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Hymns Archives ~ Aletheia Baptist Ministries Skip to main content

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

by Terry Conley

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It is difficult to determine how a young life will be lived.  Who knew that the child who once wrote during family prayers: “There was a mouse for want of stairs, ran up a rope to say his prayers,” would write many years later “See from His head, His hands His feet, Sorrow and love flowed mingled down.  Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown.”

In his later years, Isaac Watts once complained about hymn singing in church “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” 

He had bemoaned such since his late teens.  His father, tired of his complaints, challenged him to write something better. The following week, Isaac presented his first hymn to the church, “Behold the Glories of the Lamb,” based on Revelation 5:6-12.  He was only 15 years old but the career of the “Father of English Hymnody” had begun.  As Scottish Hymnist John Brownlie, D. D., later wrote, “The grey dawn is about to flee before the sunrise. With Isaac Watts the first golden streaks of morn are seen: when a greater than he, Charles Wesley, strikes the harp, day will have been ushered in.

Isaac Watts was born into a Dissenting Nonconformist family in Southampton, July 17, 1674.  He was the eldest of nine children.  Watts was in frail health all of his life, and at only five feet tall, he was not a physically imposing figure.  His father was imprisoned at least twice during Isaac’s infancy for his religious convictions and his public position against the Church of England.  Isaac always remembered and respected his father’s courage.

His abilities became obvious in early childhood.  He was taught Latin at age 4, Greek at age 9, French when he was 12, and Hebrew by the time he was 13.  His obvious abilities led to the offer of education at one of the universities for eventual ordination into the Church of England.  He refused this path and instead entered the Dissenting Nonconformist Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690.  He completed his studies in 1694 and he became a tutor to the family of Sir John Hartopp of Stoke Newington.  That family had long been involved with the Dissenting Nonconformist movement and this placed Watts at the center of religious dissent in the area.  He began preaching occasionally at the Hartopp family chapel  and in 1699, he was appointed assistant to the minister of Mark Lane Independent Chapel.  Mark Lane was then one of the city’s most influential Independent churches.  In March 1702 he became pastor.

Besides writing hymns, Isaac Watts was a theologian and logician, writing books and essays on these subjects.  One of his textbooks on logic was particularly popular.  The full title, Logick, or The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences was first published in 1724 and went through twenty editions.  It became the standard text on logic at Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale.  He also wrote educational books on geography, astronomy, grammar, and philosophy.  Yet with all his many accomplishments as an author and a pastor, it is Dr. Watts’s amazing facility with poetry that has left a lasting imprint on history.

After suffering a physical breakdown in his health in 1712, he accepted an invitation to visit Sir Thomas Abney at his residence in Abney Park.  The original invitation was for a few weeks, but this visit extended and for the next 36 years, Abney, then his wife and daughter, kept Watts as guest and friend at their home.  He continued to write and preach as often as his health would permit.

Watts eventually wrote more than 750 hymns including, Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross; Am I a Soldier of the Cross; At the Cross; Joy to the World! The Lord is Come;  O God Our Help in Ages Past; We’re Marching to Zion; When I Can Read My Title Clear; Come We That Love The Lord; and I Sing the Mighty Power of God.  His model for the congregational song, the hymn, remains in current use throughout the English-speaking world.

I Sing the Mighty Power of God (Praise for Creation and Providence) appeared in his book Divine Songs attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1718).  Divine Songs is recorded as the first English hymnal written especially for children.  The song was written to be used to teach Biblical principles about creation to a child.  In this “children’s song” we see many major truths presented about God.  We see His: Creative power (v1), Wisdom (v2), Sovereign authority (v2, 5, 7), Goodness (v3), Wonders (v4), Glory (v5), Omnipresence (v6, 8), Love (v7), Wrath (v8), and Protection (v8).  It is amazing to realize the level of understanding Dr. Watts expected in the young.  In the book’s Preface he writes, “[These songs] will be a constant furniture of the minds of children, that they may have something to think upon when alone, and sing over to themselves. This may sometimes give their thoughts a divine turn, and raise a young meditation. Thus they will not be forced to seek relief for an emptiness of mind, out of the loose and dangerous sonnets of the age.”

Watts wrote hymns that departed from the psalms and included more personal expressions. This did not please everyone.  Some felt his hymns were “too worldly” for the church as they were not based on the Psalms. Yet Watts felt strongly that the Christian church congregation and not just the choir should sing of Christ.  He explained it this way: “Where the Psalmist describes religion by the fear of God, I have often joined faith and love to it.  Where he speaks of the pardon of sin through the mercies of God, I rather choose to mention the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God.  Where He promises abundance of wealth, honor, and long life, I have changed some of these typical blessings for grace, glory, and life eternal, which are brought to light by the gospel, and promised in the New Testament.”  He noted in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs: “While we sing the praises of God in His church, we are employed in that part of worship which of all others is the nearest akin to heaven, and ’tis pity that this of all others should be performed the worst upon earth. That very action which should elevate us to the most delightful and divine sensations doth not only flat our devotion but too often awakens our regret and touches all the springs of uneasiness within us.”

Of course, that is still today our command as Christians, especially Christian parents.  “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” (Deut. 6:6-7)

To the extent they accurately reflect what the Bible has to say, the great hymns of the church are a useful tool in this. Whether in the family circle, or the house of God, we are admonished: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Col. 3:16)

It is worthwhile to pause a moment and remember Watts’s words recorded on his deathbed.  They reveal the faith and dedication of this great servant of God:  “If God should raise me up again, I may finish some more of my papers, or God can make use of me to save a soul, and that will be worth living for. If God has no more service for me to do, through grace I am ready; it is a great mercy to me that I have no manner of fear or dread of death….I trust all my sins are pardoned through the blood of Christ….I have no fear of dying.”

Watts died quietly in the afternoon of November 25, 1748, at the Abney’s home in Stoke.  He was buried at Bunhill Fields in London, the Dissenter’s Graveyard.

SOURCES:

A Dictionary of Hymnology; John Julian, Dover Publications; 1907

Annotations of the Hymnal; Charles Hutchins, M.A.; 1872.

The Gospel In Hymns;  Albert Edward Bailey, Charles Scribner’s Sons; 1950

The Hymns and Hymn Writers of the Church Hymnary; John Brownlie, D.D.; Henry Frowde; 1911

 

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (1820 – 1915

Frances Jane (Fanny) Crosby (1820 – 1915)

by Terry Conley

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This hymn has an interesting history of its travels.  To God Be the Glory was written in the United States some time before 1873 but it had not become popular.  Fanny Crosby does not mention it in any of her writings, nor does William H. Doane, the composer of the tune.  Apparently, it first became popular when Moody and Sankey took the song to the British Isles in the 1873 for their campaigns.  The song became very popular there but remained virtually unknown in America.  Many years passed but in 1954 it was “rediscovered” in England when a local Pastor suggested it to Cliff Barrows who was putting together a song book for Billy Graham’s first London Crusade.  Barrows liked the strong words and he agreed.  It became the theme hymn and was sung nearly every night of the London Crusade.  On the team’s return to America, the hymn was reintroduced to the nation where it had been born during the August 1955, Nashville Crusade.

This is a wonderful, joyous song of praise.  The theme and abundant source of all that God has done and will yet do for us as fallen human beings is made possible by the saving work of His Son. That is the central theme of Fanny Crosby’s song.  She exalts the Lord because the multiplied blessings of salvation are “through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.” (Heb. 13:21)  To God be glory, the Greek word ‘doxa’, has to do with the revelation of God’s distinctive excellence and praising Him for these things.  All that God is and does, and all He has created, reflect glory to Him.  Some of the verses Fanny used as the foundation thought include, but not limited to the following.  Romans 11:36: “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever.”  The infinite wisdom God has shown, and will forever demonstrate, in doing things as He has, is also forever glorious.  Jude wrote in verse 25: “To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.”  To God belongs eternal glory for His preservation of the saints, and for their coming exaltation. As the Apostle Paul was led to write, “And The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom: to whom Him be glory forever and ever.  Amen.” (II Timothy 4:18)  And our worship doesn’t stop at death.  John wrote in Revelation 1:6, And hath (v. 5: Jesus Christ) made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”  And in eternity we’ll praise Him because He “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:6)

Fanny was born in Putnam County, New York in 1820.  Hers was not to be an easy, early life.  She became ill shortly after birth.  She was misdiagnosed and the prescribed treatment was ill-conceived by a man purporting himself to be medically trained.  He recommended hot mustard poultices on her eyes.  Her illness eventually became better, but the treatment left her blind.  When the doctor was revealed to be a quack, he disappeared.  A few months later, Fanny’s father died, and her mother was forced to find work as a maid to support the family.  Fanny was mostly raised by her Christian grandmother, apparently the one who provided the early grounding in her education of the Bible.   Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Fanny’s mother was able to enroll her in the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind.  That would be her home for 23 years, 12 as a student and 11 as a teacher.  It was there that she also met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstine who was an accomplished organist and a member of the Institute, as well as a former pupil.  They were married in 1858.

Her love of poetry began early.  Her first verse, written at age 8, echoed her lifelong refusal to feel sorry for herself: “Oh, what a happy soul I am, Although I cannot see!  I am resolved that in this world Contented I will be.  How many blessings I enjoy That other people don’t, To weep and sigh because I’m blind I cannot, and I won’t!”

While she enjoyed her poetry, she always read and memorized the Bible.  She would memorize five chapters a week.  Even as a child she could recite the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many Psalms, chapter and verse.  Of course, this would lead her in the direction of her life’s work.

By age 23, Fanny was addressing Congress and making friendships with presidents. In fact, she knew all the chief executives of her lifetime, especially Grover Cleveland, who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election.

She was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher and often wrote six or seven a day (for a dollar or two each), many became incredibly popular.  When Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey began to use them in their crusades, they received even more attention. Among them are “Blessed Assurance,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Rescue the Perishing,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”  Her favorite type songs were simple, sentimental verses that could be used for evangelism. She continued to write her poetry up to her death, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday.  Her desk held what was the beginning of the last song she was working on.  The lyrics showed that she was still thinking and writing about heaven: “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye.”

The most of Fanny’s published hymns have appeared under the name of Fanny J. Crosby or Mrs. Van Alstyne, but quite a large number have appeared under the nom de plumes of Grace J. Frances, Mrs. C. M. Wilson, Lizzie Edwards, Ella Dale, Henrietta E. Blair, Rose Atherton, Maud Marion, Leah Carlton, nearly two hundred different names.  She once said that she used those names so her name did not appear more often than the better writers.

Source:

Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers; J. H. Hall; Fleming H. Revell Company; 1914

Crusader Hymns and Hymn Stories; Cliff Barrows; Hope Publishing Company; 1967

Holy Bible, King James Version, Scofield Reference Bible; Oxford Press; 1996

Music in Evangelism, ; Phil Kerr; Zondervan Publishing House; 1962

The Romance of Women Hymn Writers; F. W. Pitt; Fundamental Truth Publishers

 

John Rippon (1751 – 1836)

John Rippon (1751 – 1836)

by Terry Conley

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Mysteries remain regarding the origin of this wonderful hymn and its tune.  The hymn first appeared in Rippon’s most famous work, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended as an Appendix to Dr. Watts, published in 1787 under the title, Exceedingly Great and Precious Promises.  It was eventually published 27 times.  In early editions the words were accompanied by the letters “K.” or “Kn.”  We do know that Robert Keene was the song leader or precentor in Pastor Rippon’s church. He may, or may not, have supplied the text for this hymn.  The origin of the tune is also obscure.  It comes from A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, published by Joseph Funk in 1832.

In spite of the uncertainty about its origin, this remains one of the greatest hymns in the English language. Almost every line is a quotation of, or allusion to, some text in the Word of God.  Each stanza but the first is a poetic quotation of Scripture giving assurance to the believer.  The first poses the question and is answered in the following verses.  It’s unfortunate that most hymn books limit themselves to using only three or four stanzas.  All are worthy to be included and each adds to the thought.

The modern trend is to shorten our hymns. Sometimes the words of only a verse or two are projected on the wall sometimes with the refrain.  Seven stanzas must seem like far too much work!  But there is an irony to this, since some of the contemporary choruses are sung over and over again, repetitiously.  We should want to hear the entire thought that was laid on the writer’s heart.  By omitting parts of our better hymns, we definitely miss a blessing.

The opening stanza of our hymn reminds us that the Scriptures are trustworthy, and a firm foundation on which to stand. It asks the question: What more can He say than to you He hath said?  The following verses supply the Scripture to support that statement.  When the Bible speaks of the household of God being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), it means that our foundation is the Word of God revealed through them (cf. vs. 5). And since the Lord Jesus is central to that revelation, it’s equally true to say that He Himself is our foundation (I Cor. 3:1).

John Rippon (29 April 1751 – 17 December 1836) was an English Baptist minister.  He was born at Tiverton, Devon, England.  In 1768, at about age 17, he enrolled in and was educated for the ministry at the Baptist College, Bristol.  More than 250 years later (2020), this school is still in existence and educating students.  In 1773, Rippon became Pastor of the Baptist church in Carters Lane and he continued to preach and care for the congregation until his death on December 17,1836.  Pastor Rippon was one of the most popular and influential Dissenting Ministers of his time.  From 1790 to 1802 he issued the Baptist Annual Register, a periodical containing an account of the most important events in the history of the Baptist Denomination in Great Britain and America during that period.  He published another hymnal, Selection of Hymns for Public Worship, in 1787.  In the 1791 edition, and on-going, the names of tunes were prefixed to the hymns which began to establish some consistency in the hymn singing.

After the death of John Gill, he assumed Gill’s pastorate at the Baptist Meeting House in Carter Lane, Tooley Street, Southwark, from 1773 at the age of 20 until his death in 1836.  During these times, the church experienced great growth and became one of the largest congregations in the country. The congregation moved to New Park Street from Carter Lane in 1833. The New Park Street Chapel could seat 1,200 people. Rippon’s church was later pastored by Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  It was under his leadership that the church moved to its current location as Metropolitan Baptist Church in London at Elephant and Castle.  Rippon’s Selection of Hymns was used by the congregation until 1866 when Spurgeon produced an update called Our Own Hymn Book which borrowed much from Rippon and Watts.  Rippon was buried in London’s Dissenter Cemetery, Bunhill Fields, London.

was sung at the funerals of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  It was the favorite hymn of Rachel Jackson, wife of President Andrew Jackson, and on his deathbed the warrior and statesman called for it.  It was also sung at the funeral of General Robert E. Lee.

Source:

A Dictionary if Hymnology; John Julian; Dover Publications, 1907, New York

Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns; Henry S. Burrage, D.D.; Brown, Thurston & Co. 1888, Portland, ME

The Story of Hymns and Tunes; Theron Brown & Hezekiah Butterworth; American Tract Society, 1906, Boston, MA

 

 

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879)

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 – 1879)

by Terry Conley

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Frances Ridley Havergal, daughter of the Rev. W. H. Havergal, was born at Astley, Worcestershire, England, December 14, 1836.  Her father, Rev. W. H. Havergal, was a vicar and a hymn writer. The name Ridley came from her Godfather, W. H. Ridley, Rector of Hambleden, who was descended from Bishop Ridley, the martyr.  She was nicknamed “Little Quicksilver,” because she was bright, quick, and clever.  She possessed gifted intelligence and was reading at age three.  Her mother, Jane, died when she was 11 years old and she was sent to various boarding schools.   Intelligent and educated, her life was characterized by a deep, earnest consecration to Jesus.  In August 1850, she entered Mrs. Teed’s school.  In the following year her diary says, ” I committed my soul to the Savior, and earth and heaven seemed brighter from that moment.”  She was confirmed in Worcester Cathedral, July 17,1853.  She died at Caswall Bay, Swansea, June 3,1879, at the age of 43 years.  Her epitaph, as she requested, reads “The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin”.

Frances’ scholastic achievements were many including several modern languages together with Greek and Hebrew.  She did not claim to be an achieved writer or poet but allowed God to use her distinct individuality to serve her God and Savior.  Simply and sweetly she wrote of the love of God and His way of salvation.  She dedicated her whole life to this end.  Her writings are permeated with her passionate love of Jesus.  The burden of her writings is a free and full salvation, through the Redeemer’s merits, for every sinner who will receive it.  Her life was devoted to the proclamation of this truth by personal labors and her writing.

She wrote many devotional books and hundreds of hymns and poems.  Her religious views are clearly stated in her poems with the main emphasis being a free and full salvation offered through the Savior for every sinner who will receive it.  Favorite hymns of hers include Who is on the Lord’s Side, Lord Speak to me, and Take My Life and Let It Be.  One of Miss Havergal’s best known hymns was written shortly before her death in 1879.  In one of her last letters to a friend who was struggling with life’s issues, she quoted from Romans 5:1 – “We have peace with God” and went on to say it was perfect peace.  Frances was still struggling in her personal life with the results of an earlier bout with typhoid fever.  It was during this time of distress that she felt that the Lord gave her the thoughts that were eventually written as the hymn Like A River Glorious.  She noted that she was burdened by the fact that she could not do all she desired for her God and Savior but that she felt God’s love and power sweep over her while she prayed for those around her.  She wrote: “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace, over all victorious in its bright increase.  Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest, finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.”

References:

A Dictionary of Hymnology; John Julian; Dover Publications, 1907, New York

The Hymns & Hymn Writers of the Church Hymnary; John Brownlie, D.D.; Henry Frowde, Publisher OUP, 1911; London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

The Romance of Women Hymn Writers; F. W. Pitt; Fundamental Truth Publishers, Findlay, Ohio

 

Baptist Hymn Writers

Baptist Hymn Writers

by Debra Conley

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Losing the great hymns of our faith has been a concern of mine for a number of years. In this old volume from 1888, we can see how much we have lost by dropping so many meaningful and precious hymns from our services. Burrage not only reviews the hymns, complete with all the words of each hymn, but gives us a good biographical background of each writer. The volume I have is so organized that one can easily read it in sections as time permits. The sections are ordered by country of the writer, by writer’s names, and best of all, in chronological order. And, there is a double index (first lines and names), something often missing in older books.

While reading through the section on English hymn writers, I could relive our trips through Bedford, Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Kettering, Leicester, London,  Milton, Olney, Oxford, Nottingham, and Plymouth among many others. To know that I walked where these great hymn writers did is a precious memory.

There is an extensive section beginning on page 101 about the Ryland family which took great efforts to preserve these hymns as well as sermons and texts we might not otherwise have. The book also follows at least a dozen missionaries who came after William Carey, the father of Baptist Missions, to parts of India and especially continued the work in Serampore while writing hymns for singing in the Seminary there. In case you did not know, that college in Serampore is still thriving from Carey’s first landing in 1793. Other branches have spread throughout India. It reads like a huge family tree with Carey at the base of the tree.

On pages 79-84, we read about one of Pastor Rick’s favorite hymns, “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”, which was written by John Fawcett in the 1770’s and tells of his planned move to London to replace the great John Gill who had passed away. Fawcett finally realized he could not give up his congregation in Bradford.  This hymn survives in many of our standard hymn books.

Pages 267-270 tell of the work of Adoniram Judson, the American writer and missionary who is often given the distinction of founding America’s Baptist missionary work and who finally served in India , translating the Bible in to Burmese.

Perhaps the most striking thought I  had from reading this volume was the prominent lack of the word “I” in most of the older hymns. These hymns spoke of the birth, death, burial, resurrection, and the grace offered to sinners in most every verse. No words about our contribution to worship, only what Jesus Christ has done for us. They have poignant depth and speak to the conscience in a way that many newer songs just do not. I quote from page 215 one example from John Wigner’s “Come to the Savior Now”:

Come to the Savior now!

Gaze on that crimson tide,

Water and blood that flow

Forth from His wounded side.

Hark to that suffering One:

“Tis finished,” now He cries.

Redemption’s work is done,

Now bows His head and dies.

 

 

Isaac Watts: His Life and Hymns

Isaac Watts: His Life and Hymns

by Rick Shrader

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I’m interested in Watts (1674-1748) first for his great contribution to our hymn book.  Second because he was an influential pastor, educator, poet, and hymn writer in England just before the time of the Wesleys, John Newton, and William Cowper.  Watts was instrumental in getting hymn singing back into the church services among the nonconformist churches.  He became the pastor of the chapel in Mark Lane where John Owen had earlier preached.  He and Owen would both be buried in Bunhill Fields, the dissenter’s graveyard.  Watts was an early premillennial thinker, and delineated an early dispensationalism (See Dictionary of Premillennial Theology).

The continuing controversy in our day over men like Watts is whether he would embrace contemporary songs today because he was a champion for reviving hymn singing as well as for writing new songs.  But once we also become familiar with his intense piety, both as a love for God’s holiness as well as a profound disdain for the world, such a question is quickly answered.  Rather, I think he would be greatly disappointed with those who have removed “such a worm as I” from his hymn, At The Cross, especially when he said of himself that it was grace alone that turned “a groveling earthworm into a bird of paradise.”  Paxton Hood, himself a nineteenth-century English pastor, writes, “It is not easy to mention a writer who more distinctly realizes to the mind one of those six-winged seraphs Isaiah saw . . . . But reverence, an awful sense of the mysterious and inscrutable, governed every movement of his soul.”  Watts surely wrote new music but it was the music of the Christian soul and the prevailing thought of dissenting and persecuted Christianity.  “Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?  Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?”  I think not!

 

Great Hymns of the Faith

Great Hymns of the Faith

by Rick Shrader

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In addition to one’s daily reading schedule, it is a good thing to read through the hymn book in a year.  I am going on my fifth year of reading through this 1968 edition of Great Hymns.  Since I rise early, I can sing a hymn in the morning (no one else need listen) before my Bible reading.  It refreshes my memory of these great songs and fills my illustration file!

 

An Authentic Narrative

An Authentic Narrative

by Rick Shrader

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John Newton, pastor, song writer, and former slave-trader, wrote his auto-biography in a series of fourteen letters to a friend.  They are quite remarkable in literary genius and spiritual insight.  They remind one of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as Newton traveled the sailing world in hunt of treasure to sell (sometimes even slaves) and often found himself grounded in some port with little or no means to survive.  The story of his final conversion during a storm at sea when the sailors tied themselves to the ship for days at a time to keep from being washed overboard, is exciting and moving.  This narrative was first published in 1764, the very year that Newton began his pastoral ministry in Olney.  He accepted a position in London in 1780 and remained there until his death in 1807.  This edition is published by Regent College in Vancouver.

 

Letters of John Newton

Letters of John Newton

by Rick Shrader

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We all know John Newton as the author of Amazing Grace, perhaps the best-known gospel hymn of all time.  We also may know him as a converted slave trader who contributed to the English abolition movement in the late 1700s.  Fewer may know him as a conservative (though Anglican) pastor of two parish churches during that same time.  During his first pastorate in Olney (famous for his “Olney Hymns” with William Cowper), he welcomed a dissenters’ meeting to be held often in his church  building.  That meeting happened to include William Carey and Andrew Fuller.  Even fewer (myself included until reading this book) would know him as a powerful writer of theological and devotional thought.  His insight in applying biblical principles to the struggle for godliness is highly unusual in today’s devotional literature.  Newton begins with man’s depravity and ends with man’s sanctification.  A very satisfying read.

 

Sankey: the singer & his song

Sankey: the singer & his song

by Rick Shrader

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While ordering some books online I came across this small book first published in 1946 and reprinted in 1996 by Ambassador Books, Belfast.  Since we visit the place in Edinburgh where Moody and Sankey preached and sang, I am curious to know the details of their ministry together.  The author relays the story of how Moody and Sankey met in Indianapolis, to their many evangelistic tours, to their varied and amazing friendships and of course to their inspiring work.  I love the story of Sankey composing the hymn “The Ninety and Nine” in Scotland when Moody asked him to sing a solo about the Great Shepherd.  Sankey took a local poem to the organ with him and sang and composed the song on the spot.  The song was never changed.  His friendships with P.P. Bliss and Fanny Crosby are interesting, especially knowing that Sankey was blind in the final years of his life also.  I realize that Sankey represents a freer style of singing than what was popular then, particularly in England and Scotland, but I believe it was a movement, not to the left of the whole spectrum but closer to the sensible middle of where God’s churches always have been.