Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing


(picture of Walter Shirley)


“The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich” (Proverbs 10:22)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which reminds us of how rich the Lord’s blessings make us is “Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing.”  The original text was written by James Allen, who was born on June 24, 1734, at Gayle, near Wensleydale in Yorkshire, England. The son of Oswald Allen, an ancestor of an earlier Oswald Allen, James was educated with a view to taking Holy Orders, first with two different ministers at different times, and then for one year at St. John’s College, Cambridge. Leaving Cambridge in 1752, he became a follower of Benjamin Ingham, founder of the Inghamite sect. He subsequently joined himself to the Sandemanians, and finally built a chapel on his estate at Gayle, ministering there the rest of his life. He published a small volume, Christian Songs, with 17 hymns, and was the editor and principal contributor to the 1757 Kendal Hymn Book and the Appendix to the second edition in 1761. Allen published the original version of this hymn beginning “O How Happy Are the Moments” in the Kendal Hymn Book of 1757.  He died on October 31, 1804, at Gayle.

In its present form this hymn was wrought out of a bitter experience in the life of Walter Shirley, who was born on September 23, 1725, at Staunton Harold in Leicestershire, England.  Walter was the fourth son of Laurence Shirley (son of the 1st Earl Ferrers, and cousin of the Countess of Huntingdon). In 1742, he matriculated at New College, Oxford. He graduated with a B.A. in 1746, and, after preaching with great success in England, that same year became minister of Loughrea, County Galway, Ireland, where he continued to exercise his ministry for many years.  He was a friend of Whitefield and the Wesleys, often preaching in their chapels. Some time after that, his brother, the Earl of Ferrars, a man of evil habits, engaged in a quarrel with one of his servants, who had long been in his employ, and in the passion of his anger he murdered the old man. He was at once imprisoned; and Shirley, though mortified by the terrible disgrace which the revolting crime had brought upon his family, journeyed to his brother’s prison and remained near him during the distressing weeks that followed. The Earl was tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn. After the execution Shirley, worn out by his long vigil and humiliated in spirit, returned to his church, finding comfort only in the cross of Jesus Christ.   Discovering an imperfect expression of his emotions at that time in a hymn, “O How Happy Are the Moments,” by James Allen, he adapted and revised the hymn so completely that it became practically a new composition, truly poetic in language and form, and tenderly eloquent of his own experience, publishing it in 1770. In 1774, he helped the Countess of Huntingdon revise the collection of hymns used in her chapels.  He published one volume of sermons and two poems.  His last sickness was of a lingering character, and it is related of him that when no longer able to leave his house he used to preach, seated in his chair in his drawing room, to many who gladly assembled to hear. Shirley died on April 7, 1786, in Dublin, Ireland, of dropsy.

Several tunes have been found with the hymn. The 1945 United Brethren in Christ Church Hymnal uses one (Dorrnance or Talmar) by Isaac B. Woodbury.  The 1987 Zion’s Praises, a Mennonite hymnal, has one (Sicilian Mariners) which it attributes to Mozart.  These tunes require dividing up the material into four-line stanzas instead of having four eight-line stanzas.  The 1913 Good Old Songs and the 1983 Old School Hymnal Eleventh Edition both use one (Crumley) by William Houser.  The 2004 Primitive Baptist Hymnal has one (Greenville) by Jean Jacques Rousseau.  Other possible tunes suggested include one (Batty or Ringe recht), a Moravian melody, from the chorale “Ringe recht in Erbaulicher musikalischen Christen-schatz” first published in the Musikalischer ChristenschatzTown, Basel, Switzerland, 1745; another (Evening Prayer Stebbins) by George C. Stebbins, 1878; still another (Freiburg), a German folk song from the 16th Century; yet another (Love Divine Stainer) by John Stainer, 1889; and one more (Merton Monk) by William H. Monk, 1850.   The 1902 Church and Sunday School Hymnal with Supplement, the 1959 Christian Hymnal Mennonite, and the 1980 New Harmonia Sacra Legacy Edition all use one  (Divine Compassion), which the New Harmonia Sacra Legacy Edition attributes to W. Cowper, although William Cowper was a poet, not a musician, but which the Christian Hymnal Mennonite simply says “Source Unknown.”  So far as I know, no books published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ have ever included this hymn.

It would seem to be a suitable song for singing before the Lord’s supper.

I. Stanza 1 focuses on Christ’s cross

Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,

Which before the cross we spend,

Life and health and peace possessing

From the sinner’s dying Friend.

Here we stay, forever viewing

Mercy streaming in His blood;

Precious drops, our souls bedewing,

Plead and claim our peace with God.

  1. We do not literally stand before the cross, but we spend time with it by contemplating what it means: Gal. 6:14
  2. It reminds us that Jesus is the sinner’s dying Friend: Jn. 15:13
  3. This is because we have redemption through His blood: Eph. 1:7

II. Stanza 2 focuses on Christ’s forgiveness

Truly blessèd is the station,

Low before His cross to lie,

While we see divine compassion

Floating in His languid (or gracious) eye.

Here we find our hope of Heaven,

While upon the Lamb we gaze;

Loving much, and much forgiven,

Let our hearts o’erflow with praise.

  1. As we contemplate the cross, we see divine compassion: Matt. 9:35-38
  2. Christ is the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world: Jn. 1:29
  3. We should love Him much because He has forgiven us so much: Lk. 7:47

III. Stanza 3 focuses on Christ’s love

Love and fear our hearts dividing,

With our tears His feet we bathe;

Constant still in faith abiding,

Love deriving from His death.

May we still enjoy this feeling,

In all need to Jesus go,

Prove His wounds each day more healing,

And Himself more deeply know.

  1. When we contemplate the cross, our hearts are divided between fear and love: 2 Tim. 1:7
  2. Fear brings tears for our sins, but love prompts us to act as if, like Mary, we were washing His feet with those tears: Jn. 12:1-8
  3. This is because we understand that He showed His love for us by His death: 1 Jn. 3:16

IV. Stanza  4 focuses on Christ’s salvation

Lord, in ceaseless contemplation

Fix our hearts and eyes on Thee,

Till we taste Thy full salvation,

And unveiled Thy glories see.

For Thy sorrows we adore Thee,

For the griefs that wrought our peace;

Gracious Savior, we implore Thee,

In our hearts Thy love increase.

  1. Contemplating the cross will help us set our minds on things above: Col. 3:1-2
  2. It will also help us to appreciate the full salvation that is in Christ: 2 Tim. 2:10
  3. And it will help us to increase our love for Him who brought this great salvation: Rom. 5:8-10

CONCL.: Shirley’s original adaptation was in the first person singular, whereas most hymnals today use the plural.  Many modern books update the Elizabethan pronouns, and some make other changes to avoid offending politically correct sensitivities.  We especially remember the Lord’s death when we observe the Lord’s supper each first day of the week.  However, it is good to take time at other occasions to think about the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.   Whenever we do, we shall find “Sweet the Moments, Rich in Blessing.”


That Stone Is Made Head Corner Stone



“The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” (Ps. 118:22)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which discusses the results of having the stone which the builders refused become the head cornerstone is “That Stone Is Made Head Corner Stone” or “Psalm 118” (#644 in Hymns for Worship Revised).  The text is a metrical arrangement of Psalm 118:22-29.  It is evidently based on a version taken from the Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases‎ of 1800.

  1. That stone is made head corner-stone,

Which builders did despise:

This is the doing of the Lord,

And wondrous in our eyes.

  1. This is the day God made, in it

We’ll joy triumphantly.

Save now, I pray thee, Lord; I pray,

Send now prosperity.

  1. Blessed is He in God’s great name

That cometh us to save:

We, from the house which to the Lord

Pertains, you blessed have.

  1. God is the Lord, who unto us

Hath made light to arise:

Bind ye unto the altar’s horns

With cords the sacrifice.

  1. Thou art my God, I’ll Thee exalt;

My God, I will Thee praise.

Give thanks to God, for He is good:

His mercy lasts always.

A similar arrangement was used in The Psalter published in 1912 by the United Presbyterian Board of Publication of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The version found in HFWR came from The Book of Psalms for Singing published in 1973 by The Board of Education and Publication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America at Pittsburgh, PA.  The particular number from which it is taken actually begins with Ps. 118:17 and contains eight stanzas.  The omitted stanzas are:

  1. I shall not die, but live and tell

Jehovah’s power to save;

The Lord has sorely chastened me,

But spared me from the grave.

  1. O set ye open unto me

The gates of righteousness;

Then will I enter into them

And I the Lord will bless.

  1. This is Jehovah’s gate, by it

The just shall enter in.

I’ll praise Thee who has heard my prayer

And hast my safety been.

From The Book of Psalms for Singing, the text, with four stanzas (nos. 1, 2, 3, and 5 below), was used in Selected Psalms for Church Singing edited by Edward Fudge and originally published in 1974 by the C. E. I.  Publishing Company of Athens, AL.  From there, the same four stanzas passed into the original editions of Hymns for Worship with words only.  Hymns for Worship Revised, using only stanzas 1, 2, and 5, added music. The Book of Psalms for Worship published in 2010 by Crown and Covenant Publications for The Board of Education and Publication of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America at Pittsburgh, PA, has an updated version of the same section of Ps. 118 in seven stanzas beginning with verse 19.

Selected Psalms for Church Singing set the psalm to a tune (St. Anne) attributed to William Croft which is most commonly associated with the hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” by Isaac Watts.  The 1986 printing of Hymns for Worship suggests using the Croft tune as well.  However, the 1994 printing suggests another tune (Azmon) composed by Carl Glaser and most often identified with “I’m Not Ashamed to Own My Lord” also by Isaac Watts.   Hymns for Worship Revised then set it to the Glaser tune.  Both The Book of Psalms for Singing and The Book of Psalms for Worship have a tune (Jackson) which was composed by Thomas Jackson, who was born c. 1715. Little is known of his early career.  An organist and composer of obscure origin, he was elected to the Royal Society of Musicians in 1739, and he had become a member of the king’s band by 1767. In April 1768 he was appointed organist and master of the song school at Newark, England, where he served from 1768 to 1781. His works include A Favorite Lesson for the Harpsichord c. 1778, and Twelve Psalm Tunes and Eighteen Chants, published around 1780, in which this tune first appeared. He died in office at Newark and was buried on Nov. 11, 1781.

The song expresses praise to God for giving us the head cornerstone.

I. Stanza 1 helps to give the identity of the head cornerstone
That stone is made head corner stone
Which builders did despise.
This is the doing of the Lord,
And wondrous in our eyes.
A. The Lord Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone: 1 Pet. 2:3-8
B. He is the one whom the builders despised or rejected: Matt. 21:42
C. This is the Lord’s doing because He prophesied it: Isa. 28:16
II. Stanza 2 helps to specify the day when this one became the head cornerstone
This is the day the Lord hath made;
Let us be glad and sing.
Hosanna, Lord! O give success!
O Lord, salvation bring!
A. People often quote Ps. 118:24 as a motto for every day, but the Lord had a specific day in mind, and Peter associates it with the resurrection of Jesus: Acts 4:8-12
B. Jesus arose on the first day of the week to bring salvation: Mk. 16:9
C. Thus, the first day of the week is a special day for Christians to be glad and sing: Acts 20:7
III. Stanza 3 identifies from whence came the head cornerstone
O blessed be the one who comes,
Comes in Jehovah’s name!
The blessing of Jehovah’s house
Upon You we proclaim.
A. Jesus is the blessed one who came: Matt. 21:9
B. He came in Jehovah’s name: Matt. 23:39
C. He came from Jehovah to establish the Lord’s house or church: 1 Tim. 3:15
IV. Stanza 4 explains what happened when the head cornerstone arose
The Lord is God, and He to us
Has made the light arise;
O bind ye to the altar’s horns
With cords the sacrifice.
A. The resurrection declares Jesus to be the Son of God: Rom. 1:3-4
B. As such He made light to arise: 2 Pet. 1:16-19
C. This is because He is the ultimate sacrifice for our sins: Heb. 9:11-15
V. Stanza 5 offers God thanks for the head cornerstone
Thou art my God; I’ll give Thee thanks.
My God, I’ll worship Thee.
O thank the Lord for He is good;
His grace will endless be.
A. We should be thankful for what God has done for in Christ: 2 Cor. 9:15
B. This should motivate us to worship Him in spirit and truth: Jn. 4:24
C. All of this is possible because of His endless grace: Tit. 2:11

CONCL.:  Here is the “updated” version from The Book of Psalms for Worship.

  1. That stone is now the cornerstone

That builders once despised.

This is the doing of the LORD,

And wondrous in our eyes.

  1. This is the day the LORD has made;

Let us be glad and sing.

Hosanna, LORD! O give success!

O LORD, salvation bring!

  1. O blessed is the one who comes,

Comes in the LORD’s great name.

A blessing from the LORD’s own house

Upon you we proclaim.

  1. The LORD is God and He to us

Has made the light arise.

With cords bind to the altar’s horns

The festal sacrifice.

  1. You are my God, I’ll give You thanks;

My God, I’ll give you praise.

O thank the LORD, for He is good;

His love lasts endless days.

Surely we ought to extend our gratitude to God for all the benefits that come to us because “That Stone Is Made Head Corner Stone.”

Lord, Thy Word Abideth


(picture of Michael Weisse)


“Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which speaks about the eternal nature of God’s word is “Lord, Thy Word Abideth” (#631 in Hymns for Worship Revised).  The text was written by Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877).  It first appeared in the 1861 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, for which he served as the chairman of the committee which compiled it.  The tune (Ravenshaw) was adapted from a medieval melody (Gottes Sohn Ist Kommen) found in Ein Neu Gesengbuchlen edited by Michael Weisse, who was born around 1480 or 1488 at Neisse, Silesia (now Nysa, Poland), and attended the Pfarrgymnasium (pastoral school) there.  Educated for the Roman Catholic priesthood, he studied at the Jagiellonian University of Cracow from 1504 and became a Franciscan monk for a while in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) in 1510.  However, he and a couple of his colleagues, Johannes Zeising and Johann Mönch, were influenced by the writings of Martin Luther (1483-1546).

As a result Weisse and his two friends were expelled from Breslau around 1517. Leaving the Roman Catholic Church in 1518, they were admitted to the house of the Bohemian Brethren or Unitas Fratrum at Leutomischl in Bohemia (now Litomyšl, Czech Republic).  This group, followers of reformer Jan Hus, was called by their enemies Piccards (Beggars) and later were known as Moravians.  They allied themselves in Reformation times with Luther.  In 1522, Weisse was sent as part of a delegation to Wittenberg, to compare the Brethren’s creed with that of Martin Luther and check for points of difference in doctrine. In 1531, Weisse was ordained as a priest of the Unitas Fratrum or Unity of the Brethren by a synod in Brandeis, and at the same time made Prediger (preacher) and Vorsteher (leader) of the German congregations of Brethren at Landskron in Bohemia and Fulnek in Moravia.  Also that year, he published his hymnal for the Brethren, Ein Neu Gesengbuchlein (A new little hymnal), also known as Ave Hierarchia, at Jungbunzlau.

This was the first hymnal for the Brethren in the German language.  It contained 157 hymns, 137 written, translated, or otherwise adapted by Weisse, for which he partially composed some music himself but mostly used melodies from the Bohemian tradition of the Brethren.  Then the most extensive Protestant hymnal, it influenced other collections and was the first hymnal structured by topics.  One of his hymns (“Christus, der uns selig macht”) was used in Johann Sebastian Bach’s St John Passion, Part II, third scene.  Weisse, who joined the Unity’s Inner Council in 1532, died of food poisoning at Landskron, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), on March 19, 1534, or possibly 1540.  The melody, which is often attributed to Weisse, was arranged for Williams’s text in the 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern by the music editor William Henry Monk (1823-1889).  Other tunes used with the hymn include St. Cyprian Chope by Richard R. Chope in 1862, and Goetchius by Joseph Maclean in 1901.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song is also found in the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al., in addition to Hymns for Worship.

The song points out the importance of God’s eternal word to our lives.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that God’s word will guide our footsteps
Lord, Thy Word abideth,
And our footsteps guideth;
Who its truth believeth
Light and joy receiveth.
A. God’s word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our pathway: Ps. 119:105
B. The reason is that it is the truth that will make us free: Jn. 8:32
C. As such it not only gives light but brings joy: Acts 8:4-8

II. Stanza 2 tells us that God’s word will cheer us in our tribulations
When our foes are near us,
Then Thy Word doth cheer us,
Word of consolation,
Message of salvation.
A. Those who wish to live right will find cheer or delight in God’s word: Ps. 1:1-2
B It offers consolation to those who are suffering: 2 Cor. 1:3-7
C. But most importantly it reveals the message of salvation: Eph. 1:13-14

III. Stanza 3 tells us that God’s word will protect us in the storms of life
When dark clouds are o’er us,
And the storms before us,
Then its light directeth,
And our way protecteth.
A. The greatest storm is the fight against sin, and God’s word will help us not to sin: Ps. 119:11
B. It will direct us in times of temptation: 1 Cor. 10:13
C. And it will protect us from the evil one: Eph. 6:14-16

IV. Stanza 4 (not in HFWR) tells us that God’s word will impart treasure

Who can tell the pleasure,
Who recount the treasure,
By Thy Word imparted
To the simple hearted?
A. The testimony of God’s word is sure, making the simple wise, and is thus more to be desired than gold: Ps. 19:7-10
B. It is like a pearl of great price: Matt. 13:45-46
C. Therefore, it will enable us to lay up treasure in heaven: Matt. 6:19-20

V. Stanza 5 (also not in HFWR) tells us that God’s word provides for the needs of both living and dying
Word of mercy, giving
Succor to the living;
Word of life, supplying
Comfort to the dying!
A. God’s word makes known His mercy: Ps. 138:7-8
B. It gives succor to the living because Jesus came to bring life: Jn. 10:10
C. And it gives comfort to those who are dying in the Lord: Rev. 14:13

VI. Stanza 6 (#4 in HFWR) tells us that God’s word will lead us to be with the Lord evermore
O that we, discerning
Its most holy learning,
Lord, may love and fear Thee,
Evermore be near Thee!
A. God as our Shepherd wants us to dwell in His house forevermore: Ps. 23:1-6
B. But to do so, we must first discern or understand His will—how?: Eph. 3:3-5
C. Then we must love and fear Him by keeping His commandments: Eccl. 12:13-14, 1 Jn. 5:3

CONCL.: The God of the universe has spoken to mankind. He revealed His will for us today through His Son who sent the Holy Spirit to guide inspired apostles and prophets in producing the written word which contains God’s message for the whole world. This word of God has been preserved since then and will continue to the end of time. Thus, we can praise Him for His revelation, saying, “Lord, Thy Word Abideth.”

Watch and Pray


“Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is” (Mk. 13:33)

     INTRO.: A song which encourages us to take heed because we do not know when the time of the Lord’s coming will be is “Watch and Pray” (#630 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #31 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text of stanzas 1 through 3 was written and the tune was composed both by Elbert L. Bailey.  Very little data is available on Bailey, except that he also produced two other songs, “I can see my precious mother” and “Since in the days of Adam and Eve.”  There was an Elbert L Bailey who was born in 1848 in Yancy County, NC, the son of Jesse Bailey and Matilda Emilia “Millie” (Curtis) Bailey, the brother of Elizabeth, James, and Flora Ann, who was the husband of Hannah E. Bailey, who died on Sept. 20, 1891, and who was buried in Cecil-Fry Cemetery, Pennington Gap, Lee County, Virginia.

Another Elbert L. Bailey was born on Aug. 4, 1877, died in Dec., 1916, and was buried in Mount Olive Cemetery at Bolivar, Polk County, Missouri.   Yet another Elbert L. Bailey, known as “Bert,” was born on January 3, 1917, in Bolivar, MO, the youngest of seven children, lived in Lancaster, SC, and Cedar Hill, MO, and died at the age of 87 on December 1, 2004.  It is possible that the third one just might have been the son of the second, since both are connected with Bolivar, MO, but given the fact that the usual date identified for the song “Watch and Pray” is 1927, none of the three seems to be a likely candidate for authorship.

If the date of 1927 is correct for “Watch and Pray,” the song most likely first appeared in either of two books. They are Cornelius’ Gospel Songs edited by Rufus H. Cornelius for R. H. Cornelius Music Book Publisher in Ft. Worth, TX, or Home Gospel Songs No. 2 edited by John Wesley Dennis and H. A. Gilbert for Tipton Orphans’ Home in Tipton, OK.  Both contained the song and were published in 1927.  In 1934, the final stanza was added and perhaps some other arranging was done by William Washington (“Will”) Slater (1885-1959).

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the song has appeared in the 1938 Spiritual Melodies edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 1971 Songs of the Church 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.; as well as Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The song exhorts us to be looking forward to the Lord’s return.

I. Stanza 1 affirms that Jesus is coming again

Watch and pray, for the Lord is coming,

Coming in the clouds some day;

Wash your robes in the cleansing fountain,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. Jesus promised that He will return: Jn. 14:1-3
  2. He will come in the clouds as the angels said: Acts 1:9-11
  3. Therefore, we need to have our robes washed: Rev. 7:13-14

II. Stanza 2 reminds us that we do not know when He is coming

He may come in the early morning,
He may come at close of day;

Watch and pray, in His promise trusting,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. Christ may come in the early morning—the time is not revealed: Matt. 24:36, 42, 44
  2. Or He may come at close of day, like a thief: 1 Thess. 5:3-5
  3. We must simply trust His promise and be looking for Him: 2 Pet. 3:10-14

III. Stanza 3 warns us to be prepared for His coming (not in HFWR)

Soul, give heed to the Savior’s warning,

And His blessed word obey;

Be prepared, when He comes, to meet Him,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. We need to heed the Savior’s warning: Matt. 7:21-23
  2. This will lead to obeying His blessed word: Rom. 6:17-18
  3. In this way we shall be prepared to meet Him: 1 Thess. 1:9-10

IV. Stanza 4 identifies the results of His coming

When He comes He’ll reward the faithful,

What a glorious day ’twill be;

Joy awaits those who have made ready,

Watch, oh, watch and pray.

  1. When He comes He’ll reward the faithful: Matt. 25:20-21
  2. That will truly be a glorious day: Matt. 25:31-34
  3. Joy awaits those who have made ready because all things that interfere with joy will be removed: Rev. 21:1-3

CONCL.:  The chorus tells us to be ready for heaven when He comes

Watch and pray, watch and pray,

For we know not the hour when the Lord shall come;

Watch and pray, watch and pray,

And be ready to enter the soul’s bright home.

Several years ago, right after I started posting hymn studies online, I received an e-mail from someone who said that he or she was a relative of hymn writer Elbert Bailey and asked if would like more information about him. Unfortunately, I lost that message in a computer crash and was unable to contact the person again.  We may not know much about Bailey, but he left us a song that has been very useful in helping us to await the Lord’s return by admonishing us to “Watch and Pray.”

It Is Well With My Soul

horatio spafford


“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me” (Ps. 49:15)

INTRO.:  A song which gives us hope by reminding us that God will redeem our souls from the power of the grave and receive us is “It Is Well With My Soul” (#626 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #561 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by Horatio Gates Spafford, who was born on Oct. 20, 1828, in North Troy, NY, the son of Gazetteer author Horatio Gates Spafford Sr. and Elizabeth Clark Hewitt Spafford.  After an early life in New York, he moved while still a young man to Chicago, IL, where he married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway, on September 5, 1861.  The Spaffords were well known in 1860s Chicago.  Establishing a most successful legal practice, he was a prominent senior partner in a large and thriving law firm and also served as a law professor.  As a Presbyterian, he always maintained a keen interest in religion despite his financial success and enjoyed a close relationship with revival evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody as a good friend and supporter.  Spafford invested heavily in real estate on the shore of Lake Michigan just north of an expanding Chicago in the spring of 1871. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of that same year, it also destroyed most of Spafford’s sizable investments.  Also about that same time, scarlet fever killed his four-year-old son.

So two years later, in 1873 when his business interests were further hit by an economic downturn, Spafford was advised by his doctor to take a rest and decided that his family should enjoy a holiday somewhere in Europe, They chose England knowing that their friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. Due to unexpected, last minute business, Spafford was delayed and had to remain in Chicago. But he sent his family ahead.  His wife and their four daughters—eleven-year-old Anna, nine-year-old Margaret Lee, five-year-old Elizabeth, and two-year-old Tanetta—boarded the S. S. Ville du Havre.  However, on November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic, their ship was struck by the Loch Earn, an iron sailing vessel, sinking in only twelve minutes, and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford’s daughters.  Mrs. Spafford was picked up by a sailor rowing a lifeboat nearby who spotted her floating in the water unconscious, but the children were never found.  When the survivors were landed at Cardiff, Wales, ten days later, Anna Spafford sent a telegram to her husband saying, “Saved alone.” Spafford immediately left to join his bereaved wife.

When his ship was over the place where the wreck had occurred, the captain told Spafford.  It is believed that he penned the words to a poem beginning, “When peace like a river attendeth my way,” shortly after that as an expression of his faith in God.  Three years later, in 1876, Spafford gave the poem to Ira David Sankey.  The tune (Ville du Havre) was then composed by Philip Paul Bliss (1838-1876).  The song was first published that year in Gospel Songs No. 2 by Sankey and Bliss just before Bliss’s tragic death in a train crash.  Anna gave birth to three more children. On February 11, 1880, their son, Horatio Goertner Spafford, died at the age of three, of scarlet fever.  Their daughters were Bertha and Grace.  Their Presbyterian church regarded their tragedy as divine punishment, and the Spaffords became religious outsiders. In response, they left their Presbyterian congregation, holding faith-based prayer meetings in their own home, and formed their own Messianic sect, dubbed “the Overcomers” by American press. In 1881, the Spaffords, including baby Bertha and newborn Grace, set sail for Ottoman-Turkish Palestine, settling in Jerusalem where they helped found a group called the American Colony and adopted a teenager named Jacob. Four days shy of his sixtieth birthday, Spafford died of malaria in Jerusalem on October 16, 1888, and was buried there in Mount Zion Cemetery.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “It Is Well with My Soul” has appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1938 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; 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 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis; the 1940/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited by Thomas S. Cobb; ; 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 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.; the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; and the 2017 Standard Songs of the Church edited by Michael Andrew Grissom; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

This song identifies several prongs of the anchor provided by our hope.

  1. Stanza 1

I. Stanza 1 refers to the peace of God which is like a river

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say (orig. know),

It is well, it is well with my soul.

  1. Those who trust in God can have a peace that will keep their souls: Isa. 66:12
  2. This peace is available even when sorrows that might cause anxiety come: Phil. 4:6-7
  3. Whatever our lot, we can learn to be content knowing that God is with us: Heb. 13:5-6

II. Stanza 2 mentions the assurance of redemption in time of trials

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

  1. Satan will buffet us through the trials of life: 1 Pet. 4:12-13
  2. However, those whose hearts are right with God have an assurance regardless of what happens in life: Heb. 10:22
  3. This assurance is based on the fact that Christ shed His own blood for us: Matt. 26:28

III. Stanza 3 talks about the forgiveness of sins in Christ

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to His (or the) cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

  1. Every responsible person has to deal with the problem of sin: Rom. 3:23
  2. However, Jesus bore our sins on the cross: 1 Pet. 2:24
  3. Therefore, we bear that sin no more when it is forgiven: Eph. 1:7

IV. Stanza 4 (not in HFWR) says that we have life in Christ

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pain (or pang) shall be mine, for in death as in life

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

  1. As we have life in Christ, He lives in us: Gal. 2:20
  2. Jordan poetically symbolizes the time of death: Heb. 9:27
  3. But we can magnify the Lord in both life and death: Phil. 1:20

V. Stanza 5 (also not in HFWR) tells us that we have a goal to press on for

But Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,

The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!

Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

  1. We wait for the Lord’s coming: 1 Thess. 1:9-10
  2. This gives us a goal to keep us pressing on: Phil. 3:13-14
  3. Thus, we look forward to hearing His voice: Jn. 5:28-29

VI. Stanza speaks of our expectation of Christ’s coming

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

(orig.  A song in the night, oh my soul!)

  1. Someday the trumpet will sound: 1 Cor. 15:51-52
  2. Then the Lord shall descend as promised: Acts 1:11
  3. We should always live with this expectation so that our attitude will be, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”: Rev. 22:20

CONCL.  The chorus continues to express the well being of the soul who trusts in the Lord

It is well (it is well),

With my soul (with my soul),

It is well,

It is well with my soul.

The original manuscript has only four stanzas, but Spafford’s daughter Bertha states how later the other verses were added, the last line of the original was slightly modified, and a few other alterations were made.  Even though this song does not use the word “hope,” it gives us hope.  And because of my hope in heaven, I have an anchor which enables me to say, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

We’ll Be Like Him



“When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2)

      INTRO.: A gospel song which reminds us that when Christ will appear, we shall be like Him is “We’ll Be Like Him” (#624 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #7 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written and tune was composed both by R. L. Powell, who was born on Apr. 11, 1888, in Hood County, TX.  Some sources give his name as Robert Lawrence Powell while others have Richard Lawrance Powell.  He was the next to the youngest of twelve children born to Robert Jones Powell (1849–1923) and Martha Licilty Hobson Powell (1852–1920); his siblings names were William Nathaniel (b. 1872), Georgia Ann (b. 1873), Lewis Sidney (b. 1875), Lee Andrew (b. 1876), Amanda O. (b. 1877), Maggie Jane (b. 1879), Joel Jackson (b. 1881), Haynie Lue (b. 1882), Grover Cleveland (b. 1884), Earl Monroe (b. 1886), and Rhoda Belle (b. 1891).  R. L. Powell, who was a farmer and a member of the Church of Christ, was very active with Franklin Lycurgus Eiland and other hymn writers among Churches of Christ in central Texas.

F. L. Eiland was not healthy even as a child, and in his adult years he was often sick. In the winter of 1909 he conducted a singing school in Golden, TX, the boyhood home of Tillit S. Teddlie. During this time he became ill with pneumonia and died there on December 3. He was only 49 years old. George W. Winningham, R.E. Campbell, R.L. Powell, and Woodie Valentine sang several of his songs at his funeral including his well-known “From the Cross to the Crown,” written in 1895, and “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.”  Powell married Margaret Hand about 1912, and they had three children.  For a time they lived around seven miles from Seymour, TX.  He edited The Eureka Song Climax: For All Religious Gatherings for the Eureka Pub. Co. in 1916.  Another hymn of his was “Marching to Our Home, Sweet Home.”

I do not have a copyright date for Powell’s song “We’ll Be Like Him,” but it was controlled by the Quartet Music Company of Fort Worth, TX, which was established by James Edmond Thomas, and according to Hymnary.org the hymn was published in twelve hymnals, the earliest of which was Gospel Songs No. 2 edited by Austin Taylor and G. H. P. Showalter for the Firm Foundation Pub. Co. of Austin, TX, in 1919.   Hymnary.org also credits Powell as the author of 22 hymn texts.  The Powells moved briefly to Abernathy, a small community near Lubbock, TX, where he developed a tumor on his arm.  Although he had the arm removed, he still died of cancer in Lubbock on Oct. 7, 1933, at the age of 45.  His obituary noted that he was “widely known as a singer.”  His body was buried in Abernathy Cemetery at Abernathy in Hale County, TX.

Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, “We’ll Be Like Him” has appeared in the 1938 Spiritual Melodies edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal and the 1960 Hymnal both edited by Marion Davis; 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 1971 Songs of the Church edited by Alton H. Howard; and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.

The song expresses several concepts related to our hope of being like Him at His coming.

I. Stanza 1 says that His coming will be a bright day

When the Savior comes for His chosen ones,

We’ll be like Him, We’ll be like Him;

When the bright day breaks and the dead awakes,

We’ll be like Him when He comes.

  1. Someday the Savior will come: Acts 1:9-11
  2. One purpose of His coming will be to gather His chosen ones: 1 Thess. 4:16-17
  3. To accomplish this, He will awaken or resurrect all the dead: Jn. 5:28-29

II. Stanza says that it is a message worth ringing out

Let the message ring over hill and plain,

We’ll be like Him, We’ll be like Him;

Send it far and wide on the gospel tide,

We’ll be like Him when He comes.

  1. That we shall be like Him is an important message: Phil. 3:20-21
  2. This message should be sent far and wide through all the world to every person: Mk. 16:15-16
  3. It is gospel or good news because it is God’s power to save: Rom. 1:16

III. Stanza 3 says that He is the one for whom we look through the weary years

He’s the one we love, He’s the one we prove,

We’ll be like Him, We’ll be like Him;

He’s the one who cheers through the weary years,

We’ll be like Him when He comes.

  1. He is the one whom we love, even though we have not seen Him: 1 Pet. 1:7-9
  2. We prove Him by demonstrating to both others and ourselves that His way is right: Rom. 12:1-2
  3. The reason why we love and prove Him is that He brings cheer to us as He did to His apostles: Matt. 14:22-27

IV. Stanza 4 says that it is the theme of our song

Though He tarry long, this will be our song,

We’ll be like Him, We’ll be like Him;

Though the path be dim we shall cling to Him,

We’ll be like Him when He comes.

  1. His coming may tarry long, but there is a purpose even in this: 2 Pet. 3:3-4, 8-9
  2. But the fact that we’ll be like Him should be our song as we live on earth: 2 Pet. 1:3-4
  3. So during this time we must cling to Him by being faithful: Rev. 2:10

CONCL.:  The chorus exhorts us to look forward to that time when we shall meet Him

We’ll be like Him, sing the glad refrain;

We’ll be like Him when He comes again.

Blessed thought to me that His face I’ll see,

And be like Him when He comes.

Some day this world will end when the Lord returns.  And until that happens, life will end for each human being in death.  All of us who seek to let that mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus and imitate Him who left us a perfect example that we should follow in His steps have the hope that at His coming “We’ll Be Like Him.”

God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty


(photo of Mary S. Edgar)


“He hath made everything beautiful in His time” (Eccl. 3:11)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which reminds us of the beauty with which God made everything is “God, Who Touchest (or Touches) Earth with Beauty” (#621 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Mary Susanne (or Susannah) Edgar, who was born on May 23, 1889, at Sundridge in Ontario, Canada, the daughter of Joseph Edgar and Mary (Little) Edgar.  After Barrie High School, she was educated at Havergal College and the University of Toronto, and was also a graduate of the National Training School of the Y. W. C. A. in New York City, NY.  A member of the Anglican Church, she was for many years associated with the Y. W. C. A. of Canada.  Though she published poetry, hymns, and plays, she is chiefly known for her development of Camp Glen Bernard for Girls in northern Ontario near Sundridge on Lake Bernard. It has become a leader in environmental education.  Edgar was the director from its beginning in 1922 until her retirement in 1956.  This hymn, penned in 1925 for campers, was awarded first prize in a contest conducted by the American Camping Association the following year.

The tune (Geneva) was composed by Carl Harold Lowden (1883-1963).  In 1925, when he was music editor for the Sunday School Board of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (now the United Church of Christ), these words were brought to his attention, and he set them to music.  The song was first sung from leaflets at an International Sunday School Association meeting in Chicago, IL, and has been translated into many languages.  Lowden also provided the tune for the hymn “Living for Jesus.”  Through the years Miss Edgar produced several collections of poems and essays including Wood-Fire and Candle-Light (1945), Under Open Skies (1955), and Once There Was a Camper (1970), as well as a number of hymns, mostly for use on special occasions at outdoor services, such as “Ere This Day at Camp Be Done” and “God of the Nations of the Earth,” and some one-act plays.  After traveling widely, she retired in 1956 to Toronto in Ontario, Canada, where she died, aged 84, on September 17, 1973.

“God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty,” at least with Lowden’s music, was apparently not copyrighted until 1955.  Other tunes have been used with it.  Hymnary.com suggests one (Bullinger) composed in 1874 by Ethelbert W. Bullinger for use with Frances Havergal’s hymn “I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus.”  Another (Spiritus Christi) was composed by Henry Walford Davies.  There was also a tune (Glen Bernard) that was composed for the hymn in 1925 by James Edmund Jones (1866-1939).  The Baptist Hymnal of 1991 uses a tune (Butler) composed in 1966 by Aubrey L. (Pete) Butler (b. 1933).  It was first published in 1972 and arranged for congregational unison singing in the hymnal by Anna Laura Page (b. 1943).  Another new tune (Ludington) was composed in 2008 by Gregg DeMey.  And I found a reference to a publication in which the hymn was set to new music by Helen Kemp.  Many recent hymnbooks use a version in which, with permission of the copyright owners, the text was revised extensively by the editors of Hymns for the Living Church (1974).  Aside from the updated pronouns and verb forms, I have tried to note the original in parentheses below.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, it appears to my knowledge only in Hymns for Worship.

The song calls upon the God of nature to bless us spiritually.

I. Stanza 1 asks Him tovrecreate us by His Spirit

God, who touchest earth with beauty,

Make my heart anew (me lovely, too),

With Thy Spirit recreate me,

Pure and strong and true (Make my heart anew).

  1. Those who wait on God are told that they can be renewed: Isa. 40:31
  2. To accomplish this, He gives us of His Spirit: 1 Jn. 4:12-13
  3. The result is that we are made pure and strong and true: Eph. 3:16

II. Stanza 2 asks Him to purify and strengthen our hearts

Like Thy springs and running waters,

Make me crystal pure,

Like Thy rocks of towering grandeur

Make me strong and sure.

  1. Like a crystal spring, God wants us to be pure: 1 Jn. 3:1-3
  2. God Himself is like a rock of towering grandeur: Ps. 71:1-3
  3. Thus, He can help us be steadfast and sure like a rock: 2 Pet. 1:8-10

III. Stanza 3 asks Him to help us live lives of gladness and uprightness (not in HFWR)

Like the dancing (shining) waves in sunlight,

Make me glad and free,

Like the straightness of the pine trees,

Let me upright be.

  1. The blessings of God should make our hearts glad: Ps. 16:7-9
  2. They also encourage us to be like a tree planted by the water: Ps. 1:1-3
  3. Therefore, we should strive to be upright in our lives: Ps. 112:1-4

IV. Stanza 4 asks Him to lift our thoughts to higher things

Like the arching of the heavens,

Lift my thoughts above,

Turn my dreams to noble action,

Ministries of love.

  1. We need to lift our thoughts above: Col. 3:1-2
  2. But we must also express these higher thoughts in “noble action”: 1 Jn. 3:16-18
  3. The reason for this is that we are to be ministers in love to one another: 1 Pet. 4:8-10
  4. Stanza 5

V. Stanza 5 asks Him to give us songs of joy and thanksgiving (not in HFWR)

Like the birds that soar while singing,

Give my heart a song;

May the music of thanksgiving

Echo clear and strong.

  1. God wants us to have a joyful song in our hearts: Ps. 40:1-3
  2. It should be a song of thanksgiving: Ps. 26:6-7
  3. And it should echo clear and strong for all to hear: Ps. 98:2-4

VI. Stanza 6 asks Him to keep us as we ought to be

God, who touches earth with beauty,

Make my heart anew (me lovely, too),

Keep me ever, by Thy Spirit,

Pure and strong and true.

  1. This is an echo of the opening stanza which asked God to make our hearts anew: Rom. 12:1-2
  2. However, the conclusion of the song then calls upon the Lord to keep us pleasing in His sight: Jude 1 vs. 24-25
  3. And He will make us pure and strong and true as we are transformed into His image: 2 Cor. 3:18

CONCL.: This hymn does not specifically tell us anything about how to be delivered from sin’s crippling bondage, through faith in Christ, or how to live and grow in Christlikeness; yet, it is not incompatible with these essential concepts. Thus the song can serve a worthwhile purpose to help remind us of lessons God has provided all around us in nature.  We need learn those lessons ourselves, and then teach them to others, especially to instill godly wisdom in our children.  In this way, we look for a re-creating work in our hearts from “God, Who Touchest Earth with Beauty.”