“My Precious Bible”

"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away" (Matt. 24.35)

     INTRO.: A hymn which extols the scriptures where the words of Christ which shall never pass away are recorded is "My Precious Bible" (#503 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Henry Burns Hartzler, about whom I have been able to locate very little information.  His name is mentioned in connection with Wesley Matthias Stanford, who "was an American Bishop of the United Evangelical Church (predecessor to the United Methodist Church), elected in 1891," in Wikipedia, which says, "In 1882 Rev. Stanford was called to be the Associate Editor of The Evangelical Messenger, the official English-language periodical of his denomination, with offices in Cleveland, Ohio. He served in this position until 1888. His Chief Editor was the Rev. H. B. Hartzler, who afterwards became one of Mr. D. L. Moody’s co-workers in the great training schools at Northfield, Massachusetts (Hartzler also, later, becoming a Bishop of the Evangelical Association)." There was a link in this article to H. B. Hartzler, but when I clicked on it I found, "Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact title. Please search for Henry Burns Hartzler in Wikipedia to check for alternative titles or spellings….If you expected a page to be here, it has probably been deleted." A couple of other sources mentioned that in 1894 Hartzler wrote a book, Moody in Chicago, Or, The World’s Fair Gospel Campaign: An Account of Six Month’s Evangelistic Work in the City of Chicago and Vicinity During the Time…by Dwight L. Moody and His Associates, and that in 1902 he was ordained a bishop in the United Methodist Church.

     The only other reference I found was a poem by Hartzler from The Evangelical that was copied in The Christian Conservator (United Brethren Publications) of Huntington, IN, on May 8, 1918 (Vol. XXXII, No. 31; p. 15), entitled "My ‘Mother’s Day.’"
Just thirty years ago this day, this "Mother’s Day,"
When duty’s urgent voice had called me far away,
There came a message from my childhood home that said,
"Your mother’s dead!" I hear it yet–"Your mother’s dead!"
I came. She did not rise to greet me a before;
She did not come to meet me at the open door.
The weary hands lay still upon her pulseless breast:
I knew at last the dear old mother was at rest.
But this I knew, that she who loved me so,
Was living, loving still in love’s rich overflow:
For I had heard again my Lord’s triumphant cry:
"All they that live, believing Me, shall never die."
Not of the dead but of the living He is God,
Though now awhile their bodies lie beneath the sod.
Oh, no! she is not dead! She only went away!
Not on a furlough, to retrace the toilsome way,
For all her work was done. She want away to stay.
That was my "Mother’s Day"–her Coronation Day!
Another of Hartzler’s songs which has appeared in some of our books is "Riches of Love" beginning, "The treasures of earth are not mine."

     The tune was composed by Edmund Simon Lorenz (1854-1942). Born at North Lawrence near Canal Fulton in Stark County, OH, of Adventist parents who emigrated from Messer, near Saratow Russia, to be missionaries to German immigrants in Ohio, he was educated in Toledo, OH, public schools. After graduation from high school there, he taught school for a time and then attended Otterbein University, Union Biblical Seminary, Yale Theological Seminary, and the University of Leipzig. At the age of 20, he was music editor of Hymns of the Sanctuary and Social Worship, which was the first United Brethren hymnbook with tunes. From 1884 to 1886 Lorenz was minister with the High St. United Brethren Church in Dayton, OH, and from 1886 to 1888 was President of Lebanon Valley College in Annville, PA. Leaving church and college work because of failing health, he returned to Dayton and in 1890 founded the music publishing firm of Lorenz and Company, where he edited some forty collections of sacred music, including many songs for which he provided words or music or both. Several of these have found their way into our books, including "Tell It To Jesus," "The Name of Jesus," "Thou Thinkest, Lord, of Me," "Give Me the Bible," "(Come, Let Us All Unite To Sing,) God Is Love," "So Tender, So Precious," "Wonderful Love of Jesus," "Are You Ready? (Soon the Evening Shadows Falling)," and "I’m a Pilgrim." "My Precious Bible" song was first published by Lorenz in Heavenly Carols, but I have been unable to find a date for it, although it may have been in 1878.

     Lorenz lived to see his publishing company become one of America’s largest and most influential publishers of church music, and he remained active in its operation until shortly before his death at the age of 88.  The Lorenz Corporation still exists on E. 3rd St. in Dayton, OH, and celebrated its centennial in 1990. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use among churches of Christ, this song appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) and the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, it can be found only in Sacred Selections and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The song identifies the Bible as a source of great cheer and aid for the Christian.

I. Stanza 1 calls it a star
"Like a star in the morning in its beauty,
Like a sun is the Bible to my soul,
Shining clear on the way of love and duty,
As I hasten on my journey to the goal."
 A. Jesus Christ is "the bright and morning star": Rev. 22.16
 B. Jesus Christ is also the "Sun of Righteousness": Mal. 4.2
 C. The light of Jesus Christ shines to us "on the way of love and duty" in the gospel: 2 Cor. 4.4

II. Stanza 2 calls it a light
"’Tis a light in the wilderness of sorrow,
And a lamp on the weary pilgrim way;
And it guides to the bright, eternal morning,
Shining more and more unto the perfect day."
 A. The word of God is given as a lamp to our feet and a light to our pathway: Ps. 119.105
 B. The reason that we need such a light to guide our feet is that as pilgrims we are travelling a weary way in this life: 1 Pet. 2.11-12
 C. The idea of needing a light while travelling a path implies that there is a goal toward which we are journeying, which is the "eternal morrow" of "the perfect day" where we shall receive eternal life: Prov. 4.18, Matt. 7.13-14

III. Stanza 3 calls it a voice
"’Tis the voice of a friend forever near me,
In the toil and the battle here below;
In the gloom of the valley it will cheer me,
Till the glory of His kingdom I shall know."
 A. Through the scriptures, we hear the voice of Christ: Matt. 17.5, Heb. 1.1-2
 B. This voice will be near us in the toil and battle here below as we fight the good fight of the faith: 1 Tim. 6.12
 C. And as we journey through the gloomy valleys of this life, it will cheer us until the glory of His kingdom we shall know, which undoubtedly refers to the eternal kingdom of God in heaven: 2 Pet. 1.11

IV. Stanza 4 calls it eternal
"It shall stand in its beauty and its glory,
When the earth and the heavens pass away;
Every telling the blessed, wondrous story
Of the loving Lamb, the only Living Way."
 A. God’s word, like all His works, will stand fast in its glory and beauty: Ps. 111.8
 B. Unlike the grass, the flowers, the glory of man, and even the earth and the heavens, all of which shall pass away, the word of God will endure forever: 1 Pet. 1.24-25
 C. And it will ever tell its blessed story of the "Lamb of God" who is "the way, the truth, and the life": Jn. 1.28, 14.6

     CONCL.: The chorus continues to extol the majesty and beauty of the scriptures:
"Holy Bible! my precious Bible!
Gift of God, and lamp of life, my beautiful Bible!
I will cling to the dear old holy Bible,
As I hasten to the city of the King."
Given the number of older hymnbooks among us which included this song, it must have been fairly popular in days gone by, but it has not appeared in very many of our books, at least that I know of, which have been published in the latter part of the twentieth century. It is natural for songs which were beloved in former times to fade in use and give way to newer songs.  However, for a people whose claim and aim are to believe, preach, and practice only what is found in the inspired word of God, it would seem that we would want to sing more songs like "My Precious Bible."


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