Hymnspiration: In Times Like These

During World War II, Ruth Caye Jones wrote the words and music to this simple, yet powerful, gospel song.  Mrs. Jones, a housewife, related that in the middle of her busy day she received spiritual inspiration – she wrote what God told her to write down.  The song was written in response to the daily stresses and strains of a woman and her family, living through the uncertainty of world-wide upheaval and war.  Sound familiar? The song has been used in a variety of settings, including funerals and at other difficult and challenging times.  Through the years, several people related to Ruth Jones how the words were a special blessing.  Ruth received encouragement from the words of her song when she herself was experiencing a health crisis. She was born in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania in 1902 and early in her life had taught herself to play both piano and organ.  She later married a pastor and together they raised five children.  Ruth established a radio ministry, broadcast each week from their home in Erie, Pennsylvania, “A Visit With the Joneses.”  Her son, Reverend Bert Jones, was an evangelist ordained by the Nazarene Church.  Not only was he a gifted minister, but a talented organist. In a 1966 interview with The Pittsburgh Press (09 Jul 1966), he observed that preaching styles had changed to become more conversational.  He continued, “Music is improved.  It is a means of evangelism.  Sometimes through the message in song or in my case through an organ solo, the heart is touched and perhaps mellowed.”  It was not at all unusual for Rev. Jones to seat himself...

Hymnspiration: God Will Take Care of You

This hymn was written in 1904, a team effort by Civilla Durfee Martin and her husband Reverend Walter Stillman Martin, while they were attending the Practical Bible Training School in Lestershire, New York.  Stillman was also assisting the president of the school, John Davis, in publishing a songbook. Stillman, a well-known Baptist minister and evangelist, had been invited to speak at a church some distance from the school where they were staying.  However, that Sunday morning Civilla had fallen ill and unable to accompany her husband.  Although Stillman considered remaining behind to care for his wife, his son admonished him to believe that God would take care of his mother while he was away fulfilling God’s assignment. Stillman agreed with his son and, as it turned out, the service was especially moving with several people professing their faith in Christ that day.  Stillman returned that evening and found that Civilla, feeling much better, had written the words of a new hymn based on the question her son had asked his father, “Don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you are away?” Civilla Dufree Martin was born on August 21, 1866 in Nova Scotia to parents James and Irene Holden.  Before meeting Stillman she had studied music and had written several hymns, often using her initials, CD Martin, instead of her full name.  In fact the two shared a mutual love of music, which was what brought them together.  Stillman was born on March 8, 1862, attended Harvard University to study for the ministry, and was later ordained as...

Hymnspiration: How Firm A Foundation

Mystery surrounds the authorship of this beloved hymn of the Church.  A personal favorite of well-known historical figures like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and General Robert E. Lee, it first appeared in a book entitled A Selection of Hymns from the Best Author in 1787.  The authorship is attributed merely to “K”. The book was published and edited by John Rippon, an English Baptist minister.  Rippon, an influential man, served as pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (also known as the Carter Lane Baptist Church) in London for sixty-three years. Many hymnologists believe that “K” may have been Robert Keene, the song leader at Rippon’s church since later editions of the hymnal attributed the song to “Kn”. Still others surmise that it might have been a Mr. Kirkham, a fellow student of the Wesley brothers and George Whitefield, while some attribute it to George Keith.  In 1888 the Southern Methodist Review noted that their hymnals attributed the authorship to Kirkham.  The LDS (Mormon) hymnal attributes it to Robert Keene. This majestic and soul-stirring hymn became popular throughout the Northern and Southern states in America, and sung by soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.  Andrew Jackson asked that the hymn be sung at his dying bedside.  Robert E. Lee requested that the song at his funeral “as an expression of his full trust in the ways of the Heavenly Father.” Disagreements over authorship aside, the hymn has a powerful message, solidly based in scripture: Verse 2:  Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; year,...

Hymnspiration: What A Friend We Have In Jesus

Today’s hymn was written as a poem, and while its lyrics are simple and not particularly eloquent, it has become a song which brings comfort in times of great need.  The words convey the basic need we all have of a Savior to save us, comfort us, lead us and protect us.  According to Ken Osbeck, author of 101 Hymn Stories, “so relevant to the basic spiritual needs of people are these words that many missionaries state that it is one of the first hymns taught to new converts.” Joseph Scriven was born in 1819 into a well-to-do Dublin, Ireland family.  He began attending Trinity College in 1835 and finally graduated in 1842 after a brief stint at a military college in England.  While attending college, Joseph and his parents were converted and became affiliated with the Plymouth Puritan Brethren, whose beliefs included a disdain for organized meetings and church hierarchy. Joseph was engaged to be married, but tragically his fiancée accidentally drowned the night before their wedding.  Distraught, he decided to leave Ireland and immigrate to Canada to start a new life.  After arriving in Ontario he taught school for a time and then worked as a general laborer.  He aligned himself with the Church of England and wasn’t afraid to share his faith, known to frequently read and share the scriptures with his fellow railroad workers. In 1857 he began tutoring the children of a retired naval officer, Lieutenant Pengelly.  He later fell in love and was engaged to Pengelly’s niece Eliza Roche, but tragedy struck again when Eliza suddenly took ill and died the day before...

Hymnspiration: O Worship The King

Today’s hymn was written by a very busy man.  Sir Robert Grant was born in India in 1779, and his father, Charles Grant, at that time was director of the East India Company.  Charles and his family were also members of what was called the Clapham Sect, an evangelical off-shoot of the Church of England dedicated to social issues such as the abolishment of slavery. Robert and his older brother Charles attended Magdalene College in Cambridge and both received their law degrees on the same day in January of 1807.  Robert was elected to serve in Parliament the following year, an office he held for several more years. He and Charles both worked with William Wilberforce, another member of the Clapham Sect serving in Parliament, to abolish slavery.  Another notable accomplishment of Robert’s was passage of a law in 1830 emancipating the Jews of England.  A similar bill had passed the year before granting more freedom and rights to Roman Catholics. In addition to his busy political career, which included the governorship of Bombay in 1834, Sir Robert was a missions supporter.  He also wrote sacred poems, twelve of them published in a volume called Sacred Poems by his brother Charles following his death.  The one having the most lasting impact over the years is today’s hymn, O Worship The King, penned after Robert read a translation of Psalm 104 in a psalm book: O Worship the King all glorious above! O gratefully sing His power and His love, Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days, Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise. O tell of His might,...

Hymnspiration: The Love of God

Today’s hymn had its roots in an ancient (eleventh century) Jewish poem called the Hadamut.  The poem was originally composed in Aramaic, consisting of ninety couplets or verses, by Rabbi Mayer, son of Isaac Nehorai, a cantor in Worms, Germany.   The poem is most often read in a responsive manner in some synagogues during the Jewish holiday of Shavuos (Feast of Weeks) – the Torah reader singing two verses and the congregants singing the next two and so on. The Jewish poem begins by extolling the greatness of God and then goes on to describe a miracle, although opinions vary as to what the actual miracle was (or if there really was one at all).  Some have interpreted it to mean that the Jews were facing extermination if a non-Jewish priest was successful in defending his beliefs.  However, the Jewish priest triumphed and the Jews in Worms were spared. Fast forward about eight hundred years or so when the third stanza of this epic poem was found penciled on the walls of an insane asylum: Were the sky of parchment made, A quill each reed, each twig and blade, Could we with ink the oceans fill, Were every man a scribe of skill, The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory Would still remain untold; For He, most high The earth and sky Created alone of old. An evangelist in the late 1890’s concluded his message by quoting these scrawled verses.  At the meeting, and making notes, was songwriter Frederick H. Lehman.  Lehman, born in Germany in 1868, immigrated with his family at age four and lived in Iowa.  At...