Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hymns & Hymn Writers: Nothing But The Blood by David R. Kenney

We often sing about the supremacy of Jesus Christ, His vicarious suffering and substitutionary death, and His cleansing blood given for mankind.  It is a theme that should never grow old.  There is no rival to Jesus Christ as the book of Hebrews so powerfully proves.  Nothing But The Blood is a song that speaks not only to the exclusive person of Christ but also His atoning blood!
Robert Lowry (1826-1899), Lyricist & Composer
Roberty Lowry was born March 12, 1826 in Philadelphia, PA.  He joined the First Baptist Church at age 17 and was baptized by a George B. Ide in 1843.  He studied theology at the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) in Pennsylvania and graduated at the top of the class.  He became a Baptist preacher serving in various Baptist churches.  He did not seriously pursue music until after he turned 40, but he wrote the words and music to several songs. As many as 500 songs are credited to him.  He also taught at the University of Lewisburg for about six years.  When he retired in 1875, he was appointed Chancellor and awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from his Alma Mater, the University of Lewisburg.  He served as President of the New Jersey Baptist Sunday School Union from 1880-1886.  He was married to Anna Rhees Loxley Lowry (1824 - 1890) and Mary Jane Runyon Lowry (1852 - 1941).  He had three sons, all with his first wife Anna, named:  Harry Moore Lowry, Wheaton Smith Lowry and Robert Hanson Lowry. 
He was music editor for the Biglow & Main Publishing Company.  He published several hymnals:  Happy Voices (1865), Gospel Melodies (1868), Bright Jewels (1869), Pure Gold (1871), Royal Diadem (1873), Temple Anthems (1873), Tidal Wave (1874), Good as Gold (1880), Our Glad Hosannas (1882), Joyful Lays (1884) and Glad Refrain (1886).  There was also Select Gems that was published after his death.  Some of these books he co-edited with Howard Doane.
Robert Lowry completed Nothing But The Blood by 1876.  The name of the tune is PLAINFIELD.  Additional songs he wrote both the words and music for are Low in the Grave He Lay and Shall We Gather At The River?  He also contributed musical composition to Fanny J. Crosby’s All The Way My Savior Leads Me; music and refrain to Isaac Watts’ Come, We That Love the Lord; music and refrain to Annie Sherwood Hawks’ I Need Thee Every Hour (Lowry preached at the Hanson Baptist Church where she attended); and the music for Sylvanus D. Phelps’ Savior, Thy Dying Love (sometimes called Something For Jesus).  The holder of the copyright to two of his songs, Something For Jesus (or Savior, Thy Dying Love) and I Need Thee Every Hour, is Mary Runyon Lowry (The Methodist Hymnal, 1939, Nos. 219 and 232) which was his second wife.  The date of the copyright is 1914 which is a renewal.  According to, his three most popular hymns were, in order, Shall We Gather at the River, What Can Wash Away My Sins? and Low in the Grave He Lay.  His most popular tune was the one to I Need Thee Every Hour.
Interesting reflection on his experience on writing lyrics or music:  “I have no method.  Sometimes the music comes and the words follow, fitted insensibly to the melody.  I watch my moods, and when anything strikes me, whether words or music, no matter where I am, at home or on the street, I jot it down.  Often in the margin of a newspaper or the back of an envelope serves as a note book.  My brain is a sort of spinning machine, I think, for there is music running through it all the time.  I do not pick out my music on the keys of an instrument.  The tunes of nearly all the hymns I have written have been completed on paper before I tried them on the organ.  Frequently the words of the hymn and the music have been written at the same time.” (Our Hymnody, pp. 264-265) 
He died in Plainfield, NJ on November 25, 1899.  He is buried in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plans, NJ along with both of his wives and three sons.  His original papers and such can be found at the First Park Baptist Church and Public Library in Plainfield, New Jersey. 
Nothing But The Blood
Interestingly, the hymn is often printed with three verses, but the original composition had six verses.  (Great Gospel Songs, 1929, p. 147 on for all six verses.)   The other three verses were:
4. This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; 
This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

5. Now by this I'll overcome--Nothing but the blood of Jesus, 
Now by this I'll reach my home--Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

6. Glory! Glory! This I sing-- Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring--Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The passage cited with the hymn is Revelation 7:14, which reads, “And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb’” (NKJV.)  Interesting concept of washing robes in blood and making them white!  
The blood of animals cannot take away sin (Hebrews 10:4) because animals are not of the same nature as man.  The issue is not just the blood itself, but the being to whom the blood belongs.  In order to redeem a man, there must be the blood of a being at least, if not better, than a man.  Now, who could be superior to any one man?  Superior enough to cleanse the sins of all?  Jesus Christ was wholly divine and wholly human.  There is no blood as precious as the blood of God’s Son!  It did not just wash away the sins of one man, but of all who will submit to the cleansing that begins at the waters of baptism and continues with us all the days of our life, provided we remain faithful to Him and His word (1 John 1:7).  Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). 


Henry Sweetser Burrage, Baptist Hymn Writers and Their Hymns, Portland, ME:  Brown Turston & Company, 1888, pp. 428-434. &GSbyrel=in&GSdy=1899&GSdyrel=in&GSst=33&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=10684837&df=all&

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

Robert Guy McCutchan, Editor, The Methodist Hymnal, Nashville, TN:  The Methodist Publishing House, 1939.

Paul Sain, “Low In The Grave He Lay,” Curtis A. Cates, Editor, Lessons in Lyrics, Memphis, TN:  Memphis School of Preaching, 1998, pp. 131-149.

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

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