“HOLD TO GODS UNCHANGING HAND”
“Every good gift…cometh down from the Father…with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (Jas. 1:17)
INTRO.: A song which emphasizes the fact that there is no variableness with the God who lives in heaven is “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” (#463 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #346 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Mary Jane (Jennie) Bain Wilson, who was born on a farm at Cleveland, IN, near South Whitley, on November 13, 1856 (some sources say 1857), to Robert and Mary Frances Russell Wilson. Her father died in her infancy. When she was about four years old, an attack of spinal trouble resulted in her being rendered an invalid, confined to a wheel-chair and bed. Not being able to attend school, she studied at home, read much, and received some musical instruction. A natural love for music and poetry early in life led her to verse writing. Her earliest poems appeared in a local paper Her first hymn was entitled “All the Way,” and, not knowing of its publication, she was pleasantly surprised when it was found in new songbooks purchased by a Sunday School in her neighborhood. In 1881, she was baptized by being carried on a chair into a beautiful, tree shaded stream, and, in her words, “it gave me much joy to thus confess my dear Savior.”
Later, through the influence of a minister named Jacob D. Coverstone, Miss Wilson sent hymns to a publication in Dayton, OH. These attracted the attention of composers such as William J. Kirkpatrick and Edmund S. Lorenz, by whom she was invited to write hymns to be set to music. A prolific poet, she produced about 2,200 poems and hymn texts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet, over the course of her life she never interjected sadness from her condition in her works. One exception is a poem entitled, “A Memory Picture,” which refers to scenery near the old home, and alludes to memories of the time when she could walk. Her mother died in 1902. The mother’s grave is marked by a monument bearing the following verse written by the invalid daughter to whom she had given years of devoted care, reading, “After her long life journey Cometh death’s dreamless sleep; Over her rest may angels Ever a fond watch keep.” Even though wheelchair bound, she enjoyed attending Bible conferences at nearby Winona Lake, IN, and other locations. Sometime in 1904, which is probably the year that she penned it, Miss Wilson sent “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” to Franklin Lycurgus Eiland (1860-1909).
Eiland’s tune (Unchanging Hand) was conceived in 1905, when he was sitting under a tree in the backyard of the Palo Pinto County, TX, log cabin home of fellow hymn writer James Washington Gaines (1881-1937). The song first appeared in the 1906 New Hosannas, published by the Quartet Music Company Fort Worth, TX, edited by John E. Thomas. When Eiland died, his gravestone contained the carved figure of a hand that appears to be reaching downward, symbolizing God’s unchanging hand. In her later years, Miss Wilson continued to reside on the same farm of her youth with the family of her sister, Mrs. Jonathan (Eliza Ann) Ulrey. The words to one of her last hymns, “I Shall Be at Home with Jesus” beginning “Years of time are swiftly passing…Soon I’ll be at home with Jesus…,” were written in 1908 at age 51. Her death occurred September 3, 1913, at South Whitley in her 56th year. One source calls her “a blind poet,” and another says “that she was from Georgia,” but both appear to be incorrect. The song writer Jennie Wilson was an invalid, but there is no evidence of her being blind, and she spent her entire life in Indiana. Another song by her that has appeared in many of our older books is “There Will Be Light at the River,” beginning “After the life-paths we’re treading,” with music by Anthony J. Showalter.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand” has appeared in the 1940/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1959 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal #2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 No. 2 originally edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1990 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.
The words of this song compare the transitory nature of this life to the eternal nature of God and heaven.
I. Stanza 1 reminds us that time is filled with swift transition
Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
A. Our life is but a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away: Jas. 4:13-14
B. Nothing in this earth will stand unmoved because all eventually will pass away: 2 Pet. 3:10
C. However, there are some things which are eternal because they come from the eternal God: Deut. 33:27
II. Stanza 2 encourages us to trust in God no matter what happens in this uncertain life
Trust in Him who will not leave you,
Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken
Still more closely to Him cling.
A. We should always trust in the Lord: Ps. 37:3-5
B. We cannot always trust in men because sometimes we are by earthly friends forsaken: Ps. 41:9
C. But we can closely cling to God because He will never leave us or forsake us: Deut. 31:6
III. Stanza 3 admonishes us not to trust in the uncertain treasures of this life which pass away
Covet not this world’s vain riches
That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heavenly treasures,
They will never pass away.
A. We should not covet the vain riches of this world: 1 Tim. 6:9-10
B. One reason is that they so rapidly decay: Jas. 5:1-3
C. Rather, we should seek the heavenly treasures which will never pass away: Matt. 6:19-20
IV. Stanza 4 tells us that there awaits the faithful a fair and bright home in glory
When your journey is completed,
If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory
Your enraptured soul will view.
A. Our journey will be completed at death: Heb. 9:27
B. Certainly it should be our aim at that time to have been true or faithful to God: Rev. 2:10
C. Then we can look forward to a crown in that home in glory: 2 Tim. 4:6-8
CONCL.: The chorus exhorts us to keep on holding to God’s hand.
Hold (to His hand) to God’s unchanging hand,
Hold (to His hand) to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
If, in this life, we will put our “little hands in His big hand” by following God’s revealed will in all things, then we can have the hope that in heaven we shall forever be able to “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”