Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hymns & Hymn Writers: O To Be Like Thee

The song “O To Be Like Thee” is dated to 1897 with Thomas O. Chisholm writing the lyrics and William J. Kilpatrick composing the music. Both of these men were prolific songwriters, and we have been the beneficiary of their talents for expressing our adoration to Jesus in song.

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960), Lyricist

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born July 29, 1866 in Franklin, Kentucky.  He was educated and was quickly moved into the position of educating others at the age of 16.  He was on the staff of the local newspaper, the Franklin Favorite. He was converted to Methodism by Henry Clay Morrison.  He served as a preacher for one year; however, his constitution was not suited for the demands of the position so he resigned the work.  He wrote some 1200 songs with an estimated 800 set to music.  Some songs which we sing with which we may be familiar:  “Living For Jesus”, “Be With Me Lord”, “Bring Christ Your Broken Life” and others.  Chisholm married Katherine Hambright Vandervere in 1903, and they had two daughters.  His wife passed away in 1954. Chisholm eventually retired and lived the remainder of his days at the Methodist Home for the Aged in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  He passed away on February 29, 1960 in Ocean Grove and was buried in Saint Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery in Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania next to his wife.

William James Kilpatrick (1838-1921), Composer

William James Kilpatrick was born February 27, 1838 in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. His parents were Thomas Kirkpatrick and Elizabeth Storey. His parents migrated to Pennsylvania in 1840. He was reared in the home of a musician and school teacher, so his source of training goes back to his parents. Still, he did receive formal training from T. Bishop Kirkpatrick. He published his first collection of hymns in 1859. He also wrote under a pseudonym of Annie F. Bourne. He married his first wife in 1861, but she passed away in 1878. He served for a time in the 91st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers. He also worked for the Methodist Episcopal Church. Some of the songs Kilpatrick composed with which we are familiar include: “A Wonderful Savior”, “Blessed Be The Name”, “Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah”, “Lead Me To Calvary”, “Redeemed”, “Stepping in the Light”, and others. He married his second wife, Sara Kellogg Bourne Kirkpatrick, in 1893. William Kilpatrick died on September 20, 1921 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He had told his wife that he had a tune in his head he wanted to write down before coming to bed. She later found him at his desk dead. He was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

O To Be Like Thee
Jesus Christ is our example, our pattern, our role model. The term Christian literally means a follower of Christ. What are the characteristics of Christ which we need to be sure to have in our lives too? The song speaks of Jesus being “full of compassion, loving, forgiving, tender and kind, helping the helpless, cheering the fainting, seeking the wand’ring sinners to find.” We examine the life of Christ in the gospels and admire the Savior, but do we remember that we are to follow His example in these ways too? The song goes on to describe Jesus as “lowly in spirit,
holy and harmless, patient and brave; meekly enduring cruel reproaches, willing to suffer, others to save.”

Think about how attractive Jesus is to so many. If we want to be attracting people to Jesus, then we must have the same characteristics that Jesus manifested. Also, keep in mind that not everyone is going to be attractive to Christ by incorporating the characteristics of Jesus in our lives. That is not realistic as evil truly exists in our world. The question is which lord do we want to serve? We need to have the commitment to follow the Lord! To follow the Lord means we must be like the Lord—O To Be Like Thee!


John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“Thomas Chisholm.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

V. E. Howard, Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX:  Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

“William James Kilpatrick.” No Pages. Cited 23 February 2018. Online:

Hymns & Hymn Writers: Burdens Are Lifted at Calvary

The hymn “Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary” was written and composed by John M. Moore in 1952. This is not his only hymn; however, it is his most popular one. Some estimate he has written over 150 hymns.

John MacFarlane Moore (1925–2017), Lyricist & Composer

John MacFarlane Moore was born in September 1, 1925 in Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He joined the Baptist Church at age 16 and was very active in the Baptist denomination. He also qualified as an electrical engineer. He obtained an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the Northwest Baptist Theological College and Seminary in Langley, B.C.

The inspiration for the song came from an experience he had in Glasgow, Scotland. He was called to visit a sailor was very ill. He gave him a tract based on the story of “Pilgrim’s Progress.” There was a picture of a man carrying a heavy burden, and Moore told the man that he felt that way until his burdens were removed at Calvary. The man agreed. Moore was moved by the experience to compose this popular hymn.

John M. Moore married Esther Marr Moore and they had a son named David Lawler Moore and a daughter named Jane. He passed away on November 2, 2017 in Toronto, Canada and is buried in Springvale Baptist Church Cemetery in Stouffville, ON.

Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary

Some of the stronger rebukes that Jesus gave were for those who actually increased people’s burdens. He said of the Pharisees: “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments” (Matthew 23:3–5 NKJV). Jesus did not back down. Notice this exchange with the lawyers: “Then one of the lawyers answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also.’ And He said, ‘Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers’” (Luke 11:45–46 NKJV).

The term φορτίον phortíon (“burden”) indicates a weight or a load. Thayer goes onto describe the meaning as “faults of conscience which oppress the soul.” Jesus gave a great invitation: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29–30 NKJV). Jesus dealt with the burden of sin at the cross of Calvary.

This does not mean that we do not bear crosses ourselves (cf. Mark 8:34). He also instructed His followers to help others bear their other burdens. Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1 NKJV). Being a Christian and keeping the law of Christ is not burdensome—“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 NKJV). Due to Jesus bearing the cross, we have great hope—“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NKJV). Sadly, many do not understand that Jesus will not remove the burdens of life, so they overlook the fact that Jesus removes the burden of sin and death with the offer of eternal life.

Part of the challenge is for people to throw off the burden of sin and follow Christ. For some reason, people seem to want to try and go it alone; however, one cannot go it alone into eternity and expect to be blessed by God. It would be far better to become a Christian so it can be said to you as it was said to them long ago: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7 NKJV). The question remains whether you will accept the gospel of Jesus Christ which was made of effect at Calvary and throw off your burden? The burden of sin has truly been lifted by Jesus the Christ at Calvary! The question remains whether or not you will wash away your sins in obedience to the gospel as Saul of Tarsus was instructed to in Acts 22:16?


“Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary.” No Pages. Cited 28 January 2018. Online:

“Burdens Are Lifted At Calvary.” No Pages. Cited 28 January 2018. Online:

“John M. Moore.” No Pages. Cited 28 January 2018. Online:

“John MacFarlane Moore.” No Pages. Cited 28 January 2018. Online:

John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.

Kenneth W. Osbeck. 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1985, 54–55.

V. E. Howard and Broadus E. Smith, eds. Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

Hymns & Hymn Writers: None of Self & All of Thee

The lyrics of this hymn were written in 1874 by Theodore Monod while visiting England. The song has also been referred to as “O The Bitter Shame and Sorrow” which is the first line of the hymn. The music we sing these lyrics with was composed by James McGranahan in 1876. McGranahan deleted a line from each stanza and altered the words to fit the music.

Theodore Monod (1836–1921), Lyricist

Theodore Monod was born in Paris on November 6, 1836. His father was a Pastor for the French Reformed Church. He obtained a Bachelor of Science and Mater of Arts, after which he practiced law. When he came to the United States, he completed theological training at the Western Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh. He preached for the Presbytery in Allegheny. In 1861 he was ordained and moved to work with the Presbyterian Church in Kankakee, IL. He returned home to France in 1864. In France he continued his work in religion including working for a Home Mission, plus editing a newspaper entitled Le Liberateur. He also authored several books that were widely received in his day. He died in Paris on February 26, 1921.

James McGranahan (1840–1907), Composer

James McGranahan was born July 4, 1840 in Adamsville, PA. His father was a farmer and desired his son to continue farming. James McGranahan became interested in music through a local singing school. When he was 19 years old, he enrolled in the Normal Music School in Geneseo, NY which was founded by William B. Bradbury. He married Addie Vickery in 1863. He worked as a Singing Evangelist which he began in 1877 among the United Presbyterian Church. He did evangelistic work in the United States, England, and Ireland. He also popularized all male choirs for gospel music in his day. Besides this hymn, he also composed music for “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace,” “I Will Sing of My Redeemer,” “Sinners Jesus Will Receive,” “There’s A Royal Banner,” and others. In 1887, he built a house and retired in Kinsman, Ohio. James McGranahan died July 9, 1907 in Kinsman after a prolonged battle against diabetes. He is buried in New Kinsman Cemetery.

None of Self And All of Thee

Christianity is not only a taught religion, but a religion of growth and development too. The apostle Peter encouraged the Christians of Asia Minor to add knowledge to their lives in order to fortify their walk (cf. 2 Pet 1:5). This reference is not to general knowledge but to specific knowledge—God and His word (cf. 2 Pet 1:2). God has provided us all that we need to know to live a life pleasing to Him (cf. 2 Pet 1:3). This knowledge is not infused into our minds as our five senses, but is to be learned as we would learn other matters of the world. Some choose not to study about God and His word to detriment of their lives and souls (cf. Rom 1:28f.). As we learn and apply, we grow. This is true in both the physical and spiritual realms. We may find ourselves starting out feeble in our estimation, but with God and the Bible as our guide we can grow and mature to a full stature in Christ (cf. Eph 4:13).

Notice the progression or development of the Christian in the verses of this hymn:

Verse 1 All of Self, None of Thee—100 percent me with no room for God.
Verse 2 Some of Self, Some of Thee—50 percent of me and 50 percent for God.
Verse 3 Less of Self, More of Thee—25 percent of me and 75 percent for God.
Verse 4 None of Self, All of Thee—All for God!

This does not mean that God is not mindful of our physical needs (cf. Matt 6:31–34), and that includes our having to work to meet these needs (cf. 2 Thess 3:10). There is a difference in working on our own and working with God! This is the message of the hymn too.

We may grow and come to the thoughts of the first verse “Oh, the bitter shame and sorrow,
 That a time could ever be, When I let the Savior’s pity Plead in vain,” Delaying obedience or obeying the gospel later in life may lead to feelings of regret which can become damaging to our ability to grow in the love of God (as spoken of in verse 4.) Remember what the apostle Paul stated—“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:12-14 NKJV). The Lord is exceedingly abundant with love for all!


“James McGranahan.” No Pages. Cited 30 December 2017. Online:

 “James McGranahan.” No Pages. Cited 30 December 2017. Online:

James McGranahan. Pittsburg: Murdoch, Kerr & Co. 1907.

John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.

“None of Self And All of Thee.” No Pages. Cited 30 December 2017. Online:

Robert Guy McCutchan, Our Hymnody, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1937.

“Theodore Monod.” No Pages. Cited 30 December 2017. Online:

V. E. Howard and Broadus E. Smith, eds. Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Be A Mentor (A Tribute to E. Claude Gardner) by David R. Kenney

E. Claude Gardner with David & Annette Kenney at the
2017 FHU Bible Lectureship. He led the Prayer Session for the Lectures.

Be A Mentor – A Tribute to E. Claude Gardner
By David R. Kenney     
“I spoke to President E. Claude Gardner, and I told him that you needed to come to Freed-Hardeman College but you did not think you could afford it” said my beloved dad back in February 1987.  He continued, “President Gardner said ‘You tell David that we want him at Freed-Hardeman College, and we will make it financially feasible for him to attend. So he can come!’” Words comparable to the response Pharaoh gave to Moses came to my mind as I weighed my thoughts in response (cf. Exo 5:2). I do not mind admitting my life was floundering since I had graduated in 1985. I needed to change course, but I did not know what exactly to do. (I knew what my parents wanted me to do.) My parents replied to my objections: “We would love to have you stay with us forever, but that is not the natural course of life. Do you have any other alternative plan? We will support your efforts for what you decide, but you have to make a change.” I had no real alternative plans, so I enrolled for the Fall Semester of 1987.

That decision began a mentoring relationship between my father, E. Claude Gardner, Winford Claiborne, and I that has lasted until December 31, 2017 with the passing of President Gardner. Some mentors choose you. Some mentors you may be able to choose. Some mentors are chosen for you. I highly suspect the latter is the case with my father, and I have been blessed by this ever since.

E. Claude Gardner served Freed-Hardeman College (and helped make it a University) from 1949 until his death. He was President from 1969 until 1990, but he served the school many years prior to and since that time. His service has been so diligent and faithful, that I would not be surprised if they wanted to name the school F-H-G University!

Gardner pursued me for the School of Theology program. Yes, I mean “pursued!” I have the letters from E.C.G. and testimony from Director Mark Blackwelder: “David, brother Gardner really likes you, and he wants you in this program. He wants you to accept this scholarship. Would you give me an opportunity to reply to any objections…” I replied, “Sure, I certainly have NO objections to FHU. That would be fine.” I enrolled in the M. Div. program thanks to the kind generosity of E. Claude Gardner who had selected me to receive the E. Claude and Delorese Scholarship.

I think about the comments of brother Gardner being a Barnabas to many, and he certainly had done the work of a Barnabas! To me, I think of him as an encouraging mentor like Barnabas was to John Mark. John Mark seems to have lost his way and fell out of favor with the apostle Paul. Barnabas pled his case, but Paul would not budge (cf. Acts 15:39). So, Barnabas mentored John Mark further. In time, Paul would later write—“Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim 4:11 NKJV) There are others who contributed to my upbringing and training, and I would not want to detract from any of those. But, I can honestly say I am more useful for ministry today because of the efforts of E. Claude Gardner!

My father told me, as he was dying, that he would make every effort to attend the funerals of Winford Claiborne and E. Claude Gardner: “I think so much of those two men.” I agreed. So I went to Winford Claiborne’s funeral for both my father and I, as my father was unable to attend. Now, I make plans to attend the funeral of E. Claude Gardner. In fact, brother Gardner selected me to be one of his pallbearers. My dad would be honored to hear that! Brother Gardner has been a blessing to my parents, to my wife and I, and to our children. He will be greatly missed! Be a mentor! Help some young person find their way. We certainly know that there is no lack of people needing help through this world. Share with them the blessings of being a Christian both now and for eternity!

Some hesitate to bear the costs of Christian education. One needs to understand however that there is a difference between price and value. I met my beloved Annette at Freed-Hardeman College. People ask “How did you two meet?” All we have to say is “Freed-Hardeman.”  I understand the costs are great and the debt will be a burden for some time; however, I still owe a debt to Freed-Hardeman University even though my student loans have been paid off years ago! I had before me two paths, and as the great poet Robert Frost stated: “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Originally appeared in the West Virginia Christian, Vol. 25, No. 2, Feb 2018, p. 8.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Is It Scriptural To Use Page Numbers or Book, Chapter, and Verses? by David R. Kenney

Is It Scriptural To Use Page Numbers or Book, Chapter, and Verses?
by David R. Kenney

Occasionally someone asks a question that the answer to should be shared for the benefit of all. Someone asks, “Why do we give page numbers during the Scripture Reading segment of the worship service?  Should we not know the books of the Bible?”  Some may be tempted to phrase the question in this fashion: “Is it scriptural to use page numbers?”

Without de-emphasizing the importance of book, chapter, and verse preaching (since this is the sole authority of the preacher’s message), and without de-emphasizing the good practice of knowing the books of the Bible and how they fit into the scheme of redemption, let us consider whether or not using page numbers is “scriptural”.  By the use of the term “scriptural” many mean whether it has Biblical authority.  In answer to this, let me suggest that it is no more “scriptural” to use page numbers than it is to announce chapters and verses.  Consider the following from Nichol’s Pocket Bible Encyclopedia:

·         The entire Bible was divided into chapters by Hugo in 1240.
·         The Old Testament was divided into verses by Mordecai Nathan in 1445.
·         The New Testament was divided into verses by Robert Steven in 1551.

There were no chapters and verses in the original manuscripts; therefore, the tradition of using chapters and verses is just that—a tradition.  So the same authority exists for announcing chapter and verses as for announcing page numbers.  But why announce page numbers?

First of all, it must be made clear that this was the decision of the leadership of the congregation.  When the practice was first adopted it was when the men of the congregation decided there were distinct advantages to doing so.  This leadership has now been transferred to the eldership.  If the elders would deem that this practice was no longer beneficial, they would have the authority to change this incidental method of reading from the Bible.  At one time, the preacher was requested to announce the page numbers for all his scriptures during the lesson, but this became too impractical and awkward so it was discontinued. 

There are two basic reasons for announcing the page number for the Scripture Reading.  The first reason is to ensure that a reliable translation is read from the pulpit.  When new pew Bibles were ordered great care was exercised to have a translation that would be more up to date and reliable.  No translation is perfect but there are better translations than others.  So the practice of announcing the page number and reading from the pew Bible helps ensure that a reliable translation is consistently used and helps keep everyone on the same page during the reading.  That does not mean that the New King James is free from errors any more than the King James is free from errors.  All translations have errors since they are the works of men.  Only the original autographs were error free.

The main reason for this practice is to assist those who do not know the books of the Bible to participate in this part of the service.  Imagine if the reader just got up and read without announcing the book, chapter, and verse.  How would you feel?  You may say “They should announce the book, chapter, and verse so I can read along.”  Your point would be valid but why would it become invalid if one uses page numbers?  As a mature Christian, we should know the Bible enough to know where the reading is from.  Right!?  If that is unrealistic, then why is it more realistic to have everyone know the books of the Bible before they walk through our doors?  We need to give people the opportunity to grow.  I can scarcely remember the days that I did not know the books of the Bible since my parents taught them to me from my youth. Others have not had that blessed opportunity.  In Romans 12:10 we find these words “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”  Or as another translation puts it:  “Be kindly affectioned one to another in brotherly love; in honor let each set his neighbor above himself.” (Conybeare & Howson).

Reprinted from The Edifier, Streetsboro, OH: Streetsboro Church of Christ, 14 May 2000.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Hymns & Hymn Writers: Near, My God to Thee

The hymn “Nearer, My God to Thee” also appears in some hymnals under the title of “The Christian Life.” The song has been a great source of comfort to many in their final hours. It was played as they laid President James A. Garfield’s body at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio in 1890. It was also a song of comfort to William McKinley before his death in 1901. "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was reported sung by the crew of the SS Valencia as it sank off the Canadian coast in 1906. It has been reported that it was among the last songs played on the R.M.S. Titanic before it sank in 1912. It has been a much beloved hymn to many; although at first the hymn was not so well received.

Sarah Fuller Flower Adams 1805-1848), Lyricist

Sarah Fuller Flower Adams was born February 22, 1805 in Harlow, Essex, England. Her parents were Benjamin Flower and Eliza Gould. Her mother met Benjamin while he was imprisoned for writing criticisms of some political matters. Eliza Gould appreciated his stand, and she ended up marrying him. Some sources state Sarah’s middle name as “Fuller,” but others have the middle name of “Flower.” Fuller was her middle name, Flower was her maiden name, and Adams was her married name. They had two daughters.

Sarah wrote a series of columns for a paper called the Monthly Repository from 1832–1835, which led to her meeting John B. Adams who also wrote a column. They married in 1834.  Her husband encouraged her to the stage, and she appeared starring as “Lady Macbeth” in 1837. While she enjoyed the experience and was well received, she did not have the constitution for this work. So, she decided to devote more time to lyrics and dramatic poems.

The lyrics for this hymn were composed by Sarah Adams in November 1840. It appeared in Hymns and Anthems in 1841, along with a dozen or so other works by Sarah Adams. This poem was her highest achievement. She was a Unitarian, and the hymn was criticized for its lack of reference to Jesus. When Lowell Mason provided another tune for the words, the hymn was well received across denominational lines.

Sara Adams died August 14, 1848 of tuberculosis at the age of 43. Some theorize she contracted this through exposure to her sister, Eliza, who died of the disease two years prior. She was buried in Foster Street Burial Ground in Harlow, Essex England along with her parents and sister Eliza. John and Sarah Adams had no children.

Lowell Mason (1792-1872), Composer

Lowell Mason was born January 8, 1792 in Medfield, MA.  He became a music director at the age of 17.  He moved to Savannah, GA when he was 20 years of age. While there, he was known to educate black children, even establishing a Sunday school to educate them.  He would return to Boston, MA in 1827. 

He was married to Abigail Gregory Mason who died in 1889.  They had 4 sons: Daniel Gregory, (b. 1820 in Savannah, GA); Lowell, Jr. (b. 1823 in Westborough, MA,); William (b. 1829 in Boston, MA) and Henry, (b. 1831 in Boston, MA).

To say that Lowell Mason was a popular music composer would be to put it mildly when one considers the songs to his credit including “Joy to the World,” “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Nearer My God to Thee,” and “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” He was considered one of the greatest music educators of the United States.  He was the co-founder of the Boston Academy of Music in 1833.  He was a major educator of musicians, and his reputation only grew as time went on.  He is sometimes referred to as the “Father of American Music Education”.  He not only composed music, but he also published many musical compositions.  He loved the works of Handel and Mozart and published hymns with their musical works in 1822.

In 1851 he retired and moved to New York to work in the music industry with his sons, David and Lowell Mason, Jr.  He did a major tour of Europe which ignited his interest in congregational music.  He accepted the position of Music Director for the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1853.  He retired again in 1860 and moved to Orange, NJ.  Mason died August 11, 1872 and is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, NJ.

The lyrics for this hymn were set to Mason’s tune called BETHANY which was created in 1856. The meter of the hymn is The song first appeared with a different music of 6/8 time composed by Sarah’s sister Eliza, but it was deemed too difficult to master. There were other tunes used for this poem, but none were as popular as BETHANY. When Lowell set it to his tune of BETHANY of 4/4 time, then the hymn became extremely popular.

Nearer, My God To Thee

The basis for the hymn is reported to be Genesis 28:18–22, “Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (NKJV.) She was encouraged to write the lyrics based on this Biblical account by the preacher where she attended.

One can see the connection with reference to “my rest a stone.” The connection between the poem and the text is seen more clearly in the verse that appears in the original poem, but is often omitted from some printings of the hymn: “Then with my walking thoughts, Bright with thy praise, Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise: So by my woes to be Nearer, my God to thee—Nearer to Thee!” Some hymnals include an additional verse written by Edward H. Bickersteth, Jr.

Jacob was on the run from Esau. He was the child of promise, though he was an imperfect man. Still, he recognized the importance of being near to God even if under dire circumstances. Sometimes God has a way of allowing us to enter into circumstances that ought to make us want to draw nearer to Him, but sadly some rebel and go further away. The psalmist David expressed the same with his words “Draw near to my soul, and redeem it; deliver me because of my enemies” (Psalm 69:18, NKJV.)

The name “Bethel” means “house of God.” It should be every person’s desire to have God be nearer to them in life, not just in their final hours! Being nearer to God includes being with the Lord’s people, the household of God (cf. Ephesians 2:19.) The Preacher warned us to remember God since “the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them.’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NKJV) As we get older, we should want to draw even nearer to God.  Some may have failed to become Christians when they were younger, but they should never doubt that God seeks to have them come to Him (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

If you are not a Christian, then we plead with you to follow the words of James: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:7–8, NKJV.)

Draw nearer to God, so you can sing with confidence “Nearer, My God to Thee.”


Ernest K. Emurian. Living Stories of Famous Hymns. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1955, 91–93.

John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.

“Nearer, My God, to Thee.” No Pages. Cited 25 November 2017. Online:

“Nearer, My God, to Thee.” No Pages. Cited 25 November 2017. Online:,_My_God,_to_Thee.

Robert Guy McCutchan, Our Hymnody, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1937, 380–381.

Russell L. Dyer. “Nearer My God To Thee.”Hymns and Songs We Sing. Bedford, TX: Brown Trail School of Preaching, 2002, 145-155.

“Sarah Fuller Flower Adams 1805-1848.” No Pages. Cited 25 November 2017. Online:

“Sarah Fuller Flower Adams.” No Pages. Cited 25 November 2017. Online:

V. E. Howard and Broadus E. Smith, eds.  Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.

William J. Fox. Hymns and Anthems. London: Charles Fox, 1841.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hymns & Hymn Writers: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

This hymn of the reformation movement was written by Martin Luther sometime between 1527 and 1529, and it was published in 1531 in German. The work was originally translated into English by Miles Coverdale in 1539. In 1853, Frederick H. Hedge translated this German hymn into English as we commonly sing it. Some refer to this hymn as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” Others have said of this hymn: “the greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period of German history.” The hymn certainly is a classic!

Martin Luther (1483-1546), Lyricist & Composer

Martin Luther was born November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany to Hans and Margarete Lindemann Luther. His father worked in the copper and smelting industry. His parents wanted Luther to study law, but a severe thunderstorm convinced Luther to become an Augustinian monk. He obtained the Bachelors of Arts (1502) and Masters of Arts (1505) from the University of Erfurt. In 1507 he was ordained a Catholic Priest. Luther decided to study theology at the University of Wittenberg. He obtained a Bachelor’s degree in 1509, and then in 1512 Luther obtained the Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of Wittenberg, and he became a teacher at the university. He could read Latin, but also Greek and Hebrew.

In 1517, Pope Leo X offered Indulgences in exchange for giving alms to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Dominican monk Johann Tetzel went about collecting funds for indulgences teaching that the temporal punishment of Purgatory could be lessened. The popular phrase—“As soon as money in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory's fire springs.” October 31, 1517 is viewed by many as the start of the Protestant Reformation. It is the date on which Martin Luther posted his “Ninety-five Theses” to the door of Castle Church (500 Years Ago!) Keep in mind that there were no denominations 500 years ago! Some scholars contest whether or not Luther nailed these to the door; however, it was not uncommon for such documents to be posted. These were written in Latin, but someone translated these into German and via the printing press they were circulated throughout the land. Before Luther realized it, a revolt was occurring that was not only religious but economical and political. At first, some thought it was an argument between the Augustinian Order (Martin Luther) and the Dominican Order (John Tetzel), but it would not be long until an international controversy emerged. There is no mistaking these words from Thesis 86: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?" Pope Leo X issued a bull of excommunication against Luther on June 15, 1520, but Luther burned it in a public demonstration on December 10, 1520. Pope Leo X issued the bull of excommunication which declared Luther a heretic on January 3, 1521 which had carried the death sentence in other instances. Charles V of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor declared that no one would be convicted without a proper hearing which would occur at the Diet of Worms which began April 17, 1521.

We do not have time to examine all the events of Luther’s life or his writings; however, there are some early writings that are important to mention. In August 1520, Luther published Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation which was a major attack on the authority of the Pope over Germany’s economy. In October 1520, Luther published On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church which challenged the authority of the sacraments being exclusively from Rome. Luther was called to the Diet of Worms in 1521 to answer charges of heresy. This was a dangerous situation since 50 years prior the same situation led to the burning of John Huss who was deemed a heretic. When Luther arrived, he was asked two questions by John Eck: Are these your books on the table? Do you recant what you have written? Luther confirmed the books were his, but he had written others too. Luther requested 24 hours to respond to the second question. He wanted a discussion of the issues, but they wanted censure. When the trial reconvened the next day, Luther stated in his conclusion: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.” Luther was deemed a heretic, made an outlaw, and there were calls for his execution. Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, had guaranteed Luther’s safety, so Luther was allowed to leave. He was kidnapped on the return by friends and sheltered at the Wartburg Castle where he worked on translating the New Testament into German. One of the great things Luther did was translate the New Testament into the language of the people (German) which allowed people to read and compare what they were taught from Rome versus what was taught in the Scriptures. The NT was completed in 1522, and the remainder of the “Lutheran Bible” would be completed in 1534.

In April 1523, Luther married a former nun, Katharina von Bora Luther (1499–1552) which was another protest against the Catholic doctrine of celibacy, plus they had five children. Luther died February 18, 1546 in Eisleben, Germany and was buried in Schlosskirche (“Castle Church”), Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s teachings are sometimes controversial even among Lutherans themselves. For example: “I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for anyone one. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of God a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have.” (Luther, “An Earnest Exhortation for All Christians, Warning Them Against Insurrection and Rebellion,” Works of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, p. 218.)

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Martin Luther made valuable contributions to hymnody, including congregational singing, in his day as one writer noted: “This man, who had given back the Bible to his countrymen in their own tongue, had also restored the practice of congregational singing, writing hymns in his own language and composing tunes that he felt his people would love to sing. He made music once more the joy of the entire congregation rather than the sole duty of the choir, and gave it the spontaneity which has always characterized Christian hymnody at its best; he even allowed the women to sing with the others in public, a privilege that had been withheld from them for a thousand years.” (Ernest K. Emurian. Living Stories of Famous Hymns, 12)

The hymn is commonly believed to be based on Psalm 46. It is reported that Martin Luther would say “Come, let us sing the 46th Psalm and let the devil do his worst.” Luther had certainly put the words to the test!

With this historical background, perhaps the best way to complement this hymn is with a reading of the Psalm that inspired it:

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.

The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in the fire.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

   Psalm 46 New King James Version

Come! Let us sing the 46th Psalm, and let Satan do his worst.


“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

Cecil May. “God Gives Me Refuge (Psalm 46).” "When I Study the Psalms..." Enlarging My Faith - Eliminating Fears. Moundsville, WV: West Virginia School of Preaching, 2015.

Ernest K. Emurian. Living Stories of Famous Hymns. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1955, 11–13.

John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.

“Martin Luther.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

“Martin Luther.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

“Martin Luther.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

“Martin Luther.” No Pages. Cited 19 October 2017. Online:

Robert Guy McCutchan, Our Hymnody, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1937, 96–98.

Steve Ellis. “A Mighty Fortress.” Lessons in Lyrics. Memphis, TN: Memphis School of Preaching, 1998, 23–31.

V. E. Howard and Broadus E. Smith, eds.  Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.