Amazing Grace

Is summer ever going to end? Is it ever going to rain again? Probably two of the most asked questions around these parts these days. I’ve never seen it like this before that I can remember. Maybe some of you can but I can’t. I sure hope it breaks pretty soon or we are not going to have a fall at all.

I have been somewhat surprised as I have researched the history of some of the old hymns in that how many of them were written by people who had such Godless backgrounds. It seems that there was a period in time that God used some of the most unlikely folks to pen the words of such powerful and inspirational songs. John Newton, the writer of the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace”, was one of those people. Again, it is another example of the fact that God can and does use ordinary people to do great things to further His kingdom. The following article by Robert J. Morgan in his book “Then Sings My Soul” tells the story of Newton and how “Amazing Grace” came into being. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

Amazing Grace   by Robert J. Morgan

It’s hard to shake off a mother’s influence. John Newton’s earliest memories were of his godly mother who, despite fragile health, devoted herself to nurturing his soul. At her knee he memorized Bible passages and hymns. Though she died when he was about seven, he later recalled her tearful prayers for him.

After her death, John alternated between boarding school and the high seas, wanting to live a good life but nonetheless falling deeper and deeper into sin. Pressed into service with the British Navy, he deserted, was captured, and after two days os suspense, was flogged. His subsequent thoughts vacillated between murder and suicide. “I was capable of anything” he recalled.

More voyages, dangers, toils and snares followed. It was a life unrivaled in fiction. Then on the night of March 9, 1748, John, at age 23, was jolted awake by a brutal storm that descended too suddenly for the crew to foresee. The next day, in great peril, he cried to the Lord. He later wrote, “That tenth of March is a day much remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748–the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”

The next several years saw slow, halting spiritual growth in John, but in the end he became one of the most powerful evangelical preachers in British history, a powerful foe of slavery, and the author of hundreds of hymns.

Here are some things you may not know about Newton’s most famous hymn. His title for it wasn’t originally “Amazing Grace” but “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” It is based in Newton’s study of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17:”King David … said: ‘Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet … You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree …”

And here’s a nearly forgotten verse that Newton added near the end of “Amazing Grace.” Try singing it for yourself:

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine;

But God, Who called me here below, shall be forever mine.

I encourage you to read all of the published verses of this old hymn and be reminded of what God has done and does for each of us who belong to Him. It really is amazing grace!

In The Sweet By And By

Well, it’s about time we see some cooler weather. This morning brought with it a little chill in the air and it lasted for the biggest part of the day. But it looks like it may be short term again. I also hear that the drought we are experiencing is probably going to last a while longer. I hear everyone talking about how their grass has quit growing or even has died as a result of the lack of water not cooler weather. Anyway, I had to work again today (which makes three Saturdays in a row) and I really enjoyed the milder temperature. Wish it would linger a while.

As I’ve thought about what hymn history to share this week I happened to hear an old one on the radio and it has stuck with me. As I listened to the music and words of “In The Sweet By And By” many wonderful memories began to surface of some of the people who have already gone to be with the Lord. Those I loved so very much and who had such a tremendous impact on my life. A feeling of emptiness swept across my heart and I had a longing to see them. I think it was God’s way of reminding me that He made it possible for me to see my loved ones again. For those who have put their faith and trust in Him will be reunited in the very place that God has prepared for us. Thank you Father!

The following article gives a brief history of how this hymn came into being. It surely has encouraged many folks through the years. And it also encourages me. I hope it does the same for you.

The Story Behind…In The Sweet By And By
Submitted by Author Unknown on Wed, 04/02/2008 – 15:36

The Story Behind…
In The Sweet By And By

This gospel song, famed for its chorus,

In the sweet by and by
We shall meet on that beautiful shore,

is a genuine product of the Midwest United States. It jumped into life as the result of an impromptu conversation between Samuel Fillmore Bennett (1836-1898) and his musician friend, Joseph P. Webster (1819-1875) in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, in the years of the gospel song makers in the mid-nineteenth century.

Webster came into Bennett’s office one day looking depressed. When Bennett asked him what was the matter, he replied that “I will be all right by and by.” That phrase leaped into life for Bennett. “The sweet by and by,” he mused. “That would make a good hymn.” Then and there he started to write the verse:

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling-place there.

Webster caught his friend’s enthusiasm, hummed out a melody, and bringing in a friend with his violin the three men soon were singing the song.

The two additional stanzas are:

We shall sing on that beautiful shore
The melodious songs of the blest,
And our spirits shall sorrow no more,
Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.

To our bountiful Father above,
We will offer our tribute of praise,
For the glorious gift of His love,
And the blessings that hallow our days.

The Salvation Army has popularized the hymn and it is often sung at Army funeral services.

I hope you are enjoying this series. If you have any suggestions for any other topics for a series, I would love to hear about them. Thanks to all of you who continue to read the posts and especially those who choose to comment. God bless each of you!


“Nearer, My God To Thee”

It’s been a long day. Had to be at work this morning at 6:00 AM and didn’t get in until after 6:00 PM. I used to could handle those kind of hours but now just the thought tires me out. I wonder what the problem is?

This week the highlight is on the old hymn “Nearer, My God to Thee”. This hymn was written by a young lady who had a number of health issues which seems to be the case for many of the old-time hymn writers.The fact is, despite our physical condition God can still use us for His glory to impact the lives of other people. He can even use a lost person! But as believers, we just need to be available. The following article tells the story of this great hymn from two different sources. Hope you enjoy it.

Nearer, My God, To Thee (1)

   Benjamin Flower was an English journalist. Some considered him too radical for his times. He was imprisoned for six months. An English girl, whom he later married, frequently visited him in prison.

   Their daughter was Sarah Flower (later Adams). She was brilliant and had varied talents. Because of poor health, she dismissed all thoughts of a career she had long dreamed about. She began to write. In the field of writing she gained her greatest achievement.

   The hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” will immortalize her as long as time lasts.

   It is said to be the greatest hymn ever written by a woman.



Nearer, My God, to Thee [1]

1           Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer to Thee!

E’en Though it be a cross

That raiseth me;

Still all my song shall be,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer to Thee!

2           Though like a wanderer,

The sun gone down,

Darkness be over me,

My rest a stone;

Yet in my dreams I’d be

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer to Thee!

3           There let the way appear

Steps unto heav’n;

All that Thou sendest me,

In mercy giv’n;

Angels to beckon me

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer to Thee!

4           Or, if on joyful wing,

Cleaving the sky,

Sun, moon, and stars forgot,

Upward I fly;

Still all my song shall be,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer to Thee!

~Nearer, My God, To Thee (2)

   One day a Unitarian pastor, Rev. Wm. Johnson Fox, asked two talented sisters, Sarah and Eliza Adams, if they would aid him in the preparation of a new hymnal he was compiling for the congregation. The two sisters soon became busily involved and committed to this project.

   The pastor remarked that he wished he could find a hymn to conclude a sermon he was preparing on the account of Jacob and Esau as recorded in Genesis 28:10-22. Sister Eliza interrupted enthusiastically, Sarah, now there’s an excellent idea for a new hymn for our hymnal. Why don’t you write your own hymn about Jacob’s dream?

   Splendid! replied the pleased pastor.

   Later that day, after spending much time in studying the Genesis account, absorbing the atmosphere and feeling the dramatic movement of this Old Testament narrative, Sarah began to write. Soon she had versified the complete Biblical story in these five stanzas still in use today.

   The text for this hymn is based on the dream that Jacob had in the desert when he was fleeing as a fugitive from his home and his brother Esau. Upon awakening from his dream and seeing the ascending and descending angels. Jacob called the place Bethel—The House of God.

   The hymn has sometimes been criticized since there is no reference to the person or work of Christ throughout the text. During most of Sarah Adams’ life she attended the Unitarian Church. This association no doubt accounts for the lack of evangelical fervor in her text.

   There is evidence from some of her last writings that shortly before the close of her life, Sarah Adams had a conversion experience and became associated with a congregation of Baptist believers in London.

—Kenneth Osbeck

[1]Eckert, Paul, Steve Green’s MIDI Hymnal, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1998.

I look forward to sharing again next week. May God richly bless each of you! 



“Lord, I’m Coming Home”

Good evening all. I hope your week has been filled with God’s blessings on your life and it has brought you to a sense of gratitude for all He has done. I have found myself slipping into somewhat of a complacent state this week and I needed Him to rattle my cage a little bit. It’s amazing how He uses some of the most unlikely people and circumstances to get our attention but He knows just what we need to get back on track. This has led me to my choice of this week’s hymn “Lord, I’m Coming Home”. The following article sheds some light on what we need to do when we find ourselves going astray.

Lord, I’m Coming Home, the Song and the Story

Composer William J. Kirkpatrick Writes Lord, I’m Coming Home

A member of the Methodist church, William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921) often led the music during Camp Meeting services. During one particular revival, Kirkpatrick noticed that one of his soloists always left after the music ended; never participating in the prayer time, or staying to listen to the sermon. Kirkpatrick grew burdened for this young man and began to pray for him.

One night, in response to his prayers, a song began to form in Kirkpatrick’s mind. He quickly jotted down the words, added a melody, and then asked the young man to sing the new composition during the following evening’s service.

The next night, while singing the new song Lord I’m Coming Home, the soloist was so moved by the melody and lyrics that he stayed for the sermon and then went forward at the altar call to accept Jesus as his Savior!

Since that night, Lord I’m Coming Home has been sung at many an altar call in many a church, drawing men and women forward and to their knees.

Lord, I’m Coming Home

Coming home, coming home,
Nevermore to roam,
Open wide Thine arms of love,
Lord, I’m coming home.

I’ve wandered far away from God,
Now I’m coming home;
The paths of sin too long I’ve trod,
Lord, I’m coming home.


I’ve wasted many precious years,
Now I’m coming home;
I now repent with bitter tears,
Lord, I’m coming home.

I’m tired of sin and straying, Lord,
Now I’m coming home;
I’ll trust Thy love, believe Thy Word,
Lord, I’m coming home.


My soul is sick, my heart is sore,
Now I’m coming home;
My strength renew, my hope restore,
Lord, I’m coming home.


My only hope, my only plea,
Now I’m coming home;
That Jesus died, and died for me.
Lord, I’m coming home.


I need His cleansing blood, I know,
Now I’m coming home;
O wash me whiter than the snow,
Lord, I’m coming home.


I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and you.’” (Luke 15:18)

Amen and Amen!!!

“Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”

Good evening to all. Boy, I am really enjoying this weather. Sure wish it would stay like this but that is not likely to happen. Soon we will be complaining about the cold instead of the heat and wanting Spring to arrive.

Tonight I have an article for you about one of my very favorite hymns. “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” has been very special to me for many years. I think it goes back to me hearing my grandmother sing it while she was working around the house and I could tell that it came from a sincere heart. As I grew older and began to pay closer attention to the words, the meaning of totally trusting in Him became a reality for me. So, again I am grateful to God for those who He has used to impact my life, whether the author of a hymn or a Godly grandmother. Thank you Lord!

I hope you enjoy the following article.

History of Hymns: “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”

by C. Michael Hawn

“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”
by Louisa M. R. Stead
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 462


C. Michael Hawn


‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
and to take him at his word;
just to rest upon his promise,
and to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him!
How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust him more!


From her childhood, the call to missionary service was the guiding motivation for Louisa M. R. Stead (c. 1850-1917). Born in Dover, England, and converted at the age of nine, Stead came to the United States in 1871, living in Cincinnati. She attended a camp meeting in Urbana, Ohio, where she dedicated her life to missionary service. Ill health prevented her from serving initially. She married in 1875, and the couple had a daughter, Lily. Hymnologist Kenneth Osbeck describes a major turning point in the family’s life:

“When the child was four years of age, the family decided one day to enjoy the sunny beach at Long Island Sound, New York. While eating their picnic lunch, they suddenly heard cries of help and spotted a drowning boy in the sea. Mr. Stead charged into the water. As often happens, however, the struggling boy pulled his rescuer under water with him, and both drowned before the terrified eyes of wife and daughter. Out of her ‘why?’ struggle with God during the ensuing days glowed these meaningful words from the soul of Louisa Stead.”

The hymn, “’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus” was inspired by this personal tragedy.



Soon after, Lousia and Lily left for the Cape Colony, South Africa, where Louisa worked as a missionary for fifteen years. She married Robert Wodehouse, a native of South Africa. Because of her health, the family found it necessary to return to the United States in 1895. Wodehouse pastored a Methodist congregation during these years until, in 1900, they returned to the mission field, this time to the Methodist mission station at Umtali, Southern Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe).

Kenneth Osbeck records a message sent back to the United States shortly after her arrival in Southern Rhodesia:

“In connection with the whole mission there are glorious possibilities, but one cannot, in the face of the peculiar difficulties, help but say, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ But with simple confidence and trust we may and do say, ‘Our sufficiency is of God.’”


Her daughter Lily married after their return to Africa. Louisa retired because of ill health in 1911. Lily continued to serve for many years in South Rhodesia. Her mother passed away after a long illness in 1917 at her home in Penkridge near the Mutambara Mission, fifty miles from Umtali. Following her death, it was recorded that Christians in South Rhodesia continued to sing her hymn in the local Shona language.

While the exact date of the composition is not known, sometime between 1880-1882, Lousia Stead’s hymn was first published in Songs of Triumph (1882). The Rev. Carlton R., Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, describes the hymn’s content as “a series of loosely connected key evangelical words and phrases.” Indeed, the hymn is full of the language of piety common to the day in evangelical circles. Furthermore, the succession of stanzas lacks the usual progression of ideas leading to heaven that characterizes most gospel hymns.

Perhaps the hymn might be best described as a mantra on the name of Jesus. Indeed, “Jesus” is sung twenty-five times if one sings all four stanzas and the refrain. Stanza one is a simple statement of “trust in Jesus.” The singer is invited to “rest upon his promise.” Though the “promise” is not specifically articulated, it is assumed that all know that this is the promise of salvation. The stanza ends with “Thus saith the Lord” – a phrase, interestingly enough, that appears 413 times in the Old Testament in the King James Version, and is a reference to God rather than Jesus.

Stanza two continues the theme of trust, drawing upon the “cleansing blood” of Jesus. The poet demonstrates her trust as she “plung[es] . . . neath the healing, cleansing flood,” a possible reference to the William Cowper (1731-1800) hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood”: “. . . and sinners plunge beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” The typology of the cleansing flood may find its biblical roots in Genesis 6-7, the account of Noah and the great flood, or perhaps the blood and water that flowed from the crucified Christ’s side (John 19:34), or even a conflation of these ideas. Cowper’s hymn was probably well known to Stead, and she referenced it in her hymn.

Stanza three stresses that one should die to “sin and self” by “simply taking life and rest, and joy and peace” in Jesus. Stanza four is a personal witness by the author that she is “so glad I learned to trust thee.” The final stanza concludes with a fleeting eschatological reference, “thou art with me, wilt be with me to the end.” Though this reference to heaven is not as pronounced as one would often find in similar gospel hymns of this era, especially in Fanny Crosby. Referencing heaven in some way is virtually obligatory in this theological context.

The refrain establishes the Jesus mantra, singing his name five times, the last strengthened by adding the qualifying, “precious Jesus.” Though the singer has “proved him o’er and o’er,” the prayer is for “grace to trust him more.”


C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.