Sunday School Songs Sunday, June 28, 2015

I spent the week mixing baking soda and vinegar together.  I was neither baking nor preparing a meal. I was conducting science experiments at Vacation Bible School.

VBS curriculum usually includes six components: music, art, science, story time, recreation, and snack time. The art work goes home and gathers dust, recreation and snack time are soon forgotten, the science experiments are filed for future reference. What remains long after the VBS program are the stories and the songs.  The songs are important because they reinforce the stories.

I surveyed friends and family for favorite Sunday School songs. Let me share the findings with  you. Some were familiar to me, some were new.

One of the things that separates children’s songs from adult songs is that children’s songs often include actions.  “Father Abraham” is good for dropping a few pounds.

“Zacchaeus,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “The Wise Man Built His House upon the Rock”—all of these have actions that reinforce the story or the message.

There are lots of reasons that make children’s songs important. One is relational.

My sister likes “I love to tell the story” because that is her son’s favorite hymn. “And, as a parent, it is comforting to know that my child has a favorite hymn. As a parent, you want your child to have Faith and have a relationship with Jesus Christ and have eternal life.”

Another great thing about the songs is how they form and help us.  My mother-in-law remembers how secure “Jesus Loves Me”

made her feel. What a great gift for any child or adult to be able to sing that song and know that you are safe because someone loves you. “Joy is Like the Rain

” is another reassuring song.

Other songs bring back memories of joy.  Singing songs like “I Lift Your Name on HIgh”

and “I’m in Love with the King!”

and “I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N”

take us to an emotional high that can’t be duplicated in ordinary conversation. That remind me of another song: “I have the Joy, Joy, Joy down in My Heart.” That’s what what happens when we sing these rousing praise songs: they embed themselves in our hearts and bring joy to us anytime they are recalled. What a great gift to have faith and joy intertwined as one in our hearts. What a wonderful way to reinforce our faith–with good feelings, rather than boring or scary feelings.  Boring and scary can both be associated with church and the Bible, so joy songs are a special gift. The other part of that joy is remembering the people with home you sang it.  Maybe you remember who played the guitar or the piano to accompany you.  Maybe you remember sitting around a campfire singing against the dark.

Sunday School songs can teach us to pray. “Do, Lord, oh, do, Lord, oh, do remember me!” is sung with enthusiasm, but it is first of all a prayer.

Sunday School songs also help us to remember details.  You can easily remember the twelve disciples names or the books of the Bible,once you learn to sing them. “There were 12 disciples Jesus called to help him…”

makes it easy to recall more than Peter, James, and John.

Many of our favorite songs retell stories  and parables we’ve heard from our childhood.  The foolish and wise maidens inspired “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning!!”

“The wise man built his house upon a rock. The foolish man built his house upon the sand…and the rains came a’tumblin down…..

–there’s good advice for all of us. “Father Abraham”

reminds us of God’s enduring promises. “Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man”

reminds us that Jesus doesn’t leave anybody out.

Like the hymns we sing in church, Sunday School songs are an expression of faith.  When I see children singing in church, I see a sincerity and engagement that I don’t always notice in adults.  They believe as they sing, they mean what they are singing. There is no doubt in those little eyes.  That is a good lesson for us: when doubt attacks, pull out the hymnal….or just reach into your memory and sing your version of “Jesus Loves Me.”

Some songs are not only religious but also political, in the sense of seeking justice. They help us to find ways to follow “The Golden Rule.” “Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World

” reminds us that God loves everyone. My children’s favorite junior choir song was “One Tin Soldier.” It had no mention of God in it, but it was all about caring for God’s creation. I found it strange to sing that as an anthem, but I am glad that that song meant so much to them. The refrain is so negative, but they understood the sarcasm and the irony and they knew that they were supposed to do the opposite:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor,

Go ahead and cheat a friend.

Do it in the name of Heaven,

You can justify it in the end.

There won’t be any trumpets blowing

Come the judgement day,

On the bloody morning after….

One tin soldier rides away.

Another favorite song, “Johnny Appleseed,

” works in the same way: “Hey, down along the road If you’re after getting the honey Then you don’t go killing all the bees.”

Music helps us to learn, to remember, to grow.  Music engages the brain in ways that make us smarter and more productive.

Another reason I value childhood songs so much is that they are learned while the brain is still developing.  Young brains are receptive to new ideas and experiences and those ideas and experiences help to mold both self-concept and perception of the world.  It is a blessing and a bonus when a child’s point of view is reinforced with the teachings of Scripture.  The ideas we learn from songs influence us for the rest of our lives.  Who cannot feel comfort from singing “Jesus Loves Me?” Who cannot take advice from “The Wise Man” building his house on the rock? Who cannot be inspired by letting a  “little light shine?”

I want to share a story from my brother.  First of all, let me tell you about Charlotte. (Her mother and my grandmother were sisters.) Charlotte was a legend in our family.  She taught the “Cradle Roll,” the youngest children for decades, for two generations, maybe three. I’ve mentioned b efore that she lived beyond the 100-year mark and was always loved by her Sunday School children.  We sang “Jesus Loves Me” at her funeral. My brother has this memory of Charlotte: “One time during the Christmas season, Charlotte sat next to me. One of the songs we sang that evening was “Away in the Manger”.  Charlotte leaned over to me and said something to the effect of “Wouldn’t this place be full if all the kids I taught this to were here, and wouldn’t it be a wonderful sound?” (This was probably after she retired from Sunday School, but was several years before her age caught up to her.)

Our earliest songs form the foundation of our faith. We learn to praise, to give thanks, to pray from our first songs.  Our first songs are the foundation for our knowledge of the Bible. Our first songs are easy to sing and hard to forget.  Praise God for the gift of music!  Amen.

Lord, there goes Johnny Appleseed
He might pass by in the hour of need
There’s a lot of souls
Ain’t drinking from no well locked in a factory

Hey, look there goes
Hey, look there goes
If you’re after getting the honey, hey
Then you don’t go killing all the bees

Lord, there goes Martin Luther King
Notice how the door closes when the chimes of freedom ring
I hear what you’re saying, I hear what he’s saying
Is what was true now no longer so

Hey, I hear what you’re saying
Hey, I hear what he’s saying
If you’re after getting the honey, hey
Then you don’t go killing all the bees

What the people are saying
And we know every road, go go
What the people are saying
There ain’t no berries on the trees

Let the summertime sun
Fall on the apple, fall on the apple

Lord, there goes a Buick forty-nine
Black sheep of the angels riding, riding down the line
We think there is a soul, we don’t know
That soul is hard to find

Hey, down along the road
Hey, down along the road
If you’re after getting the honey
Then you don’t go killing all the bees

Hey, it’s what the people are saying
It’s what the people are saying
Hey, there ain’t no berries on the trees
Hey, that’s what the people are saying, no berries on the trees
You’re checking out the honey, baby
You had to go killin’ all the bees


There were twelve disciples Jesus called to help him:

Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John,

Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus,

Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew.

He has called us, too. He has called us, too.

We are His disciples, I am one and you!

He has called us, too. He has called us, too.

We are His disciples, I am one and you!


1 Sarah Stange Perisho

2 Jane Prichard

3 Julie Schocker

4 Janet Johnston

5 Jen Reed Murrell

6 Sara Pascoe Muhlbauer

7 Kathy Donahue and Mike Safranek

8 Dani Vogel

9 Sheila Lepley

10 Jody Smicker

11 Jennifer Carstensen Eastman

12 Molly Hinke

13 Nancy Hunt and Martha Petersen

14 Lisa Jahn

Fanny Crosby Blessed Assurance Sunday, June 21, 2015

It’s easy and appropriate to devote one sermon to one composer because she was so talented and so prolific.  Crosby was “the most prolific of all nineteenth-century American sacred song writers”. By the end of her career she had written almost 9,000 hymns; some sources say 7,000, others,10,000. Because some publishers were hesitant to have so many hymns by one person in their hymnals, Crosby used nearly 200-250 different pseudonyms during her career.

Besides hymns, she wrote over 1,000 secular poems, two autobiographies, popular, patriotic and political songs and three cantatas.  She co-wrote many of her hymns with friends and religious professionals.

Fanny Crosby was born in 1820, shortly before her father died; she was raised by her mother and grandmother. 

Her gospel songs  were typical of revival music and contributed much to the success of the famous revivals lead by Dwight Moody and other evangelists.. The songs were not theological masterpieces or even musical masterpieces. A welcome change from the formal music of the Victorian Era, the success of her  simple ballads lay in the way they appealed to the emotions rather than the intellect.

Her hymns emphasized genuine heartfelt Christianity and religious experience between the believer and Jesus.

One biographer argues that Crosby was one of the female authors who “emasculated American religion” and helped shift it from “a rigorous Calvinism” to “an anti-intellectual and sentimental mass culture”. Feminist scholars have suggested that “emphases in her hymns both revealed and accelerated the feminizing of American evangelicalism”.

However, that was not her purpose. Instead, Crosby set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote a hymn she prayed it would bring women and men to Christ, and kept careful records of those reported to have been saved through her hymns.

While Crosby will probably always be best known for her hymns, she wanted to be remembered primarily as a rescue mission worker. She lived in the less affluent neighborhoods of New York City and many of her hymns, such as “Rescue the Perishing” were inspired by the suffering she witnessed among recent immigrants and the poor.   

Crosby indicated “from the time I received my first check for my poems, I made up my mind to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance”. Throughout her life, Crosby was described as having “a horror of wealth”, never set prices to speak, often refused honoraria, and “what little she did accept she gave away almost as soon as she got it”. After her marriage, Crosby “had other priorities and gave away anything that was not necessary to their daily survival”. She and her husband also organized concerts, with half the proceeds given to aid the poor. Throughout New York City, Crosby’s sympathies for the poor were well-known, but consisted primarily of indirect involvement by giving contributions from the sale of her poems, and by writing and sending poems for special occasions for these missions to the dispossessed, as well as sporadic visits to those missions.

Her output was amazing: some days she wrote six or seven hymns. What makes Fanny Crosby all the more remarkable is that she was blind from the age of six weeks. Every hymn she “wrote” was in her head. Sometimes she had as many as forty hymns in her head, all waiting to be transcribed. Hence, her hymn writing process is especially interesting. She said this about her writing: ‘It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one’s work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration.’ Once a hymn was composed in her mind, she dictated it to an  amanuensis.  Her lyrics would usually be transcribed by her husband, by her half-sister, Carolyn “Carrie” Ryder or by her secretary, Eva C. Cleaveland.

While Crosby had musical training and was proficient on several instruments, she did not compose the melody for most of her lyrics. In 1903 Crosby claimed that “Spring Hymn” was the only hymn she wrote both the words and music.

She wrote her first poem at the age of eight; it described her condition. Crosby later remarked: “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”Crosby also once said, “when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior”. When asked about her blindness, Crosby was reported as saying that “had it not been for her affliction she might not have so good an education or have so great an influence, and certainly not so fine a memory”.

In 1835, just before her 15th birthday, Crosby enrolled at the New York Institution for the Blind (NYIB), a state-financed school. She remained there for eight years as a student, and another two years as a graduate pupil. Eventually, she taught at the school.

Fanny Crosby was also politically active as an advocate for blind people. After graduation from the NYIB in 1843, Crosby joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. arguing for support of education for the blind. Crosby was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read a poem there.

Again, on January 24, 1844, Crosby was among the students from the NYIB who gave a concert for Congress. She recited an original composition that called for the creation of an institution for the education of the blind in every state. This was praised by, among others, John Quincy Adams.  In April 1846, Crosby spoke before a joint session of the United States Congress, with delegations from the Boston and Philadelphia Institutions for the Blind, “to advocate support for the education of the blind in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York”. She also testified before a special congressional subcommittee, and sang a song she composed in the music room at the White House for President Polk and his wife.

Are you impressed?  I am.  And we haven’t even talked about her hymns.

Which of the 9,000 is one of your favorites?  I’m going with suggestions from friends and with my own favorites.  Number one on the list is “Blessed Assurance.”  Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.  Oh, for a foretaste of glory divine.” This is one of the hymns whose words were written after the melody was written.  One of Fanny’s friends, Phoebe Knapp, had written the melody that we associate with these lyrics.  She came over to Fanny’s house one day and played the song for her on the piano.  She then asked Fanny, “What does it say?” Fanny, as was her method, clasped her Bible and prayed. The answer to the prayer is now one of her most famous hymns.

“Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” was written in similar circumstances.  Dr. W. H. Doane, a distinguished composer of sacred music, called on the blind poetess one day, and said, “I am in a hurry. I have a tune to which I want appropriate words.” He went to the piano and played the music. Several times he played it, while Fanny Crosby listened intently. She retired to another room, and in about half an hour came back with the now well-known words, and said, “They seemed to come to me without any effort.” The hymn was made famous by Ira Sankey, the great singer who traveled with the Moody revivals.

A frequently told story about “All The Way My Savior Leads Me” relates that it came to Fanny as a result of a prayer. Struggling financially, she desperately needed some money. As her usual custom, Fanny began to pray. A few minutes later, a gentleman offered her five dollars, the exact amount she needed. Later recalling the incident, she said, “I have no way of accounting for this except to believe that God put it into the heart of this good man to bring the money.”

LIke many well-loved hymns, some of Fanny Crosby’s hymns have been recoded by popular artists.  “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” is a 19th-century American hymn written by Francis J. Crosby in 1868 (lyrics) and William H. Doane in 1870 (music). The hymn has been recorded by number of artists, including Reggie Houston, Cyrus Chestnut, Bill Gaither, and Lyle Lovett. Bob Dylan performed this song live to open five concerts in his 2002 American tour. In 1991, hip hop artist MC Hammer released a version of the hymn entitled “Do Not Pass Me By” on his fourth album, Too Legit to Quit. Gospel artist Tramaine Hawkins appeared on the song as a guest vocalist. A music video was produced for this single which charted as well.

“To God Be the Glory” appears to have been written around 1872 but was first published in 1875 in Lowry and Doane’s song collection, “Brightest and Best.” It was already popular in Great Britain before publication. Ira Sankey had introduced it there during Moody‘s 1873-1874 evangelistic campaigns. Despite this, the song failed to achieve wide usage in the United States and was included in very few hymnals. In 1954 Cliff Barrows, song leader for Billy Graham, was handed a copy with the suggestion that it be added to the song book for the London Crusade. It was so popular that he included it again later that year in the Crusade in Nashville, TN. The audience responded enthusiastically and from that time on used it regularly. With this exposure the song rapidly became familiar to a Christians worldwide and is included in most modern hymnals.

Fanny Crosby has influenced as many Christians as a hundred preachers put together.  Her words speak to our hearts, to our personal relationship with Jesus.  Her hymns reassure us in time of trouble and in times of joy and thanksgiving. I am happy to share her life’s story with you because it is an equally impressive and memorable testimony to Christian faith.   She has inspired souls, from presidents and members of congress to down-on-their luck Christians in homeless shelters, for almost 200 years.  Praise God for giving Fanny Crosby not only the talent, but the courage and the ambition and the faith to inspire each of us.  Amen.

1 Darlene Neptune, Fanny Crosby Still Lives(Pelican Publishing, 2002), p. 91.

2 Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, (Yorkin Publications, 2000), p. 220.

3 Wikipedia

4 Wikipedia

5 Wikipedia

6 Wikipedia

7 Wikipedia

8To God Be the Glory entry at

Funeral Hymns, Favorite Hymns June 14, 2015

Favorite hymns become favorites because they are heard and sung over and over.

 When I asked on Facebook for suggestions for favorite hymns, most of the suggestions were “funeral” hymns. ”How Great Thou Art,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Amazing Grace” ranked at the top of the list. How did those get to be the go-to hymns for funerals?

Why?  There are five reasons. First of all, I think it’s the lack of exposure to a wide variety of other hymns. For some, funerals are the only place they ever hear hymns.  You have to sit in a pew for a lot of Sundays to hear most hymns over and over. For many people, funeral hymns are the only hymns they hear over and over. 

Two,  These hymns have become a part of our tradition:

Colleen says, ‘”How Great Thou Art” has been sung at most of my family funerals.’

When a certain hymn speaks to you at a funeral, you remember that when you are in the planning seat for a funeral.  You don’t fix something if it’s not broken. Funeral music is not meant to be a performance or even a statement of faith. It is a source of comfort. You’re not trying to impress anybody with your musical knowledge when you choose the hymns. You want only comfort and assurance.

Three, these three hymns are sung at a time when we are emotionally open and vulnerable.  Funerals are precious life events; we pay attention to our surroundings with our hearts and souls, rather than with our intellect. As Tammy says, “These are 3 of my favorite hymns! They always “move” me and lift me up. “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace” were my Grandma and Granny’s (Great Grandma) favorite songs and played at their funerals.”

Four, they have been sung by many popular recording artists and thus have a broader exposure than most of the thousands of hymns in our collection. Michelle remembers her mom loving the Loretta Lynn version of “The Old Rugged Cross.” These hymns have not been confined to a few churches and funeral parlors.  They are in the air all the time.

Five, these three hymns are beautiful, especially when they are sung by professionals, like Loretta Lynn or George Beverly Shea.  Additionally, they are easy to sing for the average singer.

These three great hymns we’re singing today were not written to be funeral hymns.  Each was written in a very specific response to one person’s experience.



John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own ship, one which plied the slave trade.

Legend has it that on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.

However, despite the popular legends about John Newton’s writing of this song, another source says that the composition of “Amazing Grace” was not connected to his former history as a slaver-trader. In fact, Newton’s involvement in the political struggle against the slave trade began several years after these words were written.

After he left the shipping industry, Newton was ordained and served a congregation in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England.While preparing sermons he would often write a set of hymn lyrics related to the passage he was preaching from. Newton kept up this practice in part because he discovered the people remembered the words to the hymns better than the sermon, so it became a way of making sure they remembered his message. The six verses we now know as “Amazing Grace” (minus what is often used as the final verse –“When we’ve been there ten thousand years. . . “–a later addition Newton did not write) was written for the 1773 New Year’s Day morning sermon on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 (part of David’s prayer of thanks when God made a covenant with him and his household). The notes to that sermon closely follow the text of the song.

The last stanza included in most hymnals today was not written by Newton.  Some hymnals give O.D. Hall, Jr. credit, others attribute it to John P. Rees, though it was originally written for a different hymn..  It gained popularity in the United States when Harriet Beecher Stowe’s included it in her immensely influential 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three verses were emblematically sung by Tom in his hour of deepest crisis.He sings the sixth and fifth verses in that order, and Stowe included another verse not written by Newton that had been passed down orally in African American communities for at least 50 years.  Stowe probably cobbled together various hymn verses for literary purposes.  This final stanza was originally one of between 50 to 70 verses of a song titled “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” that first appeared in a 1790 book called A Collection of Sacred Ballads:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.

Whether the first stanza speaks to the wretchedness of John Newton’s life a slave trader or is a mnemonic tool to help his congregation understand the words from 1 Chronicles, it is a good reminder that none of us is perfect, that all of us are wretched sinners. The second stanza reminds us that we have done nothing to redeem ourselves. It is only God’s grace that allows to forget the sins of the past and find our true selves in the light of Jesus. And what can be more comforting at the time of death than the promise of eternal life. Not all of the original stanzas are found in today’s hymnals. Most have only three or four of the original.



George Bennard was born in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1873 and spent his childhood in Iowa, where his father worked in the coal mines of southern Iowa. 

After his conversion in a Salvation Army meeting, he and his wife became brigade leaders before leaving the organization for the Methodist Church. As a Methodist evangelist, Bennard wrote the first verse of “The Old Rugged Cross” in Albion, Michigan, in the fall of 1912 as a response to ridicule that he had received at a revival meeting; he was heckled incessantly by several youth at a revival meeting in Michigan.  He was much troubled by not only his own humiliation, but also by the boys disregard for the gospel. This experience of his own suffering led him to reflect on Christ’s suffering on the cross. Bennard turned to Scripture to reflect on the work of Christ on the cross. He later recalled, “I seemed to have a vision … . I saw the Christ and the cross inseparable. I saw the Christ of the cross as if I were seeing John 3:16 leave the printed page, take form, and act out the meaning of redemption.”

He finished the hymn a few months later and the completed version was then performed on June 7, 1913, by a choir of five, accompanied by a guitar in Pokagon, Michigan, at the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Pokagon.   The Old Rugged Cross uses a sentimental popular song form with a verse/chorus pattern in 6/8 time, and it speaks of the writer’s Christian experience rather than his adoration of God. 

My friend Jean visited the site where “The Old Rugged Cross”  was first sung. She shares, “The old rugged cross was first sung just north of South Bend in Michigan. It eventually became a storage barn for hops and then was at least partially fixed. They have a little garden. I remember thinking a sexy statue with bare breasts was a bit off color for the garden. At the end I picked up the brochure. It is representative of the woman at the well. Also a bridge over a dry rocky type creek bed and I thought it would look so nice with water if they could arrange it. It was the rocky path we are guided over.”

“The Old Rugged Cross” speaks to us of a basic Christian belief: Jesus died on the cross for a universal purpose. The historical Jesus was a rabble rouser, a trouble maker, and a threat to the establishment, so the Jewish administrative body conspired to have him killed. Jesus the Messiah sacrificed himself so that we would not be condemned to oblivion.  Jesus our Brother died for us so that we could join him at the end of this earthly life in a glorious home far away.



In 1885, at age 26, Swedish preacher Carl G. Boberg wrote the words only of a poem entitled O Store Gud. Several years later, Boberg attended a meeting and was surprised to hear his poem being sung to the tune of an old Swedish melody.

The inspiration for the poem came when Boberg  and some friends were returning home to Mönsterås from Kronobäck, where they had participated in an afternoon service. Presently a thundercloud appeared on the horizon, and soon lightning flashed across the sky. Strong winds swept over the meadows and billowing fields of grain. The thunder pealed in loud claps. Then rain came in cool fresh showers. In a little while the storm was over, and a rainbow appeared.

Boberg gave the following information about the inspiration behind his poem:

“It was that time of year when everything seemed to be in its richest coloring; the birds were singing in trees and everywhere. It was very warm; a thunderstorm appeared on the horizon and soon thunder and lightning. We had to hurry to shelter. But the storm was soon over and the clear sky appeared.

According to Boberg’s great-nephew, Bud Boberg, “My dad’s story of its origin was that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was used in the ‘underground church’ in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were persecuted.Boberg’s hymn was next translated into German and Russian, as its popularity spread. The story becomes even more unusual:

Stuart Hine, a British Methodist missionary, first heard the Russian translation of the German version of the song while on an evangelistic mission to the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, near the Polish border, in 1931. Michael Ireland explains the origin of this original verse written by Hine:

It was typical of the Hines to ask if there any Christians in the villages they visited. In one case, they found out that the only Christians that their host knew about were a man named Dmitri and his wife Lyudmila. Dmitri’s wife knew how to read — evidently a fairly rare thing at that time and in that place. She taught herself how to read because a Russian soldier had left a Bible behind several years earlier, and she started slowly learning by reading that Bible. When the Hines arrived in the village and approached Dmitri’s house, they heard a strange and wonderful sound: Dmitri’s wife was reading from the gospel of John about the crucifixion of Christ to a houseful of guests, and those visitors were in the very act of repenting. In Ukraine (as I know first hand!), this act of repenting is done very much out loud. So the Hines heard people calling out to God, saying how unbelievable it was that Christ would die for their own sins, and praising Him for His love and mercy. They just couldn’t barge in and disrupt this obvious work of the Holy Spirit, so they stayed outside and listened. Stuart wrote down the phrases he heard the Repenters use, and (even though this was all in Russian), it became the third verse that we know today: “And when I think that God, His Son not sparing, Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.”

Upon hearing it, Hine was inspired to create his English paraphrase known as “How Great Thou Art”.According to Michael Ireland, “Hine and his wife, Edith, learned the Russian translation, and started using it in their evangelistic services. Hine also started re-writing some of the verses — and writing new verses (all in Russian) — as events inspired him.”

One of the verses Hine added was the current third verse:

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Verse 4

The fourth verse was another innovation of Stuart Hine, which was added after World War II. Hine and David Griffiths visited a camp in Sussex, England, in 1948 where displaced Russians were being held, but where only two were professing Christians. The testimony of one of these refugees and his anticipation of the second coming of Christ inspired Hine to write the fourth stanza of his English version of the hymn. According to Ireland:

One man to whom they were ministering told them an amazing story: he had been separated from his wife at the very end of the war, and had not seen her since. At the time they were separated, his wife was a Christian, but he was not, but he had since been converted. His deep desire was to find his wife so they could at last share their faith together. But he told the Hines that he did not think he would ever see his wife on earth again. Instead he was longing for the day when they would meet in heaven, and could share in the Life Eternal there. These words again inspired Hine, and they became the basis for his fourth and final verse to ‘How Great Thou Art’: “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation to take me home, what joy shall fill my heart. Then we shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, My God How Great Thou Art!”

In 1948 Hine finished composing the final verse and published the final four verse version in his own Russian gospel magazine Grace and Peace that same year. As Grace and Peace was circulated among refugees in fifteen countries around the world, including North and South America, British missionaries began to spread the song around the world to former British colonies in Africa and India in approximately its current English version.

According to Hine, James Caldwell, a missionary from Central Africa, introduced Hine’s version to the United States when he sang it at a convention in Stony Brook, New York, on Long Island in 1951.

When the Billy Graham team  introduced the hymn at Madison Square Garden in 1957, they sang it one hundred times during that campaign because the people wouldn’t let them stop.”Evangelist Billy Graham said: “The reason I like ‘How Great Thou Art’ is because it glorifies God. It turns Christian’s eyes toward God, rather than upon themselves. I use it as often as possible because it is such a God-honoring song.”

All three of these hymns remind us that death is not final, that God is almighty, and that we have a promise that will never be broken.  God has given us this powerful gift of song. It doesn’t matter whether we can sing them or not.  As you know, I have lost my singing voice.  I’m starting therapy to restore it, but in the meantime, these songs are not lost to me.  I can listen to them and I can play them on the piano. I have friends who have been told that they cannot sing.  I know that the voices God has given them are pleasing to God and that they can indeed sing praises.  These three songs offer comfort, praise, repentance to their singers and to their hearers.  This is a Amazing Grace, is it not?   Amen.

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

The Old Rugged Cross

  1. On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
    The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
    And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
    For a world of lost sinners was slain.
    • Refrain:
      So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
      Till my trophies at last I lay down;
      I will cling to the old rugged cross,
      And exchange it someday for a crown.
  1. Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
    Has a wondrous attraction for me;
    For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
    To bear it to dark Calvary.
  2. In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
    A wondrous beauty I see,
    For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
    To pardon and sanctify me.
  3. To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
    Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
    Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
    Where His glory forever I’ll share.

“How Great Thou Art”

O Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder

Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;

Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

And lead me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow with humble adoration,

And then proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,

How great Thou art, how great Thou art!



3 This is the one in this collection titled ’12 O Store Gud.’; Michael Ireland, “Veleky Bog: How Great is Our God! The story behind how a thunderstorm in Sweden prompted the writing of How Great Thou Art, one of Christianity’s greatest and much-loved hymns” ASSIST News Service (Sunday, October 7, 2007);NAME: MICHAEL’S WOR(L)DBLOG LOCATION: UNITED STATES

Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two adult children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to United Christian Broadcasters , a British Christian radio station. His stories for ASSIST News may be viewed at ASSIST News Service Michael’s writing activities are a sponsored ministry department — Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) — of Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International where you can donate online to his stated mission of ‘Truth Through Christian Journalism.’

4 ; Michael Ireland, “Veleky Bog: How Great is Our God!