The hymn I’ll Live On has been a favorite of mine to sing so I was surprised by not only the lack of biographical information about its composer but also that more hymns by this writer & composer are not more widely known. I am reminded of the amount of talent and other factors that go into making a “hit” in the music industry as I studied this popular hymn.
Thomas Jesse Laney (1878-1953), Lyricist & Composer
Thomas Jesse Laney was born May 17, 1878 in Carroll County, Georgia. Even Internet sites devoted to hymns comment about the scarcity of biographical information about Laney. Some sources show that he was married to Mattie (Martha) R. Gannaway Laney, and they had two sons and three daughters. Thomas Jesse Laney died January 5, 1953 in Jefferson County, Alabama. He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, Alabama. His wife also died in 1976 and is buried next to him.
Some of other lyrics he is credited with include: Disease with Its Distress and Fear, There Is a Land, a Sunny Land, There Will Be a Great Reunion, There’s a Land of Light and Love and We Are Traveling on Today. According to Hymnary.org, I’ll Live On is by far his most popular hymn. To this writer’s knowledge, the only hymn by Laney we sing is I’ll Live On among churches of Christ.
I’ll Live On
Tradition has it that Laney was inspired by a sermon (imagine that) delivered by S. L. Pruett, during a revival conducted by the Methodist Church in Eulaton, Alabama in 1914. The song is popular even being recorded by such artists as Bill Monroe around 1937.
The apostle Paul discusses the importance and connection between Jesus Christ’s resurrection and our own personal resurrection. One of thoughts that I try to remind myself, and others, is what Paul wrote—“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Corinthians 15:19, NKJV.) When we look around our society today, it seems like the world is having a field day celebrating in its free-wielding, no holds-barred and pleasure centered lifestyle. We need to remember that their field day will not last forever! In the scope of eternity, their field day is just that…a day. The term translated “most pitiable” (which is translated as “most miserable” in the KJV) by Paul is the Greek word eleeinos which is an adjective meaning either miserable or to be pitied. The apostle Peter wrote about how those of the world will look at us rather strangely—“For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5, NKJV.) It gives Christians no comfort at the certain doom that disobedient souls headed to eternity which is why Christians have, or ought to have, a “sense of urgency” about spreading the soul-saving gospel message! Perhaps you are spending your lifetime “doing the will of the Gentiles”. If so, we plead with you to put your hope in Christ! As Laney wrote “‘Tis a sweet and glorious tho’t that comes to me, I’ll live on,…” If that is not a glorious thought to you, then we encourage you to obey the gospel of Jesus Christ so you can sing the words that following in this hymn, “…Jesus saved my soul from death and now I’m free. I’ll live on, yes, I’ll live on.”
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.
“Thomas J. Laney Passes in Birmingham,” The Anniston Star, Anniston, AL, January 5, 1953, p. 2.