“My Faith Looks Up to Thee”

"Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…" (Heb. 12.2)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages our faith to look up to Jesus, the author and finisher of that faith, is "My Faith Looks Up To Thee" (#144 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #33 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Ray Palmer, who was born at Little Compton, RI, on Nov. 12, 1808, the son of Judge Thomas Palmer, who gave him his elementary education at home. Although a good student, because of family financial difficulties he was forced at age thirteen to discontinue his schooling and take a job for two years as a clerk at a dry goods store in Boston, MA, where he was a member of the Park St. Congregational Church. Later, he decided to become a minister, so he continued his education at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, and graduated from Yale University in 1830. To make money for the continuation of his ministerial studies, he taught at a private girls’ school in New York City, NY, associated with St. George’s Church.

     Later in 1830, the 22-year-old Palmer was living with the family of the lady who directed the school and having a very discouraging year because of battling illness and loneliness. One evening during the fall while studying and translating some German poetry, Palmer penned this poem in a small morocco-covered notebook which he always carried with him for just such purposes. It was never intended for publication but for private devotion. However, a couple of years later, he made a return visit to Boston and ran into his old friend from Park St. Congregational Church, composer Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason was publishing a hymnbook and asked Palmer to give him something for it. Palmer pulled out the notebook and showed Mason the verses that he had already set down.  The two men stepped into a nearby drug store so that Mason could jot down a copy. That very night, Mason composed the tune (Olivet).

     Mason was so excited about it that when he saw Palmer again a couple of days later, he said, "Mr. Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up To Thee.’" The song was first published later that year, 1832, in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship edited by Mason and Thomas Hastings (1784-1872). Three years later, Palmer went on to become a Congregationalist minister, serving in Bath, ME, from 1835 to 1850, and Albany, NY, from 1850 to 1865. Then he moved to New York City as corresponding secretary for the American Congregational Union. Also, he took an active interest in education and literature, writing for leading religious papers and publishing several collections of prose and poetry. Because of ill health, he retired in 1878 to Newark, NJ, where he died on Mar. 29, 1887. Mason was right about Palmer. He is best known today as the author of this much-sung hymn.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared 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; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; 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 1978/1983 (Church) Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; as well as Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     Why should we look up to Jesus?

I. According to stanza 1, He is the Lamb of Calvary
"My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine;
Now hear me while I pray, Take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day Be wholly Thine!"
 A. Just as a lamb was offered in Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus came to be the Lamb of Calvary: 1 Pet. 1.18-21
 B. Because He is the Lamb of Calvary, He has promised to hear our our prayers to the Father as our Mediator: 1 Tim. 2.5
 C. But even more, because He is the Lamb of Calvary, He is able to take away our sins: 1 Jn. 1.7

II. According to stanza 2, His grace is sufficient to give us strength
"May Thy rich grace impart Strength to my fainting heart, My zeal inspire;
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee
Pure, warm, and changeless be, A living fire!"
 A. Jesus Christ is the supreme embodiment of God’s grace: 2 Cor. 8.9
 B. And this grace is able to help us develop the strength that we need to serve God: Acts 20.32
 C. Therefore, like Paul, no matter what trials and tribulations we may face, the grace of Christ will help us bear our burdens if we put our faith in Him: 2 Cor. 12.7-9

III. According to stanza 3, He is our guide who provides us access to God
"While life’s dark maze I tread, And griefs around me spread, Be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, Wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray From Thee aside."
 A. While we tread life’s dark maze, Jesus makes it possible for us to have access to God by faith: Rom. 5.1-2
 B. Thus, He bids darkness turn to day and wipes sorrow’s tears away because of this access that He grants us: Eph. 2.12-13, 17-18
 C. And if we never stray from Him, He will continue to guide us in the right way so that we can maintain our access to God through Him: Eph. 3.10-12

IV. According to stanza 4, He will lead us to heaven above
"When ends life’s transient dream, And death’s cold, sullen stream Shall o’er me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, Fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, A ransomed soul."
 A. Someday, life’s transient dream will end in death: Heb. 9.27
 B. But even in death, Jesus has promised to be with us, so that He might remove fear and distrust, and the result of this is that those who die in the Lord have rest: Rev. 14.13
 C. Thus, when we put our faith completely in Jesus, as did the centurion, we can have the hope that at life’s end we can sit down with the saints of all ages in the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 8.5-11

     CONCL.: I have never figured out why so many of our more recent books have omitted the final stanza; perhaps, the omission began as just a space issue and was then copied into other books, but somehow the song seems a bit incomplete without it. Palmer once wrote of this hymn, "It had no external occasion whatever….It is well remembered that when writing the last line, ‘a ransomed soul,’ the thought that the whole work of redemption and salvation was involved in those words, and suggested the theme of eternal redemption, moved the writer to a degree of emotion that brought abundant tears." As we walk in this life, we should always turn in our hearts to Jesus and say, "My Faith Looks Up To Thee."


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