“Near to the Heart of God”


“Keep silence before Me…and let the people renew their strength; let them come near” (Isa. 41:1)

INTRO.:  A hymn which encourages us to renew our strength by coming near to the Lord is “Near To The Heart Of God” (#271 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #163 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written and the tune (McAfee) was composed both by Cleland Boyd McAfee, who was born at Ashley, MO, on Sept. 25, 1866.  After graduating from Park College, Parkville, MO, in 1844, he then studied at Union Theological Seminary.  After this he returned to Park College to teach and also served as minister at the College Church.  From there, he moved to work as minister with the large 41st St. (now First) Presbyterian Church in Chicago, IL, from 1901 to 1904.  This hymn was written in 1901, just after the death of his two little nieces from diphtheria.  This tragic event brought great sorrow to his heart and led him to produce a song about being near to the heart of God to bring consolation.

In the midst of his grief, McAfee, perhaps with a few friends (some sources say the Park College choir), first sang it with choking voice just outside the darkened house of his brother Howard, which was still under quarantine, on the day of the double funeral as a comfort for his family.  The following Sunday, it was sung at the church service.  After another brother, Lapsley, carried it back to the First Presbyterian Church of Berkley, CA, where he preached, McAfee submitted the hymn to the Lorenz Publishing Company of Dayton, OH, and it was first published in The Choir Leader, Oct. 1903, edited by Edmund Simon Lorenz (1854-1942).  Since then, it has continued to be a source of great encouragement to people everywhere.

From 1904 to 1912, McAfee served as minister at the Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY, but in 1912 returned to Chicago and became professor of systematic theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, where he served until 1930, when he was elected secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, working there until 1936.  Known as an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, and the author of a number of books, he retired from the Board in 1936 and made his home at Jaffrey, NH, but remained active in writing, lecturing, preaching, and teaching until his death there on Feb. 4, 1944.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Near to the Heart of God” has appeared in the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by Lloyd O. Sanderson; 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 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church originally edited by Elmer L. Jorgenson; the 1978 Hymns of Praise edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

Today McAfee is best remembered for this one simple, unassuming hymn of devotion.

I. According to stanza 1, we should draw near to God’s heart because it is a place of quiet rest

There is a place of quiet rest,

Near to the heart of God.

A place where sin cannot molest,

Near to the heart of God.

A. Jesus offers rest to those who will come to Him and be near to God: Matt. 11:28-30

B. Of course, sin is the problem which keeps people separate from God: Isa. 59:1-2

C. However, when we are near to the heart of God, sin cannot molest because He will help us to resist the devil and keep from sin: Jas. 4:8-9

II. According to stanza 2, we should draw near to God’s heart because it is a place of comfort sweet

There is a place of comfort sweet,

Near to the heart of God.

A place where we our Savior meet,

Near to the heart of God.

A. God offers comfort to those who will draw near to Him: Ps. 94:18-19

B. This comfort is given through Jesus Christ who is the Savior: 1 Jn. 4:14

C. And it is by remaining near to the heart of God that we maintain fellowship with the Savior: Jn. 15:4

III. According to stanza 3, we should draw near to God’s heart because it is a place of joy and peace

There is a place of full release,

Near to the heart of God.

A place where all is joy and peace,

Near to the heart of God.

A. Those who come near to the heart of God have full release or pardon from sins: Isa. 55:6-7

B. Also, in Christ we can find joy: Phil. 4:4

C. And regardless of what happens in this life, if we stay near to God’s heart, we will have peace: Isa. 26:3

CONCL.:  The chorus reminds us that being near to the heart of God means trusting in Jesus.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,

Sent from the heart of God,

Hold us who wait before Thee

Near to the heart of God.

Life is often filled with unexpected problems and crises, but we can determine to live courageously regardless of what may come our way if we stay “Near to the Heart of God.”



3 thoughts on ““Near to the Heart of God”

  1. I don’t know how many people will read this comment, but this is the quickest way I have of saying this. Occasionally, someone will leave comments of a general religious nature. From now on, unless a comment pertains specifically to the hymn in question, it will be trashed.

  2. This is absolutely one of the most beautiful hymns I’ve ever heard. What better place to be than “Near to the heart of God.”

  3. I just stumbled upon your blog & I love it! I will be checking back often as I plan worship for my church congregation. Blessings!


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