“Close to Thee”

"…Thou art my refuge and my portion…" (Ps. 142:5)

     INTRO.: A song which expresses the desire to be clost to HIm who is our refuge and our portion is "Close to Thee" (#114 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and # 36 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Frances (Fanny) Jane Crosby VanAlstyne, better known by her maiden name which she used professionally, Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915).  The tune was composed by Silas Jones Vail, who was born on Long Island, NY, on Oct. 5, 1818. By trade a hatter and a clerk, he worked as a
hatmaker in Danbury, CN, and then returned to New York City, NY, where he became a successful businessman. In addition, he maintained an avid interest in music as a hobby and was an amateur composer.

     Vail produced a number of hymn tunes, primarily for Phillip Phillips who was the first to publish Vail’s compositions, and was associated in editing several songbooks, including The Athenium Collection of 1863, which contained several previously unpublished songs by the famous American song writer Stephen Collins Foster. In 1874, Vail brought a new melody that he had composed to Fanny and requested that she provide words for it. When she had heard him play it on her piano several times, she said that the music of the chorus suggested to her the words, "Close to Thee, close to Thee, Then the gate of life eternal, May I enter, Lord, with Thee!"

     Miss Crosby immediately began reciting the stanzas, with Vail copying on paper, and they had the entire hymn completed in just a few minutes. It first appeared later that year in Songs of Grace and Glory for Sunday Schools, which Vail compiled for Horace Waters and Son in New York with William Fiske Sherwin (1826-1888). Later it became the property of Biglow and Main and came into popular use after it was included in Ira Sankey’s Gospel Hymns No. 2 of 1876. Another well known melody by Vail is that which is most often used in our books with "Purer, Yet and Purer," attributed to the famous German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Vail died in Brooklyn, NY, on May 20, 1884.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "Close To Thee" 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 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch.  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; 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 situations where we especially need the Lord close to us.

I. According to stanza 1, we need the Lord to walk close to us all along our pilgrim journey.
"Thou, my everlasting portion, More than friend or life to me,
All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee."
 A. Because Jesus Christ has proven Himself more than friend or even life to mankind, we should consider Him our everlasting portion: Psalm 16:5
 B. As we walk through this life, we are but pilgrims on a journey: 1 Peter 2:11
 C. Therefore, it should always be our desire to walk just as Christ walked: 1 John 2:6

II. According to stanza 2, we need the Lord to be close to us when we toil or suffer.
"Not for ease or worldly pleasure, Nor for fame my prayer shall be;
Gladly will I toil and suffer, Only let me walk with Thee."
 A. As we travel on our pilgrim journey, our prayer should never be for ease or worldly pleasure since the pleasures of life will choke out the influence of the word in our hearts: Luke 8:14
 B. Certainly, as pilgrims we shall be called upon to toil and suffer in this life: 1 Peter 4:16
 C. Yet, regardless of what happens in this life, we must remain close to Jesus by walking as children of light: Ephesians 5:8-9

III. According to stanza 3, we need the Lord to stay close to us as we travel the vale of shadows to life eternal.
"Lead me through the vale of shadows, Bear me o’er life’s fitful sea;
Then the gate of life eternal, May I enter, Lord, with Thee."
 A. The "vale of shadows" poetically refers to the valley of the shadow of death: Psalm 23:4-6
 B. Hence, being borne over life’s fitful sea would symbolize the actual time of death: Hebrews 9:27
 C. However, the Lord has promised to be with His people even as life comes to it end so that they can have eternal life with Him: 1 John 2:25

     CONCL.: The chorus reiterates the desire to be close to the Lord and then repeats the third and fourth lines of each stanza.
"Close to Thee, close to Thee, Close to Thee, close to Thee.
All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with Thee."
This beautiful hymn has touch the hearts of many who continually ask God’s guidance, saying, "I want to be ‘Close to Thee."


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