Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hymns & Hymn Writers: Is Thy Heart Right With God by David R. Kenney

The song Is Thy Heart Right With God? was published in 1899.  Both the words and music are credited to E. A. Hoffman.    Hoffman has been credited with publishing 50 hymnbooks and composing some 2,000 hymns.  Some of these are very familiar to us:  Are You Washed In the Blood?, Glory To His Name, I Must Tell Jesus, Is Thy Heart Right With God?, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, and To Christ Be Loyal And Be True.  According to, Is Thy Heart Right With God? is the fifth most popular song in their database of over 5,000 hymnals.
Elisha Albright Hoffman (1839-1929), Lyricist & Composer
Elisha Albright Hoffman was born May 7, 1839 in Orwigsburg, PA to parents of German descent.  He was reared in a Presbyterian home, and he attended Union Seminary in New Berlin, PA.  His father was a Presbyterian minister, and Elisha followed that example becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister in 1868.  He never attended music school, but he did learn from his parents the art of music.  He held the opinion that singing was to the soul what breathing was to the body.  Incidentally, I have found no record of his using an instrument in worship but reference to “sacred music” when researching about his life.  The term a capella is often referred to as “sacred music” by early sources because the term means “in the style of the chapel (or church)”.  Not all Presbyterians used instruments in worship, and some still do not do so today.  The earliest record of acceptance of the instrument in worship in the Presbyterian Church is 1863.  Even to this day, there are several religious groups which do not use instruments in worship, including some branches of the Presbyterian Church; e.g., the Reformed Presbyterian.  Hoffman did a lot of publishing work in Cleveland, Ohio with the Evangelical Association (also known as Albright Brethren), and he preached for congregations around Cleveland and Grafton, Ohio.  He also worked with Presbyterians in Michigan, but then finished up his life in Illinois.  His first wife’s name was Susan, and they had three boys.  She died at the age of 34.  He remarried to a woman named Emma and he had an additional son from this marriage.  Elisha Albright Hoffman died on November 25, 1929 in Chicago, IL at the age of 89. He was buried in Oak Woods Cemetery.
Is Thy Heart Right With God?
The wise man wrote “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NKJV.)  The wisest man said “…Are you also still without understanding?  Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?  But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (Matthew 15:16-20, NKJV.)  We must examine the matters of the heart!  Too many are too careless in these matters!
One wonders if people ever give thought to whether or not their hearts are truly right with God’s will?  Take music in worship for example.  The introduction to instrumental music was not until the 10th to 12th century, hundreds of years after the first century church; but the Protestants rejected such in the early days of the Reformation.  How did the Protestants come to reject mechanical instruments in making music to the Lord?  They recognized that the early church not only did not use them in worship, but later historical works show great opposition to their use.  For example, consider this statement from the 4th century: “"[I]n blowing on the tibia [pipes] they puff out their cheeks … they lead obscene songs … they raise a great din with the clapping of scabella [a type of foot percussion]; under the influence of which a multitude of other lascivious souls abandon themselves to bizarre movements of the body" (As quoted by Elesha Coffman, “When did churches start using instrumental music?”, 8 August, 2008.).  So statements from one of the founders of Presbyterianism, John Calvin, such as this one are of no surprise:  “For even now, if believers choose to cheer themselves with musical instruments, they should, I think, make it their object not to dissever their cheerfulness from the praises of God. But when they frequent their sacred assemblies, musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews.”  Protestants, as their name suggested, “protested” the departures of the modern church of their day from the primitive church of the apostles’ day.  Their hearts were determined to follow the teaching of the Bible much as we do today.  Whose hearts are being followed when churches decide to introduce instruments into worship?  Are such innovations to warm their hearts or God’s heart?
For one to have his heart right with God means his heart’s desire is to follow God’s will.  David was a man after God’s own heart because he sought to follow God and have God’s heart.  He was not perfect, but to be a person after God’s own heart is the highest of endeavors.  Are you following God’s heart or your own?  Some may say they are satisfied with their salvation, but have they given any thought to whether or not God will be satisfied with them?  If they have not been immersed into Christ, then they have not put on Christ; cf. Galatians 3:27.  How can anyone possibly believe their heart without being clothed with Christ through baptism will please God’s heart who gave His Son that they may be saved in Christ through baptism?  Is your heart truly right with God?
V. E. Howard, Editor, and Broadus E. Smith, Associate Editor, Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, Texarkana, TX:  Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.
John P. Wiegand, Editor, Praise for the Lord, Nashville, TN:  Praise Press, 1997.

No comments: