Be With Me, Lord

“BE WITH ME, LORD”

“For He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5)

INTRO.: A hymn which asks the Lord to honor His promise never to leave nor forsake us is “Be With Me, Lord” (#72 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #27 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960). Chisholm was a school teacher and newspaper editor who became a Methodist minister but gave that work up because of poor health and went into the insurance business. A prolific hymn text author, he also wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” for William M. Runyan, “O to Be Like Thee” for William J. Kirkpatrick, “Only in Thee” for Charles H. Gabriel, and “Living for Jesus” for C. Harold Lowden. The tune (Sanderson) for “Be With Me, Lord” was composed by Lloyd Otis Sanderson (1901-1992). Sanderson was a long-time music editor for the Gospel Advocate Co. of Nashville, TN, and compiled three major hymnbooks for that firm.

Sanderson and Chisholm never met, but they maintained an active correspondence by mail. In 1934 Sanderson, who was living in Springfield, MO, was working on a hymnbook and one evening had a tune with an unusual meter come to mind. Stopping to jot down the melody and completing the harmony later that night, he searched for words to fit but found none. Eight days later, he received a letter from Chisholm, who lived in Vineland, NJ, with a poem, telling of an incident that occurred to him the same night that Sanderson came up with his tune. Chisholm had gone to bed, but some words came to mind, so he got up and wrote them down. They matched Sanderson’s tune exactly. The song was first published in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by Sanderson and others for the Gospel Advocate Co. It is probably the most popular of all Sanderson’s hymns, and the best known of Sanderson’s and Chisholm’s dozen or so collaborations which include “All Things Work Together for Good,” “Bring Christ Your Broken Life,” and “A New Creature” or “Buried With Christ.”

In addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and Christian Hymns (No. 1), among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “Be With Me, Lord,” has appeared in the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 both edited by Sanderson; the 1952 Hymns of Praise and Devotion edited by Will W. Slater; 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 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1975 Supplement to the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 originally edited by Elmer L. Jorgenson; 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 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.

The song mentions several situations in which the Christian will want the Lord to be with him.

I. Stanza 1 mentions bearing the loads of life

“Be with me, Lord, I cannot live without Thee;

I dare not try to take one step alone.

I cannot bear the loads of life unaided;

I need Thy strength to lean myself upon.”

A. We dare not take one step alone because it is not in man who walks to direct his steps: Jer. 10:23

B. All of us have loads or burdens of life that we cannot bear alone, but the Lord tells us to cast them on Him: Ps. 55:21

C. Therefore, we should look to Him for strength in bearing these loads of life: Phil. 4:13

II. Stanza 2 mentions times of trial

“Be with me, Lord, and then if dangers threaten,

If storms of trial burst above my head,

If lashing seas leap everywhere about me,

They cannot harm or make my heart afraid.”

A. As long as we live on this earth, we will have to face fiery trials: 1 Pet. 4:12

B. The lashing seas which leap everywhere about us symbolize these tribulations which we’ll be called on to bear: Acts 14:22

C. However, these things cannot harm us or make us afraid because if God is with us, who can be against us?: Rom. 8:31

III. Stanza 3 mentions our various journeys throughout life

“Be with me, Lord, no other gift or blessing

Thou couldst bestow could with this one compare:

A constant sense of Thy abiding presence,

Where’er I am to feel that Thou art near.”

A. As we journey through life, every good and perfect gift, including God’s being with us, comes down from above: Jas. 1:17

B. If we keep His word, He has promised spiritually to abide in us: Jn. 14:23

C. And this will be true wherever we are because the Lord has said that He is with us always, even to the end of the world: Matt. 28:20

IV. Stanza 4 mentions feeling loneliness and pain

“Be with me, Lord, when loneliness o’ertakes me,

When I must weep amid the fires of pain;

And when shall come the hour of ‘my departure’

For ‘worlds unknown,’ O Lord, be with me then.”

A. There will be times in life when we shall experience loneliness and must weep amid the fires of pain: Ps. 6:6-8

B. One such time may well be the hour of our departure for worlds unknown: 2 Tim. 4:6

C. However, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the Lord has promised to be with us: Ps. 23:4 (Note: Some books have the last word of the song as “there,” which simply does not rhyme with “pain.” It might be argued that “then” doesn’t necessarily rhyme with “pain” either, but it’s close enough for poetry, and much closer than “there” and “pain.” All the Gospel Advocate songbooks edited by Sanderson have “then,” so that is obviously the correct word. I have been able to trace this error to Will Slater’s Hymns of Praise and Devotion, where it was probably just a typographical mistake. I assume that Sacred Selections simply photocopied the song from Slater, and Hymns for Worship then copied it from Sacred Selections rather than going to original sources, thus perpetuating the mistake. It is interesting that Sacred Selections has corrected the error in later printings, but so far Hymns for Worship has not.)

CONCL.: As I was growing up and through the years in every congregation with which I have labored, we have often sung this song in our worship assemblies, sometimes before prayer, sometimes as a closing hymn, and at other points in the service. I have even heard it sung at funerals, and it certainly has appropriate thoughts for such occasions. The older I get, the more my life impresses me with the fact that I need to bow before my God and humbly beseech His help, simply asking, “Be With Me, Lord.”

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