“Nearer, Still Nearer”

"And I…will draw all men unto Me" (Jn. 12.32)

     INTRO.: A hymn which expresses the desire that Jesus would draw us nearer to Himself is "Nearer, Still Nearer" (#125 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #144 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Morris or Still Nearer) was composed both by Lelia Naylor (Mrs. Charles H.) Morris, who was born at Pennsville in Morgan County, OH, on Apr. 15, 1862. Shortly after her father’s return from the Civil War in 1866 when she was four years old, the family moved to nearby Malta, OH, where she grew up. After the death of her father, she, her mother, and a sister opened a small millinery shop in McConnellsville, OH, just across the Muskingum River from Malta, and spent most of her adult life there. Her family had been members of the Methodist Protestant Church, but upon her marriage to Charles H. Morris in 1881, she became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church with her husband.

     In the 1890s, Mrs. Morris began producing gospel songs with both words and music.l In these early efforts she was greatly encouraged and assisted by publisher Henry Lake Gilmour, author of "The Haven of Rest."  She had first met him at a camp meeting in Mountain Lake Park, MD. One of her first songs to come out of this experience, and still a most popular one, was "Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart," with the opening line, "If you are tired of the load of your sin." Other hymns followed, and "Nearer, Still Nearer" first appeared in the Pentecostal Praises Hymnal published by the Hall-Mack Co. of Philadelphia, PA, and edited by Gilmour and William James Kirkpatrick. Credited with over 1000 hymn texts and most of the tunes, she produced many songs which are still in common use and appear in our books, such as "Sweet Will of God," "I Know God’s Promise Is True," and "Sweeter Than The Years Go By."

     Mrs. Morris was a frequent attendant at various other camp meetings, such as Old Camp Sychar in Mt. Vernon, OH, and Sebring Camp in Sebring, OH, as well as others. In 1913, when she was in her 50s, her eyesight began to fail, so her son built a large blackboard, 28 feet long, with music staff lines on it to help her continue her songwriting. However, within a year, her eyesight was gone. Yet she was able to continue writing music with the help of several devoted friends. In 1928, about a year before her death, she and her husband moved to Auburn, OH, to live with a daughter, Mrs. R. W. Funk, and Mrs. Morris died there on July 23, 1929.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ This song has appeared in a large number, including 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 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson. 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; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     It suggests several ingredients that are essential to being near the Savior.

I. In the first stanza, we learn that we must have a desire to be close to His breast
"Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Savior—so precious Thou art!
Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast.
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.”
 A. The Lord wants us to draw near to Him: Jas. 4.8
 B. Surely, it should be the aim of every lover of God to have the Lord close to him: Ps. 145.18
 C. And those who thus draw near are sheltered in the haven of rest: Ps. 61.3

II. In the second stanza, we learn that we must look for the cleansing that Jesus’ blood brings
"Nearer, still nearer, nothing I bring,
Naught as an offering to Jesus, my King;
Only my sinful, now contrite heart.
Grant me the cleansing Thy blood doth impart."
 A. Nothing that we can bring could be an offering that would atone for sin: Tit. 3.5
 B. The only thing we have to bring is our sinful, contrite hearts–contrite means penitent: Lk. 13.3
 C. And when we thus come to the Lord, we can have the cleansing that Christ’s blood makes available: Rev. 1.5

III. In the third stanza, we learn that we must determine to resign the follies of sin
"Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be Thine!
Sin, with its follies, I gladly resign,
All of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
Give me but Jesus, my Lord, crucified."
 A. To resign means to abhor and abstain from: Rom. 12.9, 1 Thess. 5.21-22, Tit. 2.10-11
 B. But it is not enough just to renounce sin itself–we also need to renounce all its pleasure, pomp, and price–compare the attitude of David: Ps. 19.12-14
 C. Instead, we should seek only Jesus, our Lord crucified: 1 Cor. 2.2

IV. In the fourth stanza, we learn that we must long for that harbor where our anchor is cast
"Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last.
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee!"
 A. There is no greater motivation to be near the Lord than the hope of a home with Him in heaven–that is why our anchor is cast within the veil: Heb. 6.18-20
 B.That hope is of endless ages or eternal life with the Lord: 1 Jn. 2.25
 C. And we know that when we get to heaven, we shall surely be nearer the Lord because we shall be in His very presence: Rev. 21.22-23

     CONCL.: There is always a danger of being involved in a lot of activity, even "religious," that really does not draw us close to God.  But the true disciple will want to be  continually developing a closer relationship with his God. Therefore, we should emply the spiritual means which God has provided for us in His word so that we can be drawn "Nearer, Still Nearer."


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