as he cried: “Oh, pray for me! Pray for me! I am dying. I was a good boy at home in Maine and went to Sunday School. But since I became a soldier I have learned to be wicked. And now I am dying, and I am not fit to die! Oh, ask God to forgive me! Ask Christ to save me! “I dropped on my knees,” said Major Whittle when telling the story, “and held the boy’s hand in mine, as in a few broken words I confessed my sins, and asked God for Christ’s sake to forgive me. I believe right there that he did forgive me, and that I was His child. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees he was dead. A look of peace was upon his face, and I can but believe that God, who used him to bring me to the Saviour, used me to get his attention fixed upon Christ, and to lead him to trust in His precious blood. I hope to meet him in Heaven.”
But for that little Testament placed in her soldier boy’s haversack by that praying mother, the realm of hymnody would have been poorer to-day. For, though some of Major Whittle’s hymns may to a certain extent lack literary merit, yet they ring true, and have been wonderfully used of God.
A testimony song, the joyous strains of which rarely fail to bring back happy memories of our first love, is still as heartily sung both at mission services and in the home as the day it was written:
“Come sing, my soul, and praise the Lord,
Who hath redeemed thee by His blood;
Delivered thee from chains that bound,
And brought thee to redemption ground.”
Then there is that song of the joyous anticipation of our Lord’s coming again, the chorus of which is so familiar to the ear:
“Oh, the crowning day is coming!
Is coming by and by!
When our Lord shall come in ‘power’
And ‘glory’ from on high!
Oh, the glorious sight will gladden
Each waiting, watchful eye,
In the crowning day that’s coming
By and by.”
A favourite at Prayer Meetings and Revival Services and one which alone would have caused the author’s name to be remembered is the hymn beginning:
“There shall be showers of blessing:
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Saviour above.
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need;
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.”
This hymn owes much of its popularity to an appropriate tune by Mr. James McGranahan, a colleague of Sankey, and one of the foremost composers of Gospel music of his day. Other familiar hymns by Major Whittle, include: “The love that gave Jesus to die,” “Jesus is coming,” “I know whom I have believed,” “I looked to Jesus,” “There’s a royal banner,” and “Come believing.” Many of Major Whittle’s hymns were written over the nom de plume “El Nathan.” He passed away at Northfield, March 4th, 1901.
Among mission hymns there is one that never seems to grow old. For well nigh half a century it has been sung at Gospel meetings, in church and chapel, in mission hall and at open-air services, wherever the Gospel has been proclaimed. At home, or in lands beyond the sea, its joyful strain has ever been in the ascendant:
“Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? “
Elisha A. Hoffman, the composer of both words and music, was born at Orwigsburg, Pa., on May 7th, 1839. His father was a minister of the Gospel in the Evangelical Association, and the son followed actively in his footsteps. Mr. Hoffman was both poet and musician, and more than two thousand hymns have come from his pen, some having been translated into many languages and sung all round the world. Almost every one is familiar with the following hymns by Mr. Hoffman: “The Lord is coming by and by,” “What a wonderful Saviour,” “Abundantly able to save,” “Resting in the everlasting arms,” “Where will you spend Eternity?” and that sweetest of all prayer meeting hymns:
“’Tis the blessed hour of prayer, when our hearts lowly bend,
And we gather to Jesus, our Saviour and Friend;
If we come to Him in faith, His protection to share,
What a balm for the weary! Oh, how sweet to be there.”
A hymn better known in America than in this country is: “I must tell Jesus.” Regarding its origin, Mr. Hoffman relates a very interesting story: “While I was pastor at Lebanon, Pa., I called one day at the home of a parishioner and found the lady in great distress and sorrow. Wringing her hands she cried: ‘What shall I do, what shall I do?’ I replied: ‘You cannot do better than take it all to Jesus—you must tell Jesus.’ For a moment she seemed abstracted in meditation, then her face glowed, her eyes lighted up, and with animation she exclaimed: ‘Yes, I must tell Jesus, I must tell Jesus!’ As I went from that sorrow-filled home a vision walked before me, a vision of a joy-illumined face, of a soul transformed from darkness into light, and I heard all along my pathway the echo of a tender voice saying, ‘I must tell Jesus.’ “Immediately on reaching his study Mr. Hoffman wrote both the words and music of the hymn “I must tell Jesus,” which has brought comfort and solace to many a weary heart. Here is the first verse:
“I must tell Jesus all of ray trials;
I cannot bear these burdens alone,
In my distress He kindly will help me,
He ever loves and cares for his own.”
One of my earliest recollections of Gospel song was hearing my mother sing in the quiet of our home one of the hymns from Sankey’s first hymn book, which was ever a favourite:
“Oh what a Saviour—that He died for me!
From condemnation He hath set me free;
‘He that believeth on the Son,’ saith He,
‘Hath everlasting life.’
‘Verily, verily, I say unto you;’
‘Verily, verily,’ message ever new!
‘He that believeth on the Son’—’tis true!—
‘Hath everlasting life.’”
Incongruous though it may seem, this chorus was used as a lullaby by which we children were put to sleep in the old rocking chair, to the song’s easy flowing measure.
It was comparatively new then. Since that far off day “Verily! Verily!” has been sung wherever Christ is preached, and now takes its place amongst the best known Gospel hymns. James McGranahan, the writer of the words and music of this hymn, was born at Adamsville, Pa., in 1840, and while a lad, learned to read music and sing alto. One of the pioneers of Gospel song, Mr. McGranahan was closely associated with Ira D. Sankey during his many Gospel campaigns. He succeeded P. P. Bliss in evangelistic work with Major Whittle, and for years his matchless tenor voice was heard in Gospel songs, both in America and England. Mr. McGranahan’s hymns were, and still are in great favour, and that too, after a generation has passed. As an illustration, an incident occurred while Mr. Moody was conducting a ten days’ mission in Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, London, toward the end of 1892. During these meetings, Mr. Moody received a request from Queen Mary, who was then Princess Mary of Teck,—who, with her mother, the Duchess of Teck, were in the audience—that Mr. McGranahan’s beautiful hymn “Sometime we’ll understand” should be sung. The request was, of course, readily complied with. This little incident is interesting for two reasons, first, as illustrating the favour with which not only Mr. McGranahan’s hymns, but the compositions of other writers of this class of hymn were received in this country; and second, as an indication that they have found their way into the palaces of royalty as well as the homes of the people, where one cannot doubt they have proved a blessing to many. Mr. McGranahan is also the composer of words and music of: “I am the way,” “If God be for us,” “They that wait upon the Lord.”
A splendid musician, Mr. McGranahan is the composer of a great many well-known hymn tunes to be found in almost every evangelistic hymn book in present use. He fell asleep a few days after his sixty-seventh birthday, at his home at Kinsman, Ohio, resting upon his favourite verse “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Among the writers of Sunday School, evangelistic and devotional music, there are few names better known than that of Robert Lowry, the author of the popular hymn “Shall we gather at the river?” He was born at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 12th, 1826, and became a true follower of the Lord Jesus at the age of seventeen. In earlier years he prepared for and entered the ministry of the Baptist denomination, his first charge being at West Chester, Pennsylvania. After many years in different pastorates, he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric in Lewisburg University. Dr. Lowry has been associated with some of the most popular Sunday School hymn books published in America. A musician of considerable ability, most of his hymns are set to music by himself, and are extremely popular. Although not by any means his best production it is in connection with the hymn “Shall we gather at the river?” that the name of Robert Lowry will always be associated. Having received the story from the lips of the author himself, Sankey tells us how the hymn came into being.
“On a sultry afternoon in July, 1864, Dr. Lowry was sitting at his study table in Elliot Place, Brooklyn, when the words of the hymn, “Shall we gather at the river?” came to him. An epidemic was raging through the city at the time, and he had been pondering the question, ‘Why do hymn writers say so much about the river of death, and so little about the pure river of the water of life?’ He hastily recorded the words, and then sat down before his parlour organ and composed the tune which is now sung in practically all the Sunday Schools of the world.”
When visiting London in 1880 on the occasion of the Raikes Centenary, when Sunday School workers from various parts of the world had come together, Dr. Lowry received a tremendous oration when introduced to the vast audience as the author of this hymn; and for some minutes it was impossible for him to speak; surely an eloquent testimony to the value of a hymn, beloved the world over. He is also the composer of the music to that martial strain: “We’re marching to Zion,” and that tender hymn, “I need Thee every hour.”
Dr. Lowry wrote the words and music of that popular mission hymn:
“What can wash away my stain?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
Also that glorious resurrection hymn, the chorus of which is so well known:
“Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;
He rose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives for ever with His saints to reign;
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!”
He is also the composer of that pathetic hymn, “Where is my wandering boy to-night? “which is said to have arrested many a wanderer on the downward road; of which the following story is a striking instance. The principal speaker at a meeting which filled to overflowing the Athenaeum at Bury, Lancashire, was a lady who held the vast audience enthralled by her earnestness. At the close of her discourse she said, “Before I came to Bury this afternoon, I made a call at Haslingden to see a dear old woman. I told here I was coming and for why; when, with tears in her eyes, she said, ‘I wonder whether you can find my wandering boy?’”
Then came the words:
“Go for my wandering boy to-night;
Go, search for him where you will;
But bring him to me with all his blight,
And tell him I love him still.”
“I wonder,” continued the speaker, pausing for a moment, “whether that wandering boy is here?” “Yes!” exclaimed a voice, and from the back of the hall, through crowded aisles, a young man made his way to the front. Reaching forward, the speaker grasped the outstretched hand of the youth, and after exchanging a few words, the lady raised her hand, and amid a tense silence said, “Yes, it is that mother’s boy. Do you wonder, when I tell you that before I came away we knelt down in that cottage, and prayed that this boy might be found? “The prayer was answered. That night the wandering boy returned home.
Many of Dr. Lowry’s hymns were written after the Sunday evening service, when his mind refused to rest. He passed away at Plainfield, New Jersey, on November 25th, 1899, at the age of seventy-three, but will continue to preach the Gospel by his hymns long after his sermons have been forgotten.
Dr. George F. Root, the author of a favourite hymn for young folks commencing:
“Come to the Saviour, make no delay;
Here in His Word He has shown us the way;
Here in our midst He’s standing to-day,
Tenderly saying, ‘Come!’”
is much more widely known as a composer of popular music than as a hymn writer. A born musician, it is said that at the age of thirteen he could play a tune on as many instruments as he was years old. He was born at Sheffield, Mass., on August 30th, 1820. When yet in his teens he went to Boston to study music, where he associated with the celebrated Dr. Lowell Mason, composer of the music to “My faith looks up to Thee,” and in a comparatively short time reached the top of his profession. Dr. Root was a voluminous writer and was contemporaneous with W. B. Bradbury in writing Sunday School music. While he wrote much for the people, as indicated in the character of his hymns, he was a musician honourably recognised by the profession, and was given the degree of Doctor of Music in 1873 by the Chicago University. Previous to devoting his musical talents to the writing of hymns, Dr. Root was everwhere recognised as America’s foremost writer of war songs. The majority of these which gained popularity during the Civil War, and which in later years were adapted by other nations, were his composition. Dr. Root was a man of singularly gracious and engaging personality, and of spiritual convictions, aiming always to inspire others with high ideals both in character and art. His sacred songs, many of which are to be found in almost all present-day Gospel hymn books, have lifted and strengthened the fallen the world over. Dr. Root died on August 6th, 1895, and at his request nothing was sung at his funeral but the Doxology. Amongst his best known compositions are, “When He cometh,” “Ring the bells of Heaven,” “Knocking, knocking.” He also wrote words and music of “Altogether lovely,” “Why do you wait? ““Narrow and strait,” “Behold the Bridegroom Cometh,” and that miracle pen picture:
“She only touched the hem of His garment
As to His side she stole,
Amid the crowd that gathered around Him;
And straightway she was whole.
Oh, touch the hem of His garment,”
Edgar Page Stites, the writer of the popular hymn, “Beulah Land,” was for many years a prominent business man in Cape May, New Jersey. His pen name of “Edgar Page” has hidden for well nigh half a century, the real authorship of many a song that has voiced the religious enthusiasm of countless thousands. “It was in the year 1876 that I wrote ‘Beulah Land,’” said Mr. Stites in a letter written after he had passed three score years and ten, “I could write only two verses and the chorus when I was overcome, and fell on my face. I could only weep and write no more. That was on Sunday. A week later I wrote the third and fourth verses, and again I was so influenced by emotion that I could only pray and weep. The first time it was sung was at the regular Monday morning meeting of Methodist ministers at Arch Street, Philadelphia, when Bishop McCabe sang it to the assembled ministers. Since then its story is known wherever religious people congregate.”
“Beulah Land “is a song brimful of new found joy. Here is the chorus:
“O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore;
My heaven, my home for evermore.”
During some correspondence in 1913, Mr. Stites sent me a favourite verse of “Beulah Land “in his own handwriting, which I am able to have reproduced here.
He was then seventy-six years of age, over six feet tall, and straight as an arrow. Remarkable, too, was the fact that the eyes with which he “looked away across the sea,” had never needed glasses. At that advanced age he could see to read without them. Edgar P. Stites is also the author of:
“Simply trusting every day,
Trusting through a stormy way.”
A hymn which has been translated into about a dozen different languages, and was perhaps a greater favourite a generation ago than it is to-day, is the one beginning:
“Yield not to temptation, For yielding is sin.”
Horatio R. Palmer, the writer of this hymn, was born at Sherburne, N.T., on April 26th, 1834, and is the author of several standard works on music. Referring to this hymn a friend of Mr. Palmer writes: “I travelled in Palestine with the author of the words and music of ‘Yield not to temptation.’ He told me that when he was thinking of the temptation around the young, the idea of the hymn flashed upon him. The first two verses came to him without any effort, but the third verse cost him some trouble.”
The hymn was written in 1868, and first published in the National Sunday School Teachers’ Magazine. When the famous prison at Sing Sing, New York, had women as well as men within its walls, a lady missionary was a regular visitor to the women’s department. Every Sunday afternoon the prisoners were permitted to come into the corridor to hear her talk, and to join in the singing of hymns. One day some of the women rebelled against an order of the matron, and a scene of grave disorder followed. Screams, threats and profanity filled the air. Assistance was hastily summoned, when suddenly a voice rose clear and strong above the tumult, singing a favourite song of the prisoners:
“Yield not to temptation,
For yielding is sin;
Each victory will help you
Some other to win.
Fight manfully onward,
Dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus,
He’ll carry you through.”
There was a lull; then one after the other joined in the singing of the sacred song; and presently, with one accord, all formed into line and marched quietly to their cells.
Besides composing music for a large number of popular Gospel hymns, including that appropriately appealing tune to “Come sinner, come,” H. R. Palmer is the writer of words and music of several other familiar sacred songs, the best known being, “Shall I let Him in?” and “There is a home eternal.”
Although belonging to another school of American hymn writers to that at present under consideration, this chapter would not be complete without the inclusion of the author of one of the most beautiful hymns in the language. I refer to:
“My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary,
Now hear me while I pray;
Take all my guilt away;
O let me from this day
Be wholly Thine.”
Dr. Ray Palmer, the writer of this hymn, was born at Rhode Island in 1809. “My faith looks up to Thee,” was written when the authour was just twenty-two years old, and was his first composition. Remarkable though it may seem, this initial performance in hymnody was by far his most successful, for though Dr. Palmer is the author of many other hymns, not one of them has attained the popularity enjoyed by his first production. To-day, after well nigh a century it is to be found in the hymnals of almost all denominations. The author says, concerning its composition: “I gave form to what I felt by writing, with little effort, these stanzas. I recollect I wrote them with very tender emotion, and ended the last line with tears.” Some time afterwards, Dr. Lowell Mason, meeting Mr. Palmer in Boston, asked him for a contribution for a new hymn book he was preparing, whereupon he produced this hymn from his pocket book. Dr. Mason was so much impressed with it that he at once wrote for it the famous tune “Olivet,” to which it has since been sung. When next he met the author, Dr. Mason said to him: “Mr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of “My faith looks up to Thee.”
On the evening preceding one of the most terrible battles of the American Civil War, a number of Christian young men met together in one of their tents for prayer. After spending some time committing themselves to God, it was suggested by one of the number that they should draw up a prayer expressive of the feelings with which they went forward to stand face to face with death, and all to sign it as a testimony to the friends of such of them who might fall in the impending battle. After consultation it was decided that a copy of “My faith looks up to Thee “should be written out, and that each should subscribe his name to it, so that father, mother, brother or sister might know in what spirit they laid down their lives. They did not all meet again, and this incident was related afterwards, by one who survived the great battle. The last verse is most beautiful and affecting, especially when this touching incident is recalled:
“When ends life’s transient dream—
When death’s cold sullen stream
Shall o’er me roll—
Blest Saviour, then in love,
Fear and distrust remove;
Oh, bear me safe above—
A ransomed soul.”
Possibly the next best known of Ray Palmer’s hymns is, “Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts.” He died at New Jersey in 1887.
Referring to Sankey’s popular Songs and Solos, a hymnal editor of note writes: “It should be frankly recognised that whatever be our estimate of the literary value of the hymns, or the musical merits of the tunes with which they are associated, they have obtained such general acceptance amongst the masses that it is almost impossible to dispense with them in mission work. Probably it is their unpretentious simplicity that constitutes their charm, and accounts for their extraordinary popularity, while it provokes the criticism of those who set art before utility.”
And thus, looking back to the early days when Philip Phillips set out on his pilgrimage of song, we see, with the march of time, a great and wonderful development in hymnody; a development which has vastly improved and enriched the hymnody of the Church. Hymns have been written that will be sung until time shall be no more.