“We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations”

"Go ye therefore and teach all nations…" (Matt. 28:19)

     INTRO.: A song which encourages us to go therefore and teach all nations is "We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations." The text was written, under the penname Colin Sterne, and the tune (Message) was composed both by Henry Ernest Nichol, who was born at Hull in Yorkshire, England, on Dec. 10, 1862. Originally intending to become a civil engineer, he abandoned this desire to study music. After receiving his Bachelor of Music Degree from Oxford University in 1888, he produced a large number of melodies, around 130, the majority of which were mainly for Sunday school anniversary services. For those in which he also provided thewords, he used the pseudonym "Colin Sterne," which is a rearrangement of the letters in his name. "We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations" was first published at London, England, in The Sunday School Hymnary of 1896. Nichol died near Hull at Skirlaugh on Aug. 30, 1926 (some authorities give the year as 1928).

     This was apparently a very popular "missionary hymn" among denominational churches in past years, typical of the hundreds that were penned to express the determined, dynamic, energetic, and expansive attributes of late nineteenth-century "Christian missions." However, songs like this have become "anathema" to many in the modern religious world because they imply that salvation can be obtained only through hearing the preaching of the gospel of Christ. Consider what the editor of the Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (1993) said of this hymn as he referred to its "underlying theme of condescension whereby in preaching our superior story about our superior religion and civilization we will render their inferior story, hearts, and civilization as ours–superior." The greatest sin in some denominations (and even with some brethren) today must be "exclusiveness." Yet, Jesus still said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; and no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  That is the whole point of the song!

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, this song has not been well-known. The only one of which I am aware to have included it was the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson. One reason for this lack of inclusion is perhaps the premillennial implications of the chorus, which originally read, "For the darkness shall turn to dawning, And the dawning to noonday bright, And Christ’s great kingdom shall come to earth, The kingdom of Love and Light." Sanderson changed it to the form that is used below. Sanderson also made other changes in both the stanzas and the music, apparently so that it would be different enough for him to copyright the arrangement. However, none of those alterations materially affect the thought, so I shall give the original form of the stanzas.

     This song is designed to motivate God’s people to sound forth the word of God.

I. Stanza 1 calls it a story
"We’ve a story to tell to the nations
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and gladness,
A story of peace and light,  A story of peace and light."
 A. This story is designed to turn men’s hearts to the right (cf. Acts 8.21) because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: Rom. 3.23
 B. It is a story of truth, because only the truth of Jesus Christ can make us free: Jn. 8.32
 C. It is also a story of peace, because true peace can be found only through the cross of Christ: Col. 1.20

II. Stanza 2 calls it a song
"We’ve a song to be sung to the nations
That shall lift their hearts to the Lord;
A song that shall conquer evil,
And shatter the spear and sword,  And shatter the spear and sword."
 A. This song is designed to lift men’s hearts to the Lord that they might come to Him for rest: Matt. 11.28-30
 B. It is a song that shall conquer evil because it prompts people to turn away from evil: 1 Pet. 3.11
 C. It shall also shatter the spear and sword because it does not use carnal weapons: 2 Cor. 10.3-5

III. Stanza 3 calls it a message
"We’ve a message to give to the nations,
That the Lord who reigneth above
Hath sent us His Son to save us,
And shows us that God is love, And shows us that God is love."
 A. This message comes from the Lord who reigns above, our Father in heaven: Matt. 6.9-10
 B. The message tells us that He has sent His Son to save us: Matt. 1.21, Lk. 2.11
 C. The message also shows us that God is love: Jn. 3.16

IV. Stanza 4 identifies it as being about the Savior
"We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
Who the path of sorrow has trod,
That all of the world’s great peoples
Might come to the truth of God, Might come to the truth of God."
 A. This Savior became flesh and trod the path of sorrow for us: Jn. 1.14, 1 Pet. 2.21
 B. His purpose in this was to seek and save the lost of all the world’s great peoples: Lk. 19.10
 C. The ultimate aim of seeking souls was to bring them back to God through reconciliation: 2 Cor. 5.17-21

     CONCL.: The chorus (as altered by Sanderson) reminds us of the great blessings that are available to those who receive the word of God:
"The darkness has turned to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
For Christ’s great kingdom has come to earth–
The kingdom of love and light."
No, salvation will not be found in "Western Civilization," but then it will not be found in "Eastern Culture" either, or in any aspect of purely human wisdom. It will be found only in Jesus Christ. Therefore, as those who have accepted the truth of God’s message through Jesus Christ, "We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations."


9 thoughts on ““We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations”

  1. God brought this song to my memory. I believe I last sang this song as a child and I am now 54 years old. I only could remember a bit of a phrase, thinking something will turn and "the nations shall turn" .Thank you for the website so that I could find this!! I was thinking today when missionaries from the Ukraine came to the church – "the heart of God" and they were speaking of their mission to help the widows, the orphans, even abandoned dogs in the Ukraine, and the oppressed in any form. They also spoke of prayer as our primary way to do and be what God wants, to build the kingdom and bring people to salvation. What a great God we have. I believe this was the song God was bringing to my mind as I am struggling to find out where He is leading me.

  2. This song was published in the 1975 Baptist Hymnal #281 as a resurgence of mission emphasis.
    And the gospel must first be published among all nations. Mark 13:10

  3. This song just says what Simeon said when he held the Christ-child, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32) Jesus is the only Savior of all the world!

  4. Having just commited to a missionary trip with my church to Malawi, SA, a tune came to my head one AM as I was preparing to shower. Much to my JOY, I looked it up on the Internet and found this tune. Having been a young Girls Auxiliary in the 50’s I believe this was God’s confirmation of my pending journey to take the Gospel to the nation of Malawi. This article is beautiful and I will use it in my devotional time prior to leaving.

  5. This hymn also was published in the 1992 Baptist Hymnal as well as its trade version, “The Christian Praise Hymnal.”

  6. This is something we still sing at church, with a missionary minded person choosing hymns. It is also in ‘Golden Bells’, ‘Mission Praise’ and ‘The [Anglican] Book of Common Prayer’. After reading this, I plan to use this for my next hymn talk.

  7. As a former Pretribulational Premillennist, I must disagree that this Hymn is premillennial; on the contrary, the wording seems to me to be postmillennial. As you know, this view was popular in the 19th and 20 centuries. The Hymn gives the idea that the world is getting better and better. Premillennialists say that the world is getting worse prior to the Second Coming. B.H. Carroll, Founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a Postmillennial Baptist. I do not know which view of the Second Coming I accept; however, I know he is coming. Until then, we must walk the vail with Him. It would be nice to be one of those of His Body who meet Him in the air. For I know whom I have believed.

    God bless all here.

    Charles Miller, BA in German, MA in Religion

    • You may well be right. I probably should have simply said that the hymn showed signs of millennialism. Churches of Christ, with a few exceptions, would by and large fall into the general category of “amillennialists.”

  8. In the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal of 1939, Hymn #158 the phrase in the first stanza “A story of truth and gladness” is changed to “A story of truth and sweetness”. In the Methodist Hymnal of 1932, 1935, & 1939, Hymn #501. The phrase in the first stanza ” A story of truth and gladness” is changed to “A story of truth and mercy”. Both of these hymnals were published after the reunification of the Methodist Church with the Methodist Episcopal Church South and prior to the Methodist Church uniting with the United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church. Both of these hymnals are still in use in my church which was consecrated in 1895 in southern West Virginia ass First Methodist Episcopal Church, South of Williamsburg, W.Va., now known as Iaeger, W. Va.


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