The Stories Behind The Hymns
Be Thou My Vision (1912)
An Irish poem first translated into English in 1905 by Mary Bryne, in Dublin, Ireland. In 1912, Eleanor Hull, a writer of English history and literature, penned the prose into verse form.
The melody for this hymn is a traditional Irish tune.
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (1923)
While many hymns are born out of a particular dramatic experience, this hymn was simply the result of the author’s morning by morning realization of God’s personal faithfulness.
Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Kentucky never had the benefit of high school or advanced training. He began his career as a school teacher at the age of sixteen, in the same country schoolhouse where he had received his elementary training five years later became the associate editor of his home town weekly newspaper, and at twenty-seven years old, accepted Christ as his personal Savior during a revival meeting. Later, Chisholm was ordained to the Methodist ministry but was forced to resign after a brief pastorate, due to poor health. Chisholm retired in 1953 and spent his remaining years at the Methodist Home for the Aged in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing (1757)
Additional lyrics (2nd verse) by Thomas Miller (2005)
Robert Robinson penned this at age twenty-two. Though a Methodist minister at the time, he left the Methodist church when he moved to Cambridge and became a Baptist pastor. The Baptists invited him to document the history of their branch of the church, and after nine years of labor, he published History of Baptism and Baptists in 1790. Robinson was “prone to wander” as he had written, facing doubts and struggles on a regular basis. He was accused of converting to Unitarianism later in life and some say he abandoned his faith altogether.
A story is widely told of Robinson, that while riding in a stagecoach one day, a lady asked him if he’d heard of the hymn she was humming. He responded, “Madam, I am the poor, unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago. I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to feel what I did back then.”
It is unknown whether Robinson ever regained the beliefs he once had, but another version suggests that the lady in the stagecoach gently replied, “Sir, the ‘streams of mercy’ are still flowing.”—and that he was deeply touched by her words: eventually restored through the ministry of his own hymn.
How Deep the Father’s Love For Us (1995)
Stuart Townend is a British Christian worship leader and significant writer of modern hymns and contemporary worship music. Stuart’s songs include: “In Christ Alone” (2002, co-written with Keith Getty), “Beautiful Saviour” and “The King Of Love.” Townend, son of a Church of England vicar in Halifax, West Yorkshire, was the youngest of four children. He studied literature at the University of Sussex. Townend started learning to play the piano at age seven. At the age of thirteen, he made a Christian commitment and began songwriting at age twenty-two.
Fairest Lord Jesus (1677)
There is little information on the origin of this Christian hymn. There are some accounts that say it was called “Crusader’s Hymn;” that it was sung by German Crusaders as they made their way to the Holy Land. The lyrics to this beloved hymn among English speaking Christians first appeared in 1677, where it was published as “first of three selected hymns.”
In the Garden (1912)
According to C. Austin Miles’ great-granddaughter, Miles wrote this song “in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn’t even have a window, let alone a view of a garden.”
In March, 1912, while reading the twentieth chapter of John, Miles had a vision of being part of the scene when Mary knelt before her Lord and cried, “Rabboni!” He writes:
My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed—hand clasping her throat as if to choke back her sobs—walked slowly into the shadows. As she came to the tomb, she bent over to look in and hurried away. John, in flowing robe, appeared; then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared, and as she leaned her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing; so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, and with arms outstretched and looking into His face, she cried ‘Rabboni!’ I awakened in full light, gripping the Bible with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision, I wrote—as quickly as the words could be formed—the poem exactly as it has since appeared; that same evening, I wrote the music.
The Love of God (1917)
In Pasadena, California, Frederick M. Lehman penciled the first two stanzas and chorus of The Love of God. The lyrics are based on the Jewish poem Haddamut, written in Aramaic in 1050 by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Germany. The third (and breathtakingly beautiful) stanza from the Jewish poem had been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave. It is said that he had written the epic during a brief moment of sanity.
Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior (1868)
Fanny Crosby, blind since infancy, wrote over 8,000 hymns. This hymn is based on a prayer that Ms. Crosby heard someone pray at a service: “Savior Do not pass me by.”
I Need Thee Every Hour (1872) / I’d Rather Have Jesus (1922)
Before Annie Sherwood Hawks’ death in 1918, she gave the full background story to “I Need Thee Every Hour (inspired by the Bible passage John 15: 4-5):
Seating myself by the open windows, I caught up my pencil and committed the words to paper almost as they are today. A few months later Dr. Robert Lowry composed the tune and also added the refrain.
For myself, the hymn, at its writing, was prophetic rather than expressive of my own experiences, for it was wafted out to the world on the wings of love and joy, instead of under the stress of great personal sorrow, with which it has often been associated. At first I did not understand why the hymn so greatly touched the throbbing heart of humanity. Years later, however; under the shadow of a great loss, I came to understand something of the comforting power of the words I had been permitted to give out to others in my hours of sweet serenity and peace.
“I’d Rather Have Jesus” was written in 1922 by Rhea F. Millerthe tune written by George Beverly Shea. This poem was left on a piano in the Shea home by Bev Shea, who wanted her son to find it and change the course of his life.
After he read it, the words spoke profoundly to him about his own aims and ambitions in life. He sat down at the piano and began singing them with a tune that seemed to fit the words. Shea’s mom heard him singing it and asked him to sing it at church the next day.
George’s life direction did change. He was offered a popular music career with NBC but declined later became a partner in the Billy Graham ministry for over fifty years, singing this hymn around the world.
Tis So Sweet To Trust in Jesus (1882)
Louisa Stead had always felt a calling to be a missionary and go to China but due to fragile health, she was kept home in the US. She married and started a family, and when her daughter was four years old, the family went on vacation to a nearby beach. While there, they saw a young boy drowning in the ocean. Louisa’s husband swam out and tried to rescue him, but he was pulled under by the boy, and both he and the boy drowned as Louisa and her daughter watched from shore.
Louisa was left without any means of financial support, and she and her daughter were in dire poverty. One day when there was no food in the house and no money, Louisa opened the front door to find that someone had left groceries and money sitting there for her. That same day, she sat down and wrote: “Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” She and her daughter later became missionaries to Africa, and she remarried.
O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus (1875)
Samuel Trevor Francis wrote this after experiencing the darkest night of his soul. At a point in life when his faith was wavering, Francis found himself walking across London’s Hungerford Bridge. Contemplating his sadness and loneliness, he heard a whisper tempting him to end his misery and jump into the churning waters below.
Francis didn’t heed the voice. In a profound moment, he felt God’s reassuring words speak to him in the night, and on that bridge, he reaffirmed his faith and trust in Jesus Christ.