Hymn Stories

I Know That My Redeemer Lives
By Harry Eskew

Samuel Medley (1738-1799) was converted by a sermon delivered by the great hymn writer Isaac Watts, read to him by his grandfather, and by hearing evangelist George Whitfield preach. In 1769 he joined a Baptist church on Eagle Street in London. In addition to establishing a school, he was called in 1766 to pastor the Baptist church on Eagle Street. From 1767–1772 he served as pastor of a Baptist church at Watford, Herefordshire and one at Liverpool (1772–99) where he became a friend to the Baptist pastor John Fawcett, author of “Blest Be the Tie That Binds.” Medley’s hymns were published during his lifetime in several editions. After his death in 1800, an edition of 232 of Medley’s hymns was published.

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O God, Our Help in Ages Past
By Harry Eskew

Up to the time of Englishman Isaac Watts, Protestant congregational singing in Europe and the American colonies consisted mainly of singing the psalms arranged in poetic meter. The very first book published in the American colonies was a psalter, known as the “Bay Psalm Book” published in Massachusetts in 1640 and followed by a number of editions. Credit for moving churches from the exclusive use of psalms to singing hymns belongs to Isaac Watts (1674-1748), known as the “Father of English Hymnody.”

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Were You There?
By Harry Eskew

Among the rich traditions of American sacred song, no hymnal is considered complete without a selection of representative African American spirituals. This body of song has been described beautifully by Thea Bowman in her article “The Gift of African American Sacred Song”:

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Rejoice, the Lord is King
By Harry Eskew

This hymn text by Charles Wesley was published first in his brother John Wesley’s Moral and Sacred Poems (1744) and two years later in his own collection of sixteen hymns, Hymns for our Lord’s Resurrection (1746). Four of Charles Wesley’s original six stanzas are found in our hymnal. Carlton Young in the Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal (566) observed that the refrain for the first three stanzas comes from the Great Thanksgiving of the Eucharist beginning “Life up your hearts” with the final refrain from Paul’s resounding affirmation of the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52, particularly 15:51-52a: “We will not die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

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It Is Well with My Soul
By Harry Eskew

Some hymns arise from personal tragedies as profound expressions of faith. “It Is Well with My Soul” emerged from a family catastrophe. Upon the advice of his family physician, the hymn’s author, Horatio G. Spafford, a successful Chicago lawyer and friend of evangelists Dwight L. Moody, Ira D. Sankey, and Philip P. Bliss, planned a European trip for his family to benefit his wife’s health. Due to unexpected business complications, Spafford remained in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters, as scheduled, on the ship Ville du Havre in November 1873, expecting to join them in a few days.

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God Will Take Care of You
By Harry Eskew

This month’s hymn story has Georgia connections. It also represents a ministry partnership between a husband and wife. Walter Stillman Martin, born in 1862 in Rowley, Massachusetts, studied for the ministry at Harvard University and became an ordained Baptist minister. Their common interest in music brought him together with his future wife, Civilla Durfee Holden, a veteran music teacher, born in 1866 in Jordan, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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Beach Spring: A Popular Sacred Harp Tune
By Harry Eskew

One of the tunes from The Sacred Harp of 1844 used frequently in recent Baptist hymnals is the beautiful, pentatonic (five-note) melody, Beach Spring.

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My Country, ‘Tis of Thee
By Harry Eskew

While a student preparing for the Baptist ministry at Andover Theological Seminary in Newton Massachusetts, Samuel F. Smith wrote this popular patriotic hymn, memorized by schoolchildren  around the nation and partially quoted in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” a claim to the great documents of this country which accelerated the Civil Rights Movement.

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Rescue the Pershing
By Harry Eskew

A number of Fanny Crosby’s hymns were set to music by William Howard Doane, a successful Baptist businessman who wrote more than 2,200 tunes and edited more than forty collections.

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He Leadeth Me! O Blessed Thought
By Harry Eskew

We are fortunate to have the words of the author of this beloved hymn, JosephHenry Gilmore (1834-1918), giving his story of how he cam to wrote the words of “He Leadeth Me.”

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Christ the Lord is Risen Today
By Harry Eskew

This hymn is probably sung more on Easter Sunday than any other hymn in the English language.

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Isaac Watts: Father of English Hymnody
By Harry Eskew

How is your church’s congregational singing? Here’s what the young Isaac Watts (1674-1748) had to say about the singing in his church: “While we sing the Praises of our God in his Church, we are emply’d in that part of Worship which of all others is the nearest a-kin to Heaven.

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In the Bleak Midwinter
By Harry Eskew

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), born in London, England, was the daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, professor of Italian at King’s College. Because of her beauty, she became a model for portraits of the Madonna  by British artists, including her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

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Good Christian Friends, Rejoice
By Harry Eskew

“Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” exudes excitement as it calls us to connect to the source of happiness and joy in the message of Jesus. John Mason Neale’s 1855 English translation repeats the same first line in all three stanzas.

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Tell Out, My Soul, the Greatness of the Lord
By Harry Eskew

Timothy Dudley-Smith has been writing hymn texts for over fifty years. This paraphrase of the Song of Mary (the Magnificat) is the first and the most widely sung of his hymns.

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Precious Lord, Take My Hand
by Harry Eskew

Thomas A. Dorsey wrote this hymn in 1932 a few days after the death of his first wife, Nettie, and their infant son. She died in childbirth, and the child died within 24 hours of the mother.

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Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
by Harry Eskew

This familiar four-line hymn, usually sung by the choir and congregation at the close of a Sons of Jubal concert, is sung in manychurches as an expression of   gratitude to God after worshippers place their tithes and offerings in the collection plate during Sunday worship.

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Easter Hymn Stories
by Harry Eskew

“The Day of Resurrection” and “Come, Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain”

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Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus
by Harry Eskew

The composer of the tune, New Orleans, E. O. [Earnest Orlando] Sellers (1869 – 1952), lived for several years in Macon, Georgia but spent much of his life in New Orleans.

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Low in the Grave He Lay
by Harry Eskew

Of all the well known Easter hymns known in America, probably none is more descriptive and dramatic than  “Low in
the Grave He Lay,” written in 1874 by Robert Lowry, Baptist pastor, college professor, author, editor, and composer.

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
by Harry Eskew

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) is one of the best known of American poets.  During a time of personal and national crisis, he wrote the poem that became a familiar Christmas Hymn.

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How Great Thou Art
by Harry Eskew

“How Great Thou Art” has a complicated history involving several countries and several languages.Fortunately, George Beverly Shea gave a first‐hand account of this hymn in Crusade Hymn Stories (Chicago: Hope Publishing Company, 1867),8‐9.

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What Wondrous Love Is This
by Harry Eskew

“What Wondrous Love Is This”is an anonymous American folk hymn published in two words-°©‐only hymnals of the South as early as 1811:1 After 1811, this hymn text was to wait 39 years to be published with music.

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It Is Well with My Soul
by Harry Eskew

Horatio G. Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer and friend of evangelist D. L. Moody
and his musical associates, Ira D. Sankey and Philip P. Bliss.

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Amazing Grace
by Harry Eskew

“Amazing Grace” is probably the most popular hymn in the world. Even in
North Korea, the Sons of Jubal were asked to sing this beloved hymn.

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God of Grace and God of Glory
by Harry Eskew

This hymn, written in 1930 for the dedication of the Riverside Church in New
York City by Harry Emerson Fosdick, is the best known and most widely published
hymn by a twentieth-century Baptist.

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To God Be the Glory
by Harry Eskew

“To God be the glory” has a very interesting history. Methodist Fanny J.
Crosby wrote the words and Baptist William H. Doane composed the tune.

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All Creatures of Our God and King
by Harry Eskew

Born in 1182 to a wealthy Italian cloth merchant, Francis of Assisi spent his first two decades in frivolous living.

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Christ Is Alive
by Harry Eskew

Sometimes a hymn of lasting value is written in the face of human tragedy.

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How Firm a Foundation
by Harry Eskew

Based in part on Isaiah 41:10, “How Firm a Foundation” has won a place in practically very major hymnal.

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O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
By Harry Eskew

Since the 1700s, Charles Wesley’s “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” has occupied the first place in most Methodist hymn collections.

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O Sacred Head Now Wounded
By Harry Eskew

This hymn was originally a Latin meditation on Jesus dying on the cross. It is or uncertain authorship, stemming from the 12th or 13th century.

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