Saturday, August 5, 2017

Hymns & Hymn Writers: Beauty for Ashes by David R. Kenney

The song “Beauty for Ashes,” according to Church Gospel Songs & Hymns, was written by Grant Colfax Tullar in 1948 and copyrighted that year by the Gospel Advocate Company.  According to Praise for the Lord, that copyright was renewed in 1976.  Copyright law is complicated.  Prior to 1978, it was common for a song to have its copyright renewed after 28 years.  If the song had been copyrighted after 1978, then there would be no need for renewal of copyright since the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation (whichever expires first.)  It was explained to me that to use a hymn on a TV program, it had to pass a two-part test:  (1) the copyright of the one who wrote the hymn, and (2) the performance of the hymn that I wanted to use.  And people claim the Bible is hard to figure out!

Grant Colfax Tullar (1869-1950), Lyricist & Composer

Grant Colfax Tullar was born in Bolton, Connecticut on August 5, 1869.  His first name came from President Ulysses Grant, and his middle name was from Grant’s Vice President, Schuyler Colfax.   Of course naming a child after a President was not new, but one wonders how many children’s first and middle name come from the President and Vice President’s names?  His father fought in the Civil War and was among the wounded at Antietam, which was one of the bloodiest conflicts in the War.  His mother died when he was but 2 years old.  He had no formal education and worked in the mills and as a shoe clerk.  He became a Methodist when he was 19 years old at a camp meeting.  He would go on for training to become a Methodist minister at Hackettstown Academy which he did for about 10 years.  In 1893 he co-founded the Tullar-Meredith Publishing Company of New York where they published several gospel hymns and hymnbooks.  There is no record of him marrying or having any children.  Tullar died May 20, 1950 in Ocean Grove, New Jersey and is buried in Restland Memorial Park in Hanover, New Jersey.  So we know the hymn was from near the end of his life.

Tullar wrote both the lyrics and the music which appear in some of our hymns.  He wrote the music for “Face to Face” and “Nailed to the Cross”.  Beauty for Ashes has a meter of 99.99, and the tune is entitled TULLAR.  It is believed that L. O. Sanderson secured this song as the Music Editor for the Gospel Advocate.  The song is believed to have first appeared in their 1948 Christian Hymns, No. 2, and it also appears in Christian Hymns, No. 3 in 1966.

Beauty for Ashes

With the song is a scripture reference of Isaiah 61:3 which reads:  “To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes ,the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3 NKJV)  Notice the contrasts:  beauty|ashes, joy|mourning, and praise|heaviness.  It was not uncommon for those weeping to wear sackcloth and sit in ashes and pour ashes over themselves.  Jeremiah wrote Lamentations which was a funeral for the destruction of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the Babylonians.  He included this phrase:  “Those who ate delicacies are desolate in the streets; those who were brought up in scarlet embrace ash heaps.” (Lamentations 4:5 NKJV)  Ashes denote total loss and intense grief. We have different ways of expressing grief. 

The two verses prior to this, Isaiah 61:1–2, were quoted as being fulfilled by Jesus (cf. Luke 4:18–21).  There is no doubt that Jesus is applying these words forward to the ministry He had begun.  There is no doubt that many spiritual blessings reside in being a member of the Lord’s church.  That being said, not all the spiritual blessings reside in the church alone on the earth.  To be clear, all spiritual blessings are found in Christ alone, but we will receive spiritual blessings both in the church here and ultimately in heaven where Christ reigns from.

The Lord had made great promises to the children of Israel when they were about to enter the promised land of Canaan and these promises were conditional (cf. Deuteronomy 31:19–21).  The generation that came out of Egypt perished in the wilderness because of their breaking of the condition of faithfulness.  Now, their descendants were about to enter and they were given the same condition of faithfulness to keep the precious land.  God worked with them through many ups-and-downs including a cycle of apostasy recorded in the book of Judges.  They would eventually lose the land at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians because of violation to the condition of faithfulness.  There would come a time when they would be allowed to return and rebuild, but their unfaithfulness would still cost them the land with the rejection of the Messiah. 

The Bible talks about a rest to come:  “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.  For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.  For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.”  (Hebrews 4:1–3 NKJV)  What “rest” is the Hebrew writer speaking of?  Canaan?  No.  I believe the Hebrew writer is talking about Heaven, not Canaan.    The ultimate rest is in Heaven where the redeemed ones of Heaven go to live eternally evermore. 

Some quote 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”(NKJV) but fail to notice that this has been revealed:  “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10 NKJV)  Some state that these matters do not relate to Heaven as these have been revealed; however, could it not be that just because something has been revealed it has not been realized fully?  Among the last words written by the apostle Paul were:  “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6–8 NKJV)  Certainly sounds like the apostle Paul had hopes greater than life here on this planet! 

The chosen people of the Old Testament failed to achieve the full blessings God had in store for them because they failed to remain faithful.  The chosen people of the New Testament, Christians, must remain faithful if they are to achieve the full blessings that God has in store for us.  How God accomplishes these matters is difficult to explain, and I do not understand these matters myself. I do know this–I do not want to miss what the Lord has provided for His people!


“Grant Colfax Tullar 1869-1950,” No pages. Cited 27 May 2017. Online:

Hamrick, David, “Beauty for Ashes,” No pages. Cited 27 May 2017. Online:

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

Hans DePold “Grant Tullar, Music Publisher,” Bolton, CT: Bolton Historical Society, No pages. Cited 27 May 2017. Online:

Sanderson, L. O., Editor. Christian Hymns Number Two. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1948.

Sanderson, L. O., Editor. Christian Hymns Number Three. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Company, 1966.

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

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