(picture of Ira D. Sankey)
“UNDER HIS WINGS”
“He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust” (Ps. 91:4)
INTRO.: A song which describes many of the blessings that those who are covered with the wings of the Almighty have is “Under His Wings” (#417 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #490 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by William Orcutt Cushing (1823-1902). The tune (Hingham) was composed by Ira David Sankey, who was born of Scotch-Irish ancestry at Edinburgh, PA, on Aug. 28, 1840. Following his early life on the family farm in western Pennsylvania, the Sankeys moved to Newcastle, PA, in 1857, where he became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, serving as Sunday school superintendent and music director. His only education was in the public schools of Edinburgh and Newcastle, and he had little or no professional music training. After being a sergeant in the Union Army’s 12th Pennsylvania Regiment during the Civil War beginning in 1860, he returned to Newcastle to assist his father who was the collector of internal revenue. In 1863 he married Fanny V. Edwards, the daughter of the Honorable John Edwards, member of the State Senate; they had two sons.
In 1870, Sankey was a delegate to the YMCA convention in Indianapolis, IN, where, after leading the singing, he met revival evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody. Six months later, in 1871, at Moody’s invitation Sankey moved his family to Chicago, IL, and became Moody’s music director and song leader. In the thirty years that followed, Moody and Sankey conducted meetings throughout the United States and England. On their first visit to England in 1872, they used Hallowed Songs by publisher Philip Phillips, with some of Sankey’s own songs in manuscript form. The demand for these additional manuscript hymns was so great that he asked Phillips for a new edition of Hallowed Songs with the extra songs included. When the request was denied, Sankey compiled his first hymnbook, a 24-page pamphlet entitled Sacred Songs and Solos, which was issued by the English publisher Morgan and Scott in 1873 while he was in England. More hymns were added in later printings until the 1903 edition contained 1,200 songs. In the fifty years after its appearance, it was reported to have sold more than 80,000,000 copies and is still published and used in England today.
When Sankey returned to America, he discovered Gospel Songs published in 1874 by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876). He proposed to Bliss that they merge their songs and publish a joint collection. Thus, they began publishing their Gospel Hymns and Sacred Songs, beginning in 1875, in collaboration with several other hymn writers and song leaders. Subsequent editions were printed in 1876, 1878, 1883, 1887, and 1891, with Gospel Hymns Nos. 1-6 Complete, containing 739 hymns, published in 1894. Although no longer in print, the series had an extraordinary influence on religious music in its day, and many gospel songs still in popular use became well-known as a result of being included in these collections. For this reason, Sankey is often called “the father of the gospel song.” He also composed tunes for such famous songs as “The Ninety And Nine,” “I Am Praying For You,” “Hiding In Thee,” “A Shelter In The Time Of Storm,” and “Faith Is The Victory.” “Under His Wings” was produced in the 1890’s; the exact year is unknown, but it was probably around 1896 because it was copyrighted and published that year in his last major collection, Sacred Songs No. 1. After experiencing the loss of his eyesight in 1903, Sankey died at Brooklyn, NY, on Aug. 13, 1908.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in has appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1978 edition of the 1971 Songs of the Churchand the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed. both edited by Alton H. 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; and the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
“Under His Wings” has been a great source of comfort for Bible believers through the years.
I. In stanza 1 we are told that under His wings we can abide safely
Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.
- The deepening night and wild tempests represent the troubles of life: Job 14:1
- However, in spite of these things, we can trust God because He has promised to keep us: 1 Pet. 1:5
- The reason for this is that He has redeemed us and thus we are His children: Gal. 4:4
II. In stanza 2 we are told that under His wings we can find a refuge in sorrow
Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.
- Sorrow brings times when our hearts yearningly turn to God for rest: Matt. 11:28-30
- On such occasions, we may find that earth has no balm for our healing: Jer. 8:22
- However, in God we can always find comfort: 2 Cor. 1:3-4
III. In stanza 3 we are told that under His wings we can have precious enjoyment
Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus, I’m safe evermore.
- As long as we live on this earth, we shall have our share of trials: Jas. 1:2-3
- But in God we can find shelter to protect us so that no evil can harm us: Ps. 17:8-9
- Hence, we shall be safe as long as we rest in Jesus: Lk. 13:34
CONCL.: The chorus emphasizes the importance of abiding in the Lord to have these blessings.
Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.
The Trinity Hymnal of 1961 has a metrical version of Psalm 91 taken from the United Presbyterian Bible Songs Hymnal of 1927, set to this same tune.
- Under the care of my God, the Almighty,
Safe in the secret place of the Most High!
He is my Refuge, the Lord is my Fortress,
Him I am trusting when trouble is nigh.
- Be not afraid for the terror of midnight,
Nor for the arrow that hasteth to slay;
Fear not the pestilence walking in darkness,
Nor the destroyer that wasteth by day.
- Seek the Most High for thy sure habitation,
Unto Jehovah for refuge now fly;
There shall no evil befall thee nor harm thee,
Unto thy dwelling no plague shall come nigh.
- Love thou the Lord, surely he will deliver;
He will exalt thee and answer thy prayer;
He will be with thee to honor and give thee
Life without end, his salvation to share.
Refrain: Under his wings, under his wings,
Safe in the refuge hide thee;
Trusting his truth and faithfulness,
No evil can betide thee.
Life is often filled with problems and difficulties. However, God will protect us and provide for our best interests as long as we seek to remain sheltered “Under His Wings.”