Hymnspiration: Near to the Heart of God

ClelandBoydMcAfeeThis poignant hymn was written and composed in 1901 by Cleland Boyd McAfee, a Presbyterian minister and theologian, in response to the deaths of two nieces who contracted diphtheria and died within twenty-four hours of one another.  He had written it as a way to not only comfort his family but himself.

According to 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth Osbeck, “he first sang it with choking voice just outside the darkened, quarantined house of his brother, Howard, the day of the double funeral.”  The following Sunday the choir at McAfee’s church sang the hymn during the communion service:

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Cleland Boyd McAfee was born on September 25, 1866 in Ashley, Missouri to parents John and Anna McAfee.  John was the founder of Park College in Parkville, Missouri, where Cleland was pastor and dean of the college at the time he wrote this hymn.  Cleland graduated from Park College in 1884 and later graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York.

In addition to serving as dean of the college, he was a professor of philosophy and the choir director.  In 1892 he married Harriet Lawson Brown and together they had three children: Ruth Myrtle, Katharine Agnes and Mildred Helen.  Mildred would later become the first director of WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), a naval auxiliary service for women.

Cleland became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago in 1901 and three years later the pastor of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, New York.  From 1912 to 1930 he was a professor of systematic theology at McCormick Theological Seminary, and in 1912 he authored a work entitled “The Greatest English Classic: A Study Of The King James Version Of The Bible”.

Following his service at McCormick, McAfee headed the Presbyterian Foreign Missions Board until 1936.  According to Osbeck, he was “an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, author of a number of books and learned papers, and was honored by his denomination to serve as the elected moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.”

After retiring, Cleland McAfee continued to write, teach, lecture and preach until his death on February 4, 1944.  As noted above, he received numerous accolades and honors during his lifetime, but is best remembered for this one simple hymn.

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

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.



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