Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace; Over all victorious, in its bright increase.
In a previous post, I wrote of the accomplishments of Frances Havergal and the way she sought to glorify the Lord in all she did. Now, I will recount some of the account concerning her death. Havergal suffered ill health for much of her life. At the age of 42, she went on holiday with her family to South Wales. While there, she developed a very severe cold which soon led to an inflammation of the lungs.
Perfect yet it floweth, Fuller every day, Perfect yet it groweth Deeper all the way.
When Havergal was told that her life was in danger, her response was: “If I am really going, it is too good to be true!” Should that not be the response of all Christians–no matter, their age, their goals, their plans? To learn that we may soon be with the One we claim to love? For this was Havergal’s ultimate desire–to be with the One for whom she wrote her poems and hymns.
Hidden in the hollow of his blessed hand–never foe can follow, never traitor stand.
Later she said, “Splendid! To be so near the gates of heaven.” Closer to the end, her sister reported that she sang one of her hymns, “Jesus, I will trust Thee, Trust Thee with my Soul.” Though she was weak and her voice faint, the words were clear to all.
Not a surge of worry, Not a shade of care, Not a blast of hurry, Touch the spirit there.
“She looked up steadfastly, as if she saw the Lord; and surely nothing less heavenly could have reflected such a glorious radiance upon her face. For ten minutes we watched that almost visible meeting with her king, and her countenance was so glad, as if she were already talking to Him! Then she tried to sing; but after one sweet high note, her voice failed, and as her brother commended her soul into the Redeemer’s hand, she passed away.”
Stayed upon Jehovah, Hearts are fully blest, finding as He promised, Perfect peace and rest.
“I should have liked my death to be like Samson’s doing more for God’s glory than by my life; but He wills it otherwise.” Though Havergal could not see it, I believe her death did give glory to God, not only to those who were with her as she went home, but also for those of us who continue to read her words years later.
Quotes taken from Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal by her sister, M. V. G. H. (Maria V. G. Havergal), April 1880
I enjoy learning about the hymn writers of my favorite hymns because it makes them more meaningful and puts a face and a life to the words. It’s easy just to sing the words of a familiar song and forget that someone wrote them because of a particular event in their life or because of the way the Lord had been dealing in their life at the time.
Take my life and let it be–Consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Several months ago I heard a pastor speak about the life of Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) before we sang, “Like a River Glorious.” Intrigued, I began to read more about her, as well as listen to more of her hymns and read some of her poetry. I was impressed in both the way she lived and the way she died. In this post, I will discuss how she lived, and I’ll have a follow up post on how she died.
Take my hands and let them move–At the impulse of thy love, Take my feet and let them be–Swift and beautiful for thee.
Born at the rectory in Astley, Worcestershire (England) where her father was the rector, Havergal accomplished much in her short life. From the time she was a young child, she always sought to serve and lift up Jesus. She was writing poetry at the age of seven and had verses published while still a teen in “Good Words.”
Take my voice and let me sing,–Always, only for my King, Take my lips and let them be–Filled with messages for Thee.
Receiving her education at both English and German boarding schools, she proved herself a natural linguist learning Latin, German, Italian, French, Hebrew, and Greek. She also played the piano and was said to be a beautiful singer.
Take my silver and my gold; Not a mite would I withhold; Take my intellect and use–Every power as Thou shalt choose.
Four years after writing the words: “take my silver and my gold,” she packed up and shipped a box of valuable jewelry to a church missionary house. Of the few pieces she kept: “I retain only a brooch or two for daily wear, which are memorials of my dear parents; also a locket with the only portrait I have of my niece, who is in heaven. But these I redeem that the whole value goes to the Church Missionary Society.”
Take my will and make it thine; It shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is thine own; It shall be thy royal throne.
Havergal told the story behind the writing of the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” in Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal. “I went for a little visit of five days (to Areley House). There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer ‘Lord, give me all in the house.’ And He just did. Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit, after I had retired, the governess asked me to go to the two daughters. They were crying. Then and there both of them trusted and rejoiced. It was midnight. I was too happy to sleep and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another, till they finished with ‘Ever, only, all for Thee.”
Take my love, my Lord, I pour–At thy feet its treasure store.Take myself, and I will be–Ever, only, all for Thee.
One Starry Night (part 3)
A manger, they knew, would be found where the
animals were fed, so they made their way
behind the first inn and followed the sounds
(and smells) of animals whose nightly slumber
had been disturbed. Quietly, they approached
a cave carved into a small hill where the
soft, smoky glow of an oil lamp cast a
shadow. They stopped as one when they reached the
entrance, suddenly unsure of their next
move. Just as Reuben decided to go
forward, the cry of a baby broke the
several of them surprised themselves with tears.
Going in together, they peered in awe
at the sight. A young woman (a girl to
their eyes) along with a man dressed in
garments plain, crouched over a manger where
a newborn infant lay wrapped in cloths just
as the Messenger had told them. They crept
as close as they dared, wondering at the
babe whose birth had been declared to them by
a heavenly being and even sung
about by a heavenly choir. “We
were told to come here,” the old shepherd broke
the silence. “By a . . .” He stopped, unable
to continue and unsure of how to
explain the phenomenon they had witnessed.
The young woman smiled at them. “An angel?”
she suggested. “Yes!” they all said at once.
Then, mindful of the sleeping babe, they told
their story in excited, though hushed whispers.
“Yes, yes! An angel, that’s what he was. A
messenger sent from God. He told us he
had good news.” “Good news for everyone. The
whole world.” “He said it was great joy.” “For
everyone.” “He said we would find a baby.”
“A baby wrapped in cloths.” “In a manger.”
They stopped for breath and gazed anew at the
sleeping babe. How could such a small, helpless
newborn baby be the cause of such a
revelation? Of a heavenly
announcement? The promise of good news for
all people? “He said,” the old shepherd, Asa,
cleared his throat. “He said, the Messenger, I
mean, that this baby is the Christ. Our
Messiah.” Tears filled his eyes. “I never
thought he’d come for me.” The plain-dressed
man, who seemed to be the baby’s guardian,
placed an arm around the old shepherd’s shoulders.
“We were as amazed as you when the
Messenger came to us and gave us the
same good news. This baby is God’s gift to
us and will do more for us than we can
ever imagine.” “We must go and tell
everyone what we have seen and heard,” Asa
declared. His companions, though mildly
amused at the old shepherd’s change of heart,
joyfully agreed. With a final look
at the Christ child and a farewell to the
young couple–whom they all knew would face times
of trouble and sorrow as they raised this
baby in this sin-struck world–they set out
to walk the streets of Bethlehem as morning
broke and people began to stir. They stopped
and told everyone they met of the
celestial announcement they had received
about the baby and the significance
of his arrival. Though some had no interest
in hearing news of any kind from lowly
shepherds, many others marveled at their
story and spread the word throughout their town
and still others carried the story to
their homes in places near and far throughout
Israel. “A baby has been born to you.” P.M. Gilmer Soli Deo gloria
One Starry Night (part 2)
The shepherds all gathered together to
discuss this news that had been given to
them. “Could this be true?” one old grizzled
veteran shepherd asked. “A baby who
is the Christ?” “Did you ever hear such
singing?” asked another, his eyes still on
the sky and his ears still ringing with the
fading heavenly melody. “What should
we do?” worried a third. “Go and see!”
exclaimed one eager shepherd. This shepherd
put on his sandals, grabbed his cloak and staff,
and made ready to leave for Bethlehem,
not caring if anyone joined him
or not. He wanted to see this baby
whose birth had launched a choir of heavenly
messengers. “Now, wait,” the old veteran
cautioned. “We can’t just run off and leave our
sheep, especially when we’re not sure who
those creatures were or even where they came
from.” The rest of the shepherds looked at him
aghast. “Why, they surely came from heaven.
Where else could they be from?” “They were angels,
I be certain,” declared another. “And
I am with Reuben. To Bethlehem, I
am bound.” And he, too, put on his sandals
and took up his sack and staff. Soon, they were
all picking up their things, murmuring with
excitement. “A message from heaven, did
you ever hear of such a thing?” “No!” said
the old shepherd. “I never have and neither
have any of you. Why would someone from
heaven want to speak to the likes of us?”
Reuben placed a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Good news for all people. Come with us, Asa,
and see if this baby is where the
Messenger said he would be. Our sheep will
be fine until we return.” The old shepherd
considered his companions, shrugged, and fell
in line. A trip to Bethlehem in the
middle of the night seemed like madness to
the old shepherd, but this whole night had been
unlike any he had ever encountered
in his eighty some years. A messenger
from heaven? Or a demon to mislead
and taunt them? His friends seemed certain the word
came from Heaven, but he had experienced
more of the latter than the former. Still,
a surge of hope went through him as he
tottered after his fellow shepherds,
listening to their excited chatter
as they made their way along the moon-lit
road to Bethlehem, the city of David.
They entered through the gates of Bethlehem,
(How did those shepherds know which way to go?)
and walked unerringly through the darkened
streets. Shops were closed and houses still, but from
overflowing inns, light and noise spilled out
and in front of one of these the shepherds
stopped and considered again the words of
the Messenger. “You will find a baby
wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” P.M. Gilmer
One Starry Night (part 1)
A long day finally over, the sheep
now settled to sleep. The weary shepherds
found places to rest–some to lay their heads;
others to keep watch over their flocks (many
of them destined to be a sacrifice
for man’s sins), alert for any dangers
that might be lurking or for any sheep
that might decide to take a midnight stroll.
Under a clear sky with stars so bright,
the night air took on a chill, causing the
sheep to huddle together and the shepherds
to wrap their cloaks around themselves and most
stayed near one of the fires kept burning throughout
the night. The men on the first watch neither
saw nor heard anything to make them believe
this night would be any different than hundreds
went to wake their companions for the second
watch. Before they could rouse the slumbering
shepherds, a light so bright filled the sky and
caused the poor shepherds to gasp and cover
their faces. Some fell to their knees and one
even stumbled into the companion
he had come to waken causing a stir
amongst the others whose dreams had just been
shattered. But when they tried to open their
eyes and grumble at their rude awakening,
they too were blinded by the light and covered
their faces in fear. Barely able to
think or breathe, they heard a Voice speak from–
where? The Light? The sky? It seemed to fill the
very air. “Do not be afraid!” the Voice
cried out. Though still they trembled, they slowly
lowered their arms and their hands from their
faces; and their eyes began to make out
a form. A form so majestic they knew
it was no ordinary being and
had to have come from Heaven. “Behold!”
the Being proclaimed and as he continued
to speak, the shepherds ceased their trembling and
stared and listened in awe. Even the sheep
had shaken off their drowsiness and seemed
to be listening as well. “I bring you
good news that will bring great joy to all
people. Today in Bethlehem, the city
of David, a Savior has been born to
you. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the
Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you
will find a baby wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manger.” Before the shepherds
could marvel at these words, the Messenger
Being was, in an instant, joined by a
whole host of more of these Heavenly Beings.
They began to sing in voices so sweet,
the shepherds stood entranced and the sheep
bleated softly as if in accord with
their song. “Glory to God in the highest
of heavens, and peace on earth among all
those who delight Him.” And as suddenly
as they had appeared, the messenger choir
was gone, leaving the shepherds to stare up
into the star-filled sky as if waiting
for more miracles to appear. The sheep,
however, knew the heavenly show
was over and so settled themselves to
to return to their peaceful slumber. P.M. Gilmer
“Man of Sorrows! What a Name,” a hymn also known by its repeating refrain “Hallelujah! What a Savior!” was written in 1875. The author, Philip P. Bliss, took his title from Isaiah 53.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root from a dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not.
Knowing Bliss wrote several of his hymns based on sermons he heard preached, it is possible that a sermon from Isaiah 53 also inspired him or perhaps it was his own personal reading of this moving and prophetic chapter that gave him the inspiration to write this hymn.
The first stanza introduces the Savior and his purpose for coming here: “Ruined sinners to reclaim.”
The second stanza paints a vivid picture of the sacrifice Christ gave for us. “Bearing shame and scoffing rude, in my place condemned he stood.”
The third illustrates the contrast between us “guilty, vile and helpless we” and our Savior, “Spotless Lamb of God was He.”
The fourth proclaims both his death and triumphant finish and the fifth proclaims His return when we’ll sing forever, “Hallelujah! What a Savior!”
Ira D. Sankey, a singer for D. L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings–who also wrote hymns and compiled a book of hymns with Bliss–wrote of the hymn “Man of Sorrows” in his autobiography. “When Mr. Moody and I were in Paris, . . . I frequently sang this hymn as a solo, asking the congregation to join in the single phrase, “Hallelujah, what a Savior,” which they did with splendid effect.
“It is said that the word ‘Hallelujah’ is the same in all languages. It seems as though God had prepared it for the great jubilee of heaven, when all his children had been gathered home to sing ‘Hallelujah to the Lamb!'”
(Is there any other word that is recognized in all languages? In both Italian and Irish–hallelujah; in Spanish–aleluya; in Slovak–aleluja; in Swahili–Haleluya. ‘Hallelujah, what a Savior’ will surely be heard in heaven.)
Bliss discovered his love of music at a young age and studied when he could, eventually becomin an itinerant music teacher. When he was 26, he and his wife moved to Chicago where he conducted musical institutes and was soon known for both his teaching and singing. One night in 1869, he passed a revival meeting where D. L. Moody was preaching. Apparently, the singing was “rather weak” that night, and Bliss offered his help. After a quick interview, Moody accepted his offer and later urged him to give up his business and become a singing evangelist.
In 1873, Bliss did decide to give up everything (musical conventions, writing secular songs, business position, and work at the church) in order to go full-time into singing music for evangelism.
On November 24, 1876, Bliss sang at a minister’s meeting led by D. L. Moody in Chicago. Over 1,000 preachers were there to hear Bliss introduce a song he had just written the music for: It is Well with My Soul. He had only a month left to live.
Again, from Sankey’s autobiography: “This was the last hymn I heard Mr. Bliss sing. It was at a meeting in Farwell Hall in Chicago, conducted by Henry Moorehouse. A few weeks before his death Mr. Bliss visited the State prison at Jackson, Michigan, where, after a very touching address on ‘The Man of Sorrows,’ he sang this hymn with great effect. Many of the prisoners dated their conversion from that day.”
Bliss and his wife and children spent Christmas that year with his mother and sister in Pennsylvania, planning to return to Chicago in January to work with Mr. Moody. He received a telegram asking him to come sooner, so he and his wife obtained train tickets, deciding to leave their children with his mother. On December 29, 1876, the Pacific Express was three hours late due to a blinding snowstorm. Crossing a river over a trestle bridge, the first engine reached the other side but the rest fell 75 feet into the ravine of icy water.
Mr. Bliss managed to free himself, crawling through a window. However, his wife was trapped and he returned to try and help her. A fire broke out and soon the wooden coaches were ablaze aided by the fierce winds. The Blisses, along with at least 92 others, did not survive.
As Mr. Bliss’s trunk was sent ahead on another train, it reached Chicago safely. Inside were several songs, Mr. Bliss was working on. One hymn, “He Knows,” by Mary G. Brainard (Bliss wrote the music and chorus) began with the words: “I know not what awaits me. God kindly veils my eyes . . .”
Mourning the loss of Mr. Bliss, D.L. Moody had this to say about his friend: “In my estimate, he was the most highly honored of God, of any man of his time, as a writer and singer of Gospel Songs, and with all his gifts he was the most humble man I ever knew. I loved him as a brother, and shall cherish his memory . . .”
Though the life of Mr. Bliss was tragically cut short, he left a legacy of music that continues to lead us to worship the Man of Sorrows who became our glorious King.
My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns: and of Sacred Songs and Solos Ira D. Sankey