Stories of the Great Hymns
of The Christian Faith
Contributed by SJL

Hymn Titles

I Love to Tell the Story

Words written by Katherine Hankey, and music composed by William G. Fischer. Katherine Hankey was born in London in 1834. Her wealthy parents were members of the Anglican Church and her father a member of the prestigious Christian group called the Clapham Sect of Evangelicals. Kate inherited her fathers’ limitless energy and love for people. She used her resources and talents to organize Sunday School classes that were a positive influence on many young girls, and aided many evangelical groups. She also loved writing, and wrote several books including poetry, with all royalties going to charities or foreign mission projects.

While recovering from an illness when she was in her early 30’s, she passed the time by writing a long poem on the life of Jesus. The poem was written in two parts. The first section of verses became the popular Hymn known as “Tell Me the Old, Old Story”.

The second part of the poem became know as “I Love to Tell the Story”. Kate wrote her own music for the hymn, but this tune never became popular. Then in 1869 William G. Fischer, an American piano maker, composed the music that we know and love today. He also added the refrain “Twill be my theme in glory—to tell the old, old story, of Jesus and His love”. It was first published in a hymnal in 1875 and has been popular with many congregations ever since.

In the Garden

C. Austin Miles wrote both the words and music for this gospel hymn, which has been popular in churches as well as revival meetings.

Miles inspiration for this hymn came while he was reading the Bible and happened to open it to John chapter 20. By his own report, he became entranced and saw a vision of Mary as she came to the tomb of Jesus, finding it empty. As he watched, she turned and saw Jesus standing beside her and recognized he had risen from the dead. Her sorrow now turned to joy, for Jesus was alive!

When Miles awakened, he was deeply moved by his vision and immediately wrote the words and music as they appear today. Since this March day in 1912, congregations everywhere have loved this tender hymn, which springs eternal promise for those who believe.

Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love

Words written by William Walsham How, and the music composed by Everett Titcomb.

William How was born in England in 1823, and became a priest at age 24. He worked tirelessly in the slum district of East London and was well known and loved for his efforts to improve the conditions in which the poor lived. While other Bishops lived in luxury, he would not, preferring to reside and work with the people that he served. Because of this he became known as the “poor man’s bishop”.

He loved music as well, composing over 60 hymns during his lifetime, many of which are still enjoyed today. Although the specific circumstances by which William How wrote this beautiful hymn are not known, we do know that the hymn is based on Philippians 2: 9-11.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… Phil. 2:9-11.

The Old Rugged Cross

Words and music written by George Bennard.

George Bennard was born in Ohio, and moved to Iowa at a young age, where he grew up and accepted Christ as his personal savior. George decided to devote his life to Christ and was ordained as a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church. His ministry was greatly respected, and he enjoyed leading revival meetings across America.

Throughout trying times in his life, he often thought of the cross and the reasons why Christians must endure suffering. It was during one of these times that the inspiration for The Old Rugged Cross came to him. The theme and melody were written first, but the right words eluded him. Months later, after a grueling series of revival meetings, God gave him the words for this great hymn, and it was completed in June of 1913.

Soon afterwards, this hymn began gaining popularity until it has become one of the most widely published songs in America today. George Bennard continued to write additional hymns, none of which became as popular and dear to as many people as The Old Rugged Cross.

Rock of Ages

Words written by Augustus Montague Toplady and music composed by Thomas Hastings.

Augustus Toplady was born in England in 1740, and died at age 38 from Tuberculosis. He was educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It was here that he was led to Christ by a Methodist preacher in a humble barn. Mr. Toplady, although always physically frail, had a zest for life and loved discussion of the relevant issues of the day.

At first he investigated the ministry of Charles Wesley and the Methodists, but later joined the Calvinists and moved back to London where he preached at the French Calvinist Church. He willingly participated in public debates and confronted Charles Wesley for many years in his sermons, in pamphlets, and in letters.

This beloved hymn, Rock of Ages, was written first as a poem contained in an article he wrote on the British National Debt entitled “A Living and Dying Prayer for the Holiest Believer in the World”. The article was intended to show that similarly to England’s financial obligations, if our sins are left unchecked, they could increase and multiply at an alarmingly fast rate. Therefore, as England could never repay her debt, we could not repay our debt to God by our own pathetic efforts. God alone must save us.

An American, Thomas Hastings, wrote the beautiful tune for this hymn. He felt that God deserved our best music and dedicated his life to improving and writing music for the church. Although he was born an albino with very poor eyesight, and did not have hardly any formal music training, he wrote over 1000 hymn tunes and 600 hymn texts! New York University presented him with an honorary music degree in 1858, recognizing his great influence in shaping the music of the church.

Nearer, My God, to Thee

Words written by Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, and music composed by Lowell Mason.

Sarah Fuller Flower was born in England in 1805. Her father was the editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer and the Political Review. She married William Bridges Adams, a civil engineer and inventor at age 29. Mrs. Adams, although physically frail, made the most of each day of her life. She loved acting and played her last role as Lady Mac Beth in London’s Richmond Theater before her failing health forced her to retire from the theater at age 32. Soon she began to write poetry. Sarah’s Unitarian pastor, Reverend William Johnson Fox loved hymns and asked Sarah as well as her sister, Eliza, an accomplished musician, to help him prepare a new hymnal for their congregation. The sister’s happily agreed to help, contributing 13 hymn texts and 62 tunes! Just before the hymnal was sent to press Reverend Fox asked Sarah to write a hymn for a sermon has was preparing about a dream Jacob had of a ladder leading to heaven, as he fled in the desert, far from his home, as written in Genesis 28: 10-22. Sarah finished this hymn just in time to be included in the new hymnal.

This hymn, although sometimes faulted because it does not mention Christ, is a favorite of many. Surprisingly, it was preferred by William McKinley, our 25th president, who is said to have whispered the words of this hymn with his last breath. It is also said by survivors that this hymn was played by the ships band over the Atlantic Ocean as the Titanic sank into the icy water, killing 1500 people.

The tune we all know and love is actually the second tune used for this hymn, which was written by American hymn writer Lowell Mason. In 1868 he wrote these words to a friend: “They applied to me for a musical setting for the hymn, “Nearer, My God, To Thee”. The metre was irregular. But one night some time after, lying awake in the dark, eyes wide open, through the stillness of the house, the melody came to me, and the next morning I wrote down the notes…..”

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be, nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with Thy Praise,
Out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

There in my Father’s home, safe and at rest;
There in my Savior’s love, perfectly blest;
Age after age to be, nearer, my God to Thee,

Nearer, my God to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

(#7) Abide with Me

Written in 1847 by Henry Francis Lyte, and the music composed in 1861 by William Henry Monk

Henry Francis Lyte was born in Scotland. As a young boy he enjoyed writing, and during his college years entered several poetry contests in which he won prizes. Although always physically fragile, he tirelessly worked toward his life’s goals. His motto was always “It is better to wear out than to rust out.” After attending college in Ireland, he pastured several churches and was well known and liked for his steadfast faith and courage. He served the last 23 years of his life pastoring a poor church near a fishing village in Devon shire, England. He and his wife, Anne, were given a beautiful home on 41 acres of land by King William IV, who had a great respect for Lytes work in the ministry. Henry loved the peacefulness and beautiful views of the water at his home, and this is where he wrote many of his sermons, music, and verses.

In his later years, after a long battle with asthma, he developed tuberculosis and grew progressively weaker. He continued to preach and serve the Lord until he could no longer, and preached his last sermon on September 4, 1847. Hoping a break from the damp, cold winter in England would help him recover, he planned a trip to Italy. While packing, it is said that he discovered a poem in his desk drawer that he had begun to write 25 years earlier, and was compelled to finish it that evening. The poem was on his mind as he traveled, and he made several revisions, which he recorded and mailed to his family at home. He never made it to Italy. Too weak to travel further, he stayed the last few days of his life in Nice, France and went to abide with his Savior on November 20, 1847, at age 54. This hymn was inspired by the story of the two disciples Jesus met on the way to Emmaus. Luke 24:29 says that the disciples as Jesus to “abide with us”, and he did! What hope this gives Christians, even today! During our darkest hour we can be confident that we are never alone, and Jesus is walking beside us. Jesus is our hope, our Lord, our Savior, the one who gives us joy and peace.

The music for this hymn was written in 1861 by William Henry Monk, who discovered that this poem needed a tune while editing a hymn book called Hymns Ancient and Modern. He was so touched by the words that it is said he wrote the music in less than half an hour. It is one of his best melodies!

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide!
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempters power?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.