Hymnspiration: In The Garden

CharlesAustinMilesCharles Austin Miller penned the words and wrote the music for In The Garden, one of many hymns he wrote during his career as a gospel songwriter.  Miller, however, didn’t start out with a musical career in mind.

He was born on January 7, 1868 in New Jersey to parents Charles and Sara Miller.  Charles graduated from the Philadelphia School of Pharmacy in 1889 and in 1891 he married Bertha Haagan.  Together he and Bertha had three children: Charles, Jr., Russell and Kathryn.

One source indicates that Charles abandoned his career as a pharmacist as early as 1892, when he wrote his first gospel hymn, List ’Tis Jesus’ Voice.  That song was published by the Hall-Mack Company, and Charles would served as manager and editor of the company for thirty-seven years.

In 1912, Dr. Adam Geibel asked Charles to write a hymn that would be “sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line; one that would bring hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary and downy pillows to dying beds.”  Sounds like a tall order!  Besides having been trained as a pharmacist, Charles was an amateur photographer.  In a book, Forty Gospel Hymn Stories, by George W. Sanville, Charles related how his most popular hymn came to be written through a vision he experienced:

One day in March, 1912, I was seated in the dark room, where I kept my photographic equipment and organ.  I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favorite chapter, John 20 – whether by chance or inspiration let each reader decide.  That meeting of Jesus and Mary had lost none of its power to charm.

As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene.  I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord, and cried, “Rabboni!”

My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall.  As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches.  A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows.  It was Mary.  As she came to the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and hurried away.

John, in flowing robe, appeared, looking at the tomb; then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John.  As they departed, Mary reappeared; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept.  Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing, so did I.  I knew it was He.  She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched and looking into His face cried “Rabboni!”

I awakened in full light, gripping the Bible, with muscles tense and nerves vibrating.  Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the poem exactly as it has since appeared.  That same evening I wrote the music.

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.


And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

Charles Austin Miller was still working as a music editor in 1940, and it’s possible that he continued writing hymns until his death on March 10, 1946.   His great-granddaughter later remarked that the  popular and touching hymn was written “in a cold, dreary and leaky basement in New Jersey that didn’t even have a window in it let alone a view of a garden.”

Yet, the song is second only to The Old Rugged Cross in popularity as a gospel hymn.  Not long after the song was published, evangelist Billy Sunday made the hymn somewhat of a theme song for his crusades, sung by his musical director Homer Rodeheaver and Virginia Asher.

It has been recorded by artists like Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Johnny Cash and many more.  In The Garden was also a featured song in the Academy Award-winning Sally Fields movie, Places in the Heart.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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