The hymn “Seeking The Lost” was written in 1886. Some view the Parable of the Lost Sheep as inspiration for the writing of this hymn and this certainly fits the lyrics.
William Augustine Ogden (1841-1897), Lyricist & Composer
William Augustine Ogden was born October 10, 1841 in Franklin County, Ohio (the Columbus area where I was born too). His parents moved to Indiana when he was six years old. He showed music aptitude at age 8, and through singing schools he was able to sight read music by age 10. He would soon be writing words and music. He served in the 30th Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and fought in several major battles. He also organized a male choir which was well known in the Grand Army of the Republic.
He was trained in the Boston Music School under teachers such as Lowell Mason, Thomas Hastings, B. F. Baker, and others. He was known for composing sacred music including both lyrics and music. According to Hymnary.org, his most popular lyrics were for “Sweet Are the Promises, Kind is the Word”. He also published several songbooks beginning with his first Silver Song in 1870; which was a major success in the United States and England.
He taught music in several places in the United States and even in Canada. He was the Director of Music in Iowa starting in 1874, but he became the Superintendent of Music for the Toledo School System in 1887. He loved to teach music to children and taught thousands. Ogden died October 14, 1897 in Toledo, Ohio; and his funeral was considered the largest Toledo had ever seen at the time. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Toledo, Ohio. His wife, Jennie V. Ogden was also buried there with other members of the Ogden family including children: Edwin, Lowell, Percy, and Marian. Jennie was 47 when William Augustine Ogden died at the age of 58. She lived another 35 years.
Seeking The Lost
There are two types of lost souls. First are the ones who have never obeyed the gospel. Second are the ones who have obeyed the gospel but have wandered away. Notice the phrases: “Souls that are weak” and “Hearts that are sore” which suggests those who have gone astray. It is sad when people obey the gospel but somehow end up leaving the Lord and His church. It is extremely difficult work to get those who wander away from the Lord to return, but it is work we must do. Sadly, some allow members to leave their fold without even a word, which is disgraceful and adds another hurdle to getting these precious lost ones back. I have seen leadership allow people to leave without trying to exercise church discipline to get them back. They would shrug their shoulders stating the person “…had wandered off and maybe they will wander back.” Have these not read the Parable of the Lost Sheep?
We are expected to encourage those who have become discouraged; cf. Ephesians 4:12. Remember Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement”. This was not the name he was given at birth, but it was his name given to him by the apostles because of his work of encouragement. The song includes this message as well: “Cheering the faint and raising the fallen”. We all need to always do more in the way of speaking words of encouragement to others and not just the preacher (although he certainly can always use such.)
We spend so much effort to convince people to obey the gospel, but do we consider how important it is to keep them in the congregation? If you think converting them is difficult, try restoring them! This is what the Hebrew writer speaks of: “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NKJV.) Can a person be brought back? Is it literally “impossible”? One needs to keep the context in mind to see the “impossibility”. These cannot be brought back as long as they continue to rebel against Christ. Consider another translation on this passage to see the nature of “impossibility”: “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Hebrews 6:4-6, ESV). Notice the tense of “…since they are crucifying once again…” Wayne Jackson rightly noted: “Both of the expressions “crucify” and “put him to open shame” are present tense participles. In Greek, the present tense has more to do with the type of action, rather than time (the latter being secondary). The present tense represents an action that is in progress, and generally, one that is sustained…The “crucifying” and “putting to open shame,” therefore, represent on-going actions on the part of apostates.” It is only “impossible” in that we cannot restore those who continue in deliberate rebel against God. We certainly have a more difficult task in restoring the erring because these have already learned the good news and have left such behind to go back into the world. What “good news” are we going to share with them when this has happened that they don’t already know? What more motivation can we provide that they have not already heard? We need to remind them, and we need to warn them.
One of the more difficult assignments given to a new preacher is to have him go to restore the lost from the time prior to his tenure. Some consider this a “fool’s errand” because the preacher has no idea what the issues are and is at a tremendous disadvantage going in. It would be wise for a preacher who was given such a task to insist that senior men (preferably the elders if available) from the congregation go with him on this mission. May we do all that we can to seek and save the lost, including the ones who were once saved but have wandered back into the wilderness of sin. And a reminder to us, that we keep our hearts with all diligence since we have been warned: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1, NKJV.)
Burch, Aaron, “Seeking The Lost,” Bucyrus, OH: Annual West Virginia School of Preaching Lectureship, 12 November 2016.
Hall, J. H. Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1914.
Howard, V. E., and Broadus E. Smith, eds. Church Gospel Songs & Hymns. Texarkana, TX: Central Printers & Publishers, 1983.
Segars, James. “Seeking The Lost.” Lessons in Lyrics. Memphis, TN: Memphis School of Preaching, 1998, pp. 546-556.
Wiegand, John P., Editor. Praise for the Lord. Nashville, TN: Praise Press, 1997.