"FATHER, WHATE’ER OF EARTHLY BLISS"
"Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word" (Ps. 119.67)
INTRO.: A hymn which asks God to help us keep His word even in times of affliction is "Father, Whate’er of Earthly Bliss." The text was written by Anne Steele, who was born at Broughton in Hampshire, England, in 1716. The daughter of William Steele, a timber merchant and minister of the Baptist Church at Broughton, she seems to have developed a taste for literature when she was quite young and began to write poetry, though she never published any until she was 41 using the pseudonym "Theodosia." During her childhood, she had an accident that made her a semi-invalid throughout life, and her health was further diminshed by the fact that when still fairly young, she was engaged to a Mr. Elscourt who, on the wedding day a few hours before the ceremony, went down to the river for a bath, got in over his head, and drowned.
Some of her poems were published in Richard Steele’s Spectator, and her father wrote in his diary, "This day, Nanny sent part of her composition to London, to be printed….I pray God to make it useful and keep her humble." Taken from a poem of ten four-line stanzas entitled "Desiring Resignation and Thankfulness" beginning, "When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene," this hymn was first published in her 1760 Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, Vol. I. The original first stanza of the hymn (eighth of the poem) read, "And, oh, whate’er of earthly bliss." The selection of three stanzas and arrangement of the hymn were done by Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778). This version was first published in his 1776 Psalms and Hymns.
For the last nine years of her life, Anne was confined to her chamber and died in Hampshire on Nov. 11, 1778. Regarded as one of the first English women hymn writers, Miss Steele, who is credited with some 144 hymns, was a good third to Watts and Doddridge in Dissenting church hymnbooks, and her life of suffering, along with a general atmosphere of tenderness, trust, and communion with Christ characterize her works. The tune (Naomi) to which this hymn is usually set is attributed to Johann Hans Georg Nageli (1768-1836). It must have first appeared sometime in the early 1830’s, perhaps around 1832. The arrangement was made by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). He is sometimes identified as the composer. It was first published in his 1836 Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song was found in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in 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 1986 Great Songs Revised, edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord, edited by John P. Wiegand; and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The hymn is a request for God’s blessings during trials and tribulations.
I. Stanza 1 asks God to hear our prayers
"Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace Let this petition rise."
A. There certainly are occasions when God’s sovereign will may deny earthly bliss because His people live on a sin-cursed earth where life is often full of trouble: Job 14.1
B. However, Christians have the assurance that they may come to the throne of grace for help: Heb. 4.16
C. In so doing, we can make our petitions and requests made known in prayer: Phil. 4.6-7
II. Stanza 2 asks God to give us a calm and thankful heart
"Give me a calm, a thankful heart, From every murmur free;
The blessings of Thy grace impart, and let me live to Thee."
A. God wants us to live without murmuring: Phil. 2.14
B. This we can do when we realize that whatever happens to us in this life, we can have the spiritual blessings that He makes available in Christ: Eph. 1.7
C. We also need to ask His help in living our lives by faith to the Son of God who died for us: Gal. 2.20
III. Stanza 3 asks God to be with us even in death
"Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine, And crown my journey’s end."
A. God has given us a sweet hope of life after death: 1 Pet. 1.3-5
B. Therefore, we can determine that both in life and death Christ will be magnified: Phil. 1.20
C. And by living such a life, we can have the assurance that God will crown us at our journey’s end: 2 Tim. 4.6-8
CONCL.: The only other hymn attributed to Anne Steele that has appeared in our books is "To Our Redeemer’s Glorious Name," but that one is also sometimes attributed to another hymnwriter, Harriet Binney Steele. Another hymn by Anne Steele that has survived in some books is "Father of mercies, in thy word." She obviously experienced a lot of suffering in her life, but through her words we can understand that trust in God and communion with Christ are far more important than any suffering that we may experience in our lives as we might pray, "Father, Whate’er Of Earthly Bliss."