“Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love”

bilhorn_pp

(picture of Peter P. Bilhorn)

“SWEET PEACE, THE GIFT OF GOD’S LOVE”

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds…” (Phil. 4:7)

      INTRO.:  A song which talks about the peace of God which passes all understanding is “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love” (#418 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #465 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written and tune (Sweet Peace) was composed both by Peter Philip Bilhorn, who was born at Mendota, IL, on July 22, 1865, of Swiss-Bavarian descent.  The original family name of Pulhorn was changed to Bilhorn by Abraham Lincoln when he was a judge at Ottawa, IL.  Peter’s father, George Bilhorn who had immigrated to the United States, was a carriage maker by trade but was killed in the Civil War three months before Peter’s birth.  Forced to leave school at age eight, Peter helped to support his mother and family.  In 1876, when Peter was fifteen, Mrs. Bilhorn moved the family to Chicago, IL, where he and his older brother followed in their father’s trade and established the Eureka Wagon and Carriage Works.  His fine singing voice became popular in the German beer gardens of Chicago.  However, in 1883 he was converted during a revival conducted by evangelist George F. Pentecost.  Following this, he decided to pursue a serious musical education and studied with George C. Stebbins, Frederick W. Root, and Jean de Reske.

Leaving his brother to manage the family business, Peter travelled extensively in evangelistic work with Pentecost, D. D. O’Dell, and John Currie throughout the United States, Great Britain, and other foreign countries.  After spending some time among the cowboys of the Dakotas, he returned to Chicago about 1887, where he invented a small reed organ weighing less than seventy pounds which could be carried in a folding case by itinerant musicians.  To manufacture these organs, which became very popular, he founded the Bilhorn Folding Organ Company of Chicago and donated the profits from this venture to religious work in the Chicago area.  Also he produced a number of gospel songs and became a publisher of note in Chicago.  “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love” was penned around 1887.  While at the Ocean Grove, NJ, camp meetings, he led one of his early songs.  A friend, Mrs. Ida Stoddard Demerast, asked him to write a song which would suit her voice.  When he asked on what subject, she replied, “Oh, any sweet piece.”  This suggested the title, and he composed the melody that evening but had no words.  The following winter, he joined evangelist Daniel Webster Whittle (1840-1901).  Their train was stopped when it hit an elderly lady who was carried to a nearby cottage leaving only a pool of blood where she had lain.

Whittle remarked that all Jesus left on earth was His blood for our justification.  Responding that this is what gives us sweet peace, Bilhorn thought again of his earlier melody and came up with the lyrics upon returning to the train.  The song first appeared in his Crowning Glory No. 1, compiled at Chicago in 1888.  In addition, he published several other songbooks and musical pieces, including Crowning Glory No. 2, Soul Winning Songs, Choice Songs, Hymns of Heavenly Harmony, Sunshine Songs of Peace and Power, Century Gospel Hymns, two volumes of Songs for Male Choruses, Sacred and Secular Selections for Ladies’ Voices,  and three books of anthems.  Also, he provided the melodies for “I Will Sing The Wondrous Story” and “Who Will Stand Like Joshua.”  In addition, he became famous as an evangelistic song leader, serving as Billy Sunday’s music director prior to 1908 when he was succeeded by Homer Alvin Rodeheaver (1880-1955).  At the World Christian Endeavor Conference at the Crystal Palace in London, England, in 1900, he conducted 4,000 voices.  During that time, at the invitation of Queen Victoria, he led several of his hymns in the chapel of Buckingham Palace.  As a hymn composer, he produced over 2,000 songs, and his Bilhorn Publishing Company, whose works met with great success, owned the copyrights to more than 1,400 gospel songs at the time of his death at Los Angeles, CA, on Dec. 13, 1936.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use among churches of Christ,  “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love” has appeared in 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 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 all 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 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; 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 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 song speaks of the wonderful peace that is available in Christ.

I. From stanza 1, we learn that this peace brings us a glad and joyous refrain

There comes to my heart one sweet strain

A glad and a joyous refrain;

I sing it again and again,

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.

  1. The sweet strain of peace should rule in our hearts: Col. 3:15
  2. When it does, it will bring a refrain of gladness and joy: 1 Pet. 1:8
  3. And this joy will be expressed in singing: Jas. 5:13

II. From stanza 2, we learn that this peace is possible because of the cross of Christ

Through Christ on the cross peace was made,

My debt by His death was all paid;

No other foundation is laid

For peace, the gift of God’s love.

  1. The only way that there can be peace between man and God is for Christ to reconcile us to God by His cross: Eph. 2:14-17
  2. This is because His death paid the debt for our sins: 1 Cor. 15:3
  3. Hence, this act by Christ laid the foundation for peace: 1 Cor. 3:11

III. From stanza 3 (not in HFWR), we learn that this peace is available only to those who crown Jesus as their Lord

When Jesus as Lord I had crowned,

My heart with this peace did abound;

In Him the rich blessing I found,

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.

  1. Crowning Jesus is a poetic way of saying that one acknowledges Him as Lord: Rom. 10:9-10
  2. But crowning Jesus as Lord means loving and obeying His law: Ps. 119:165
  3. When we do this, we can have peace and all His other rich blessings: Eph. 1:3

IV. From stanza 4, we learn that peace enable us to keep close to Jesus

In Jesus for peace I abide,

And as I keep close to His side,

There’s nothing but peace doth betide.

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.

  1. To maintain this peace, we must abide in Christ: Jn. 15:4-7
  2. But having this peace helps us in turn to draw even closer to Him: Jas. 4:7-8
  3. This peace will then guard those whose minds are stayed on the Lord: Isa. 26:3

CONCL.:  The chorus recalls to our minds the importance of having God’s peace in our lives

Peace, peace, sweet peace,

Wonderful gift from above,

Oh, wonderful, wonderful peace,

Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.

As we come to a deeper realization of God’s wonderful blessings from above, we should be ever more thankful for that “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love.”

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