Hymnspiration: Rock of Ages

The words of today’s hymn were written in 1763 by Reverend Augustus Montague Toplady and first published in The Gospel Magazine in 1775 or 1776.  Some believe the hymn was inspired after Toplady, while traveling and caught in a storm, sought refuge in a gorge in Burrington Combe, England – but no real proof exists and many historians doubt the validity of this “legend”. Augustus Montague Toplady was born in Surrey, England on November 4, 1740 to parents Richard and Catherine Toplady.  It is thought that perhaps his father Richard was from Ireland and had entered the Royal Marines as a commissioned officer in 1739.  Richard, however, likely died of yellow fever during the Battle of Carthegena in 1741, leaving Catherine to raise her son alone. Little is known about his early years, except that around 1755 Augustus and his mother moved to Ireland where he enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin.   In August of that year he was said to have heard Reverend James Morris, possibly a follower of Methodist John Wesley, preach a sermon.  At this time Augustus experienced his own personal conversion to Christ, marveling years later he wrote the following: Strange that I, who had long sat under the means of grace in England, should be brought right with God in an obscure part of Ireland, midst a handful of people met together in a barn, and by the ministry of one who could hardly spell his own name.  Surely it was the Lord’s doing and is marvellous. There is some controversy over the theology that Toplady embraced.  Many believe that he initially followed the...

Hymnspiration: This Little Light of Mine

The subject of today’s article might not be considered a hymn in the strictest definition of the term, since it was written as a children’s song.  It was one of my favorite Sunday School songs when I was growing up, and come to think of it, still is — if nothing but for its simplicity and a reminder to be a good witness to those around me.  It was likely based on one of these two scriptures: Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16) OR No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. (Luke 11:33) For Sunday School kids it’s an interactive song, holding up the index finger to represent the light (candle) and going through the motions of “hide it under a bushel, No!” and “don’t let Satan blow it out”.  Look up the lyrics and you’ll find several variations, and while I’m not sure what the actual original words were, I remember it best as it’s sung in this video. Over the years, the song was thought to be a Negro spiritual, but since it was written in 1920 by...

Hymnspiration: In The Garden

Charles 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...

Hymnspiration: On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand

This old hymn is still included in hymnals today although perhaps not sung as often as it once was.  A contemporary version of it was recorded by the Christian singing group Jars of Clay in 2005.  Its theme is obviously about heaven and looking beyond what one has on earth to what one looks forward to “on the other side” (Canaan/Heaven). On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand, And cast a wishful eye To Canaan’s fair and happy land, Where my possessions lie. Refrain I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land; Oh who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land. O the transporting, rapturous scene, That rises to my sight! Sweet fields arrayed in living green, And rivers of delight! There generous fruits that never fail, On trees immortal grow; There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales, With milk and honey flow. O’er all those wide extended plains Shines one eternal day; There God the Son forever reigns, And scatters night away. No chilling winds or poisonous breath Can reach that healthful shore; Sickness and sorrow, pain and death, Are felt and feared no more. When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest, For I shall see my Father’s face, And in His bosom rest. Filled with delight my raptured soul Would here no longer stay; Though Jordan’s waves around me roll, Fearless I’d launch away. The hymn was first published in John Rippon’s 1787 hymnal, entitled A Selection of Hymns From the Best Authors.  It appeared under the category of “Hell and...

Hymnspiration: Count Your Blessings

Today’s hymn was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and set to music by Edward O. Excell.  The hymn, based on Ephesians 1:3, was first published in 1897 and considered to be the best of over five thousand songs Oatman wrote during his lifetime. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. Johnson Oatman, Jr. was born on April 21, 1856 in New Jersey to parents Johnson and Rachel Oatman.  His father was an accomplished singer and Johnson, Jr. loved to sit beside him in church listening to him sing.  Early in his life he was involved in the family mercantile business and at the age of nineteen joined the Methodist church.  He was later licensed as a Methodist Episcopal minister although he never served as a full-time pastor, instead working with various local congregations on a fill-in basis. Following his father’s death, Johnson worked in the insurance industry.  In 1892, at the age of thirty-six, he began writing songs – some say that he averaged writing four or five a week and rarely receiving more than one dollar per song. Hymn historian J.M. Hall stated that while Johnson Oatman, Jr. never served in a local pastorate, “he daily preaches to a larger congregation than the pastor of any church in the land.” Through his hymns he was able to preach the Gospel “to all the world.”  Hall also remarked that he believed no hymnal was complete without one of Oatman’s hymns. Count Your Blessings first appeared in Songs for Young People, published in...

Hymnspiration: Great Is Thy Faithfulness

The composer of today’s hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, claimed to have had no special inspiration for writing it, other than his day-by-day walk with Christ and the truth of the scriptures.  This hymn, set to music by William M. Runyan, became Thomas Chisholm’s most beloved and well known. Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father! There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not; Thy compassions, they fail not: As thou hast been Thou forever wilt be. Refrain: Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided— Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me. Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow— blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside. Thomas Obadiah Chisholm Thomas Obadiah Chisholm was born in Franklin, Kentucky on July 29, 1866 to parents James Washington and Lucy Chisholm.  At the age of sixteen, Thomas became a teacher and later edited the local newspaper, The Franklin Favorite.  His mother passed away in 1890 and in 1893, at the age of twenty-seven, Thomas accepted Christ as his Savior at a revival meeting held by Dr. H.C. Morrison. Dr. Morrison invited Thomas to join him in Louisville as the editor of his magazine, the Pentecostal Herald.  At the age of thirty-six, Thomas was ordained as...