Chapter 11 Popular Writers of Today

Since the advent of Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos, there have been many imitators in this particular sphere of hymn production, but few, if any, have approached anything near the high water mark of popularity this initial experiment attained. Inspired by the overwhelming success of the American singer’s venture in the production and development of sacred songs, others have launched out on similar lines, until to-day the number of Gospel song books is legion. Considering the world-wide publicity given to the Sankey hymns, it is only to be expected that a great number will live to be used and blessed of God for time to come. Still, with each passing generation, new writers are born, whose productions in some measure are supplanting many of the old favourites whose day and generation is past. The purpose of this chapter is to refer briefly to those writers—nearly all of whom are still living—whose hymns have attained no small measure of popularity, and are familiar to the hymn lover of the present generation.

It is worthy of note that by far the greater number of popular Gospel songs in use to-day have their origin in America, possibly because of the immense quantity of sacred song books published annually, thus giving unlimited scope to contributors of this particular type of hymn.

One of the newer songs which sprang into favour soon after leaving the pen of the author, begins:

“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Like a beam of sunshine it sped forth, brightening the dark places of the earth, bringing joy and gladness to the heart wherever it was sung. The author is the Rev. Johnson Oatman, jr., a Wesleyan minister, whose hymns, to-day, will be better remembered than his sermons. He was born in America, in 1856, and is said to have written about two thousand hymns, his first being, “I am walking with my Saviour.” Other well-known hymns by the same writer, are: “I’m depending on the Blood,” “I know He is mine “and “There’s no Friend like Jesus.” Possibly his most popular song—a song which has carried his name to many lands—is: “There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus, No, not one! No, not one!” In less than a year it was reprinted in thirty-five different hymn books, and has since been translated into many languages and dialects.

Among recent writers of sacred song, few names are more familiar than that of Mrs. C. H. Morris, many of whose hymns rank with the compositions of Fanny Crosby and Frances Ridley Havergal. She is the composer of the words and music of:

“Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Saviour, so precious Thou art;
Fold me, O fold me close to Thy breast,
Shelter me safe in that ‘Haven of Rest.’”

Born at Ohio, in 1862, Mrs. Morris was converted at the age of ten. Since the day of her new birth it has been her one aim to consecrate her life to the service of the Lord, believing at the beginning of her career that if she would write a noble poem, she must first live a noble life. Mrs. Morris is not only a poetess, but she is also a gifted musician, and the music of many of her best known hymns are her own composition. Over nine hundred of her pieces have been published, a good number of which have found a place in many present-day mission hymn books, including: “Let Jesus come into your heart,” “The fight is on,” “Who is this Man of Sorrows?” and “The Stranger of Galilee.”

In the prime of life Mrs. Morris became totally blind, but this affliction does not deter her from exercising the ministry of song with which she is endowed, the writing being done by dictation to her daughter.

In the remote hamlet of Westwood, about a dozen miles from the city of Boston, a young Baptist minister, while conducting open-air evangelistic services in the village square, was inspired to write a Gospel song, which has been one of the favourites of the last two generations, and has been used of God in saving many a lost soul. The story of how this hymn “Throw out the Life-line,” came to be written, is worthy of recounting here. The Rev. Edward S. Ufford was pastor of the old village church, in the parsonage of which he penned this hymn. Out at sea, not many miles distant, could be seen at low water the remains of an old wreck embedded in the sand. “As I trod the shore on summer days,” wrote Mr. Ufford, when telling the story, “my imagination strove to picture what the storm did on the fateful night when it tossed the craft ashore, where it was soon dashed to pieces in the gale. While my heart was thus yearning for an effective interposition, a thought came to me. ‘Why not hold an open-air meeting in the village next Sunday afternoon, and warn all who might pass by of their danger? ‘This was in the fall of 1886. I carried my small organ out into the square and began to sing. There soon gathered around me a group of listeners. On returning home, the imagery of the sea came before me. In my mental eye I could see a storm, a spar, a shipwrecked sailor drifting out beyond human reach, where he might sink. Taking a sheet of paper I wrote the four verses of the hymn in fifteen minutes. They came as if by inspiration. Then sitting down to my little instrument, I played a melody without mental effort, apparently, and so the song was born.”

“Throw out the Life-line across the dark wave,
There is a brother whom some one should save;
Somebody’s brother! Oh, who then will dare
To throw out the Life-line, his peril to share?”

Mr. Ufford came of a musical family, his father and grandfather having been choir leaders in various cities. He was born at Newark, N.J., in 1851, was converted to Christ in young manhood, and at once began to work for the Master. A life of D. L. Moody which he read with deep interest, was the means of inspiring him to devote his life to the ministry of the Gospel. The popularity of “Throw out the Lifeline,” which had spread over the country on the wings of enthusiasm, fitting into the Christian Endeavour and missionary movements, gave the author the idea of a tour around the world to sing the song and to follow in its wake. This he undertook in 1902, and found that “Throw out the Life-line” proved to be a passport wherever he went. In Honolulu, it was in the native hymn book there in the Hawaiian dialect, and the author had the unique experience of singing his song in the old church, where the congregation sang it back to him in their native tongue. Mr. Ufford was called home in 1930 in his seventy-ninth year.

Precisely the same year that “Throw out the Lifeline” was written, Mrs. Jessie Brown Pounds gave us:

“Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go;
Anywhere He leads me in this world below;
Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade;
Anywhere with Jesus I am not afraid.”

Set to music by Dr. Towner, it was popular first as a Sunday School hymn, and afterwards became a favourite with the Christian Endeavour movement. A band of Endeavourers were in the habit of singing on Sunday afternoons at the Sing Sing Penitentiary, and, incongruous though it may seem, this hymn was a favourite with the prisoners. Among the latter there were two young men who had been sentenced to death for a murder committed by them in a house they had entered for the purpose of burglary. Under the ministry of the Christian young people who visited them, they were converted. On their last day on earth, when they were brought forth for execution, the condemned men made a public confession of their sin, saying, however, that though they merited the death they were about to suffer, they believed they had God’s forgiveness, and that through His grace they could go “Anywhere with Jesus.”

Mrs. Pounds was born at Hiram, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, August 31st, 1861, and began to write to various weeklies when she was fifteen years old. A few years later, an editor who published some of her verses, referred to them as being well adapted to use as hymns. This note caught the eye of Mr. J. H. Fillmore, a hymnal editor, who wrote the authoress asking her to write some hymns for a new book upon which he was working. In this way Jessie Brown Pounds began hymn writing. She is the authoress of several books of hymns. Among her best known are: “The way of the Cross leads home,” “Scatter seeds of loving deeds,” “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” “The touch of His hand in mine,” and “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere.” The latter hymn, which was sung at President McKinley’s funeral, was written one Sunday morning, in 1897, when a slight ailment kept Mrs. Pounds from church.

Miss Eliza Edmunds Hewitt, the authoress of “Sunshine in my soul,” ranks among the foremost writers of popular Gospel songs in recent times. Born at Philadelphia, U.S.A., in 1851, in early life she developed a spinal malady, which caused her to be a shut-in sufferer for many years. In course of time a gradual improvement came about, and, during a slow convalescence, she began writing poems which attracted the attention of John R. Sweney, the noted composer of sacred music.

Miss Hewitt’s hymns are the result of inspiration, the origin of which, to her, is often a mystery; she has never cared to keep a record, but their number has long since passed into thousands. “Sunshine in my soul,” has been sung far and near, many beautiful stories coming back to the authoress, telling of its wonderful use, and the happiness brought into many a weary heart.

Other favourite hymns by E. E. Hewitt are: “Sweeter as the days go by,” “No one like my Saviour,” “Will there be any stars,” “More about Jesus,” and “When we all get to Heaven,” a hymn of joyous anticipation:

“Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
Sing His mercy and His grace;
In the mansions, bright and blessed,
He’ll prepare for us a place.”

One day, when passing down one of the poorer

streets of his native town of Williamsport, Mr. James H. Black saw a little girl sitting on a doorstep of a dilapidated house. Her ragged clothes, torn shoes and dejected appearance, told its own story of a drunken father and mother, and a dwelling unworthy of the name of home. He spoke to the girl and asked her if she would like to come to Sunday School. At the question, a wistful expression crept into the child’s eyes as she softly answered, “Yes, I would like to go, but—” Mr. Black understood the longing in the heart of the ragged girl, and the following day a parcel arrived containing a new dress, shoes and hat. Bessie was at Sunday School the next Sunday, and many other Sundays. One day the roll was being called. Each one responded until Bessie’s name was being called. There was no response. Again the name was called. Still there was no response. Mr. Black learned that the girl was ill, too ill to be present, and the thought came to him like a flash, “What if this girl should never answer again? What if she should die? What would her answer be when the final summons came? “Almost unconsciously he found himself saying, softly:

“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
When the morning breaks eternal bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.”

No sooner had he said the words than his trained ear told him that he had created something euphonious, and going to the piano, he struck off the music almost as spontaneously as he had the words. In a remarkably short time he had finished the hymn which has been changed very little, if any, since that night.

The little girl died shortly afterwards, but the hymn which her illness inspired will never die. It has been sung round the world, and has been translated into half a dozen foreign tongues. Writing about this time, Charles H. Gabriel says, “While assisting Dr. J. F. Berry in the preparation of a collection of songs, he took from his desk a roll of manuscript which had been submitted for use in the book, and handed it to me, saying, ‘See if you can find anything in this bunch.’ One from that lot (written in green ink) attracted my attention. The composer’s name was not familiar to me, and the title of his offering was a new thought: ‘When the Roll is called up yonder.’” Thus the hymn was sent out to carry its message over land and sea.

Mr. J. M. Black is also the author of a small but popular collection of songs, entitled Songs of the Soul, which was favourably received, over half a million copies being sold. He also composed the music of “Where Jesus is ’tis Heaven,” and “I remember Calvary,” and wrote the words of “Safe in the Glory Land.”

Mrs. Frank A. Breck has written fourteen or fifteen hundred hymns, and one of the best loved is:

“Face to face with Christ my Saviour,
Face to face—what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ who died for me?”

Brought up by God-fearing parents, she cannot remember when Bible reading and prayer were not her daily home custom. From the days of her youth Carrie E. Breck wrote verse and prose for religious and household publications. For a number of years after her marriage, in 1884, family duties superseded those literary, and only on rare occasions did she encourage the muse. Her first published hymn was “You ought to do something for Jesus.” Writing of this memorable occasion, when new desires for this particular form of service filled her soul, Mrs. Breck says, “It was a great joy to me, and as opportunity offered, I pencilled verse under all sorts of conditions—over a mending basket, with a baby in arms, and sometimes even when sweeping up or washing dishes, my mind moved to metre.”

Some of her best known hymns are “Everybody should know,” “Nailed to the Cross,” “Help somebody to-day,” and “Never give up trusting.”

Among popular Gospel songs of the last decade which suddenly sprang into favour, is “I walk with the King.” Homer Rodeheaver, the singing evangelist, whose voice has been heard in most of the States of America, relates an incident in connection with this song, which happened during a mission he was conducting. “I sang this song to a great crowd of coloured folks one night,” he says, “and as I finished it, one of the good old-fashioned aunties got up from the back row, taking off her sun-bonnet, waving it in the air, and stepping high down the aisle, she exclaimed, ‘Hallelujah! I walk wid Him too, brudder!’ Then there came the chorus from all over the house, ‘Yeah! we all walk wid Him down here!’ “This,” continues Mr. Rodeheaver, “is the real purpose of the song, to get folk to walk with Him.”

Here is the verse that seemed to stir her enthusiasm:

“O soul near despair in the lowlands of strife,
Look up and let Jesus come into your life;
The joy of salvation to you He would bring—
Come into the sunlight and walk with the King.”

This song is from the versatile pen of James Rowe, who is said to have upwards of eight thousand hymns and poems to his credit. Born in England, in 1866, at an early age he entered the Government Survey Department, where he continued till 1890, when he emigrated to America. Mr. Rowe began writing hymns and poems about six years later, his first song being “Speak it for the Saviour.”

A hymn by the same writer, which has gained considerable favour of recent years in this country, and is a special favourite of Gipsy Smith, has this chorus:

“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.”

Many of the best songs of Mr. Rowe owe much of their popularity to the attractive musical settings of Mr. B. D. Ackley.

Few composers of recent years have attained the position among Gospel song writers occupied to-day by Mr. Ackley, whose first composition, “Somebody knows,” was published in 1912. It became a favourite, and was soon followed by many popular pieces, among others, “I shall dwell for ever there,” “How you will love Him,” and “I am coming Home.” For ten years Mr. Ackley held the position of organist in many important churches of New York and Philadelphia, and for a considerable period was pianist to the Rev. W. A. Sunday, the noted American evangelist.

Miss Ada Blenkhorn, the authoress of “Let the sunshine in,” and many other familiar pieces, began writing hymns in 1892. Of this hymn, a prison chaplain said, “It has done our prisoners more good than all the sermons preached to them.” Another said, “‘Let the sunshine in’ brought the first ray of light to a condemned criminal, who was converted, afterwards pardoned, and who has for several years been preaching the Gospel.” Some years ago Miss Blenkhorn had almost decided to give up hymn writing, when one day a lady, whom she happened to meet, said to her, “May some soul be converted through a hymn that you shall write, who would not be converted if you do not write it! ““Those beautiful and inspiring words,” writes Miss Blenkhorn, “seemed an invisible and mighty chain that held me fast and would not let me give up.”

It was during the Torrey-Alexander mission that the consecration song, “I surrender all,” first came into favour in this country, and singularly enough it was the first hymn of the author, J. W. Van de Venter, to become popular. He has written over a hundred hymns, and a fair percentage of them, prominent among which are “Looking this way,” “Sunlight,” and “My mother’s prayer,” have found a place in present-day mission hymn books, and have been wonderfully blessed.

The eminent Dr. T. De Witt Talmage, in the course of one of his striking sermons related this story: A mother having lost her only child, sat in a darkened room, day after day, grieving for the little one the Reaper had bound with his sheaves, when the servant entered and said, “My dear Mistress, why do you grieve? Do not sit in the darkness—let’s open the window and look toward the light.” It was by reading this story, that Ina Dudley Ogden received the inspiration to write her first hymn, “Open wide the windows,” which was set to music by Charles H. Gabriel. This was followed by a great number, which to-day are known and loved the world over. Among the many are, “Living where the healing waters flow,” “Could I tell it,” “Carry your cross with a smile,” “Jesus will,” and “Brighten the corner where you are.”

Of this authoress, Mr. Gabriel, who has furnished me with so much information relating to present-day hymn writers with whom he has been constantly in touch, writes: “Mrs. Ogden has always been an intense lover of Gospel songs, and their influence on her early life was the controlling incentive that gave to the world that which only she could give. The object of every song seems to have been the winning of souls. Loved by thousands who have sung her hymns, she shrinks from celebrity in the knowledge that her songs are God-given, and that without Him she could do nothing, that in this way He has chosen to use her in the work of His vineyard.”

Dr. D. B. Towner, who wrote the tune to “Trust and obey,” relates how this popular hymn came into being. Mr. Sankey, assisted by Dr. Towner, was conducting evangelistic meetings at Brockton, Mass. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, “I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust and obey.” Dr. Towner jotted down the sentence, and sent it with the little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister, suggesting it would be suitable for a hymn. Soon after the verses came back by post, and the tune came spontaneously. Since then:

“Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way,
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey,”

has been sung from continent to continent.

Mr. Sammis found the Saviour when quite a young man, and for many years took an active part in Christian work. He afterwards gave up business to take over the duties of Y.M.C.A. secretary, which later led him to devote himself entirely to the ministry of the Gospel.

Mr. Sammis has written over a hundred hymns. Among this number special mention deserves to be made of “Jesus is a friend of mine,” and “Glory all the way,” which have gained considerable favour. It is, however, as the author of “Trust and obey,” that the name of J. H. Sammis will always be associated.

One of the newest songs, whose melody like a mighty wave has swept across the Atlantic, and to-day is sung at almost every mission service, is R. H. Daniel’s “Since Jesus came into my heart.” Mr. Daniel has written comparatively few hymns, and is to-day known to the world by a single composition, which, undoubtedly, owes much of its immense popularity to the bright and attractive melody set to it by Gabriel.

At the close of a big mission, many hundreds of people gathered to bid the missioner good-bye. A great number of these people had been converted during the campaign, and as they lifted their voices in song they changed the words of the hymn to “Since Jesus came into my home.” The scene was memorable, and as the joyous note of praise arose from the assembled throng of people, the noise of traffic for some moments was silenced by the mighty wave of song:

“Floods of joy o’er my soul
Like the sea billows roll,
Since Jesus came into my heart.”