(picture of Luther B. Bridgers)
“HE KEEPS ME SINGING”
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…singing with grace in your hearts…” (Col. 3:16)
INTRO.: A song which exhorts us to keep Christ in our hearts that we might sing with grace is “He Keeps Me Singing” (#452 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #157 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and tune (Sweetest Name) was composed both by Luther Burgess Bridgers, who was born at Margaretsville, NC, on Feb. 14, 1884, to James Buchanan Bridgers (1856-1913), a minister, and Georgiana nee Cooke. Luther’s father conducted revival meetings until his death, often with his son assisting him, from 1904-1913. Beginning to preach at the age of seventeen, Luther was educated at Asbury College in Wilmore, KY, from 1902 to 1906. There he met his wife Sarah Jane “Sallie” Veatch (1885-1911) with whom he would have three sons. His first congregation was in Perry, Florida in 1908 and 1909, but he eventually relinquished local work in favor of itinerant evangelism throughout the southeastern United States. For over twelve years, he served as minister for Methodist Churches in Georgia and was widely known for his evangelistic zeal.
It is often reported that this song was produced either in 1909 or 1910, presumably after Bridgers suffered the tragic loss of his wife and three sons, who were burned to death in a fire which destroyed the house of his father-in-law at Harrodsburg, KY, where they were visiting while he was conducting a revival in that state. When he had completed the words, he picked out the melody on a piano, and his wife’s sister put down the notes. It first appeared in The Revival No. 6, compiled at Atlanta, GA, in 1910 by Charlie Davis Tillman (1861-1943). Tillman is best remembered for his melodies used with “Ready to Suffer” and “When I Get to the End of the Way.” This book included seven songs by Bridgers, all bearing a copyright date of 1910. However, some sources claim that the fire took place on March 26, 1911, after the song was published, and the song simply took on a greater poignance following the incident.
In 1914 Bridgers married Miss Aline Winburn of Gainesville, GA, a music teacher at Shorter College in Rome, GA, with whom he had another son, Luther B. Bridgers Jr. (1915-1992). Also that year, he became general evangelist for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Robert H. Coleman purchased this hymn from Bridgers in 1917 and included it in his widely-used Popular Hymns, published in 1918. Except for a brief period following World War I when he did mission work in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Russia, Bridgers was engaged in evangelistic work for eighteen years. In 1921 Asbury College awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Divinity for his greatly successful evangelistic work. After 1932, he served as a minister in Atlanta, GA, and Morehead, NC, for thirteen years. Following his retirement in 1944, he lived in his wife’s hometown of Gainesville, GA, until his death at Atlanta, GA, on May 27, 1948.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use among churches of Christ, “He Keeps Me Singing” has appeared in the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) and the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 both edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons;; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; 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 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 song exhorts us to sing with joy even during the “midnight experiences” of our lives and explains why we can do so.
I. Stanza 1 tells us that in life’s ebb and flow, Jesus can give us peace
There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
“Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.”
- The means by which Jesus whispers to us today is His written word: Jn. 14:26
- One of the things which Jesus promised His disciples was to give them peace: Jn. 14:27
- This peace is available in all of life’s ebb and flow, referring to our tribulations: Rom. 5:1-5:
II. Stanza 2 (not in HFWR) tells us that Jesus saves us from sin and strife
All my life was wrecked by sin and strife,
Discord filled my heart with pain;
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
Stirred the slumbering chords again.
- At one time or another, all of our lives were wrecked by sin and strife: Rom. 3:23
- But Jesus, by His blood shed on the cross, makes it possible for us to pass from death unto life: Jn. 5:24
- As a result, the slumbering chords can be stirred to praise God: Heb. 13:15
III. Stanza 3 (#2 in HFWR) tells us that Jesus provides us a fellowship in which we can shout and sing
Feasting on the riches of His grace,
Resting ’neath His sheltering wing,
Always looking on His smiling face,
That is why I shout and sing.
- This fellowship is pictured as resting beneath His sheltering wing: Matt. 23:37
- Even though we cannot literally look on His smiling face, we can see Him as revealed in Scripture: Heb. 2:9
- As a result of this fellowship, we can sing to the Lord: Eph. 5:18-19
IV. Stanza 4 (not in HFWR) tells us that Jesus left us an example in our trials
Though sometimes He leads through waters deep,
Trials fall across the way,
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
See His footprints all the way.
- In this life trials will often fall across our way: Jas. 1:2-3
- The path is sometimes rough and steep because of such troubles: Job 14:1
- But in His own immense suffering, Jesus provides an example of how to deal with our trials: 1 Pet. 2:20-24
V. Stanza 5 (#3 in HFWR) tells us that Jesus is coming back to take us home with Him on high
Soon He’s coming back to welcome me
Far beyond the starry sky;
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown,
I shall reign with Him on high.
- We really do not know whether Jesus is coming back soon or not: Matt. 24:36 (I usually just sing “So He’s coming back”)
- However, we do know that He is coming back to take His people to be with Him forever: 1 Thess. 4:14-17
- For some reason, all of our books change “reign with Him” to “live with Him,” but the Bible teaches that the redeemed shall reign with Him forever and ever: Rev. 22:1-5
CONCLUSION: The chorus points out that all these wonderful blessings are possible because of Jesus.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus–
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.
When I remember what Jesus has done for me—offers me peace, saves me from sin, gives me His divine fellowship, leaves me His example, and promises me eternal life with Him—then even when things are rough, I will find that “He Keeps Me Singing.”