(picture of Mosie Lister)
“JUST A CLOSER WALK WITH THEE”
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and will preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18)
Introduction: A hymn which asks the Lord to go with us that He might preserve us unto His heavenly kingdom is “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” (#482 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #177 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is an anonymous American folk hymn, the source of which is unknown. The tune (Closer Walk) is a spiritual, the source of which is also unknown and which is considered an American folk song. Both are thought to be from African-American slave origins. In 1940 Kenneth Morris arranged and published for the first time the well-known version after gospel musicians Robert Anderson and R.L. Knowles listened to William B. Hurse direct a performance of it in Kansas City and then brought it to Morris’ attention. The arrangement in our book was made by Thomas Mosie Lister, who was born at Cochran, GA, on Sept. 8, 1921, the second son of Willis W. and Pearl Holland Lister, who were both musical and attempted to teach their son music at an early age on their farm in the Empire District of Dodge County. They placed the young Lister in the church choir, but soon discovered that he could not distinguish musical tones. Mosie grew up with people of minority groups. When he was nine, he began learning music theory from his father, who taught music as a hobby, and his family moved to a farm, where they lived until he was nineteen. At age twelve, he started taking violin lessons. His ear training abilities began to improve and by the time he was a teenager he was already studying harmony and composition.
At age sixteen, fresh out of high school, Lister tried to get into country music, having transferred his violin lessons into country fiddle and guitar. One of the top ranked fiddle players in Georgia, he was converted at age seventeen and turned his attention to gospel music, hoping to compose. In January, 1939, he traveled to the Vaughan School of Music in Lawrenceburg, TN, and studied harmony with Adger M. Pace and G. T. Speer to further his desire. After serving in the navy during World War II, he enrolled in Middle Georgia College where he continued to study harmony, counterpoint, arranging, piano and organ. His first involvement in a gospel quartet came in 1941, the same year that his first song was published, as a member with the Sunny South Quartet in Tampa, FL, which also included Jim “Big Chief” Wetherington; with whom he left to form the Melody Masters Quartet. In 1946 he met Wylene Whitten. They married that same year, moved to Atlanta, and in 1949 gave birth to identical twin daughters, Brenda and Barbara. In 1948, Hovie Lister (no relation) invited him to be the original lead singer for the Statesmen Quartet, but he eventually had to quit singing because of vocal problems. For three decades he held a number of different jobs in the music field including Gospel singer, songwriter, and arranger, and since 1955, has devoted his life to writing gospel songs and hymns. His own publishing firm, Mosie Lister Publications, founded in 1953, was merged with Lillenas Publishing Co. in 1969.
Other well-known songs by Lister include “Where No One Stands Alone,” “Till the Storm Passes By,” “Then I Met the Master,” “He Knows Just What I Need,” and “How Long Has It Been?” I have been unable to find a date or source of publication for his arrangement of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Once he said, “I think that God has directed my thoughts on certain occasions toward writing songs. I don’t think my songs would have gone as well as they have if God hadn’t directed. I prayed that God would use what talent I have to bring some blessing to other people.” Associated for the rest of his life with the Lillenas Publishing Company of Kansas City, MO, he became quite famous as a songwriter and arranger, and was also director of publications for the Faith Music Catalogue. Lister was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1976 and the Southern Gospel Music Association in 1997. His songs have been recorded by nearly every Southern Gospel artist. For many years he was the song director at the Riverside Baptist Church in Tampa, FL, then later became an ordained Baptist minister in Bradenton, FL. After Wylene’s death in 2001, he married Martha Jean Hunter in 2002, and they moved to Franklin, TN, where one of his daughters lived. As of 2014, Lister’s songs cataloged over 700 in numbers, with thousands more in arrangements. He died on February 12, 2015, aged 93.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, other arrangements of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” have been found, and in one form or another the song has appeared in the 1959 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater (in a 1948 arrangement by Jesse R. Baxter Jr.); the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch (Baxter arrangement); the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by Lloyd O. Sanderson (arrangement by the editor); the 1977 edition of the 1971 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise, all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons (Sanderson arrangement); The 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard (original edition arrangement by John T. Benson, revised edition choral arrangement by Kenneth Davis); the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand (Baxter arrangement); the 1997 new edition of the 1961 Best Loved Songs and Hymns edited by Ellis J. Crum (arrangement by Robert E. Winsett); the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs and Hymns and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert Taylor Jr. (latter with Baxter arrangement); and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections (latter with Baxter arrangement).
The song expresses the desire to have a closer walk with the Lord.
I. Stanza 1 says that the Lord will walk with us in weakness
I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong.
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, dear Lord, close to Thee.
- As human beings, we are weak: 2 Cor. 12:10, 13:4
- But Jesus is strong, and if we trust Him, He will help to keep us from all wrong: 1 Cor. 10:13
- Therefore, we can be satisfied as long as we’re drawing close to Him: Jas. 4:7-8
II. Stanza 2 says that the Lord will walk with us in toils and snares
Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
- Toils and snares refer to the trials and temptations of this life: Jas. 1:2, 12
- When we suffer these tribulations and falter, we may wonder if anyone cares: Ps. 142:3-4
- But we know that Jesus cares because He tells us to share our burden with Him: Ps. 55:22
III. Stanza 3 says that the Lord will walk with us in death
When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.
- Our feeble lives will be over at death: Heb. 9:27
- Then time will be no more because we’ll stand before God in judgment: 2 Cor. 5:10
- But if we’ve followed Christ faithfully, He’ll guide us to His eternal kingdom: 2 Pet. 1:10-11
IV. Robert E. Winsett added a Stanza 4 which says that the Lord will walk with us in heaven
When life’s sun sets in the west,
Lord, may I have done my best.
May I find sweet peace and rest,
In that home, glad home, of the blest.
- Life’s sun setting in the west is another figure to depict death: Jn. 9:4
- It should be our desire to do our best because only those who do the will of God will enter heaven: Matt. 7:21
- And if this is the case, we shall find sweet rest: Rev. 14:13
CONCL.: The chorus encourages us to seek a closer walk daily with the Lord.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
The paths which I must tread in this life on my way to eternity are often rugged and difficult. If it is my desire to go to heaven, I can’t make it on my own but need help. So it should be aim always to look to the Lord and say to Him that I need “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”