Hymn Stories: Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

If Isaac Watts is known as the father of English hymnody, William Williams (1717-1791) is considered by many to be the father of Welsh hymnody. In 1738 Williams heard a sermon by the revivalist preacher Howell Harris, a fiery Welsh layman who had been influenced by the Methodist movement in England. It was through this sermon that Williams discerned his calling to go into the ministry. Williams first pursued becoming an Anglican priest (in the Church of Wales) and entered …

Hymn Stories: I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Horatius Bonar was born in 1808 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a ruling elder in the Church of Scotland. After a relatively uneventful upbringing, Bonar entered into the ministry himself, becoming pastor of the North Parish in the rural town of Kelso. Not long after he entered the ministry there was a disruption in the Church of Scotland that resulted in the withdrawal of 451 ministers from the Established church, among whom were Bonar and a number of his …

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Hymn Stories: Take My Life and Let It Be

Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879) was an unusually gifted and passionate saint. The daughter of a church rector, she was raised in Worcester, England and attended schools in England and Germany. In her love of learning, she grew to become an able scholar (even becoming proficient in both Hebrew and Greek) and a talented singer and pianist. The deepest desire of her heart, however, was in “personal spiritual influence upon others” (Benson). This led her to value most of all her …

Hymn Stories: Onward, Christian Soldiers

Onward, Christian Soldiers” was written in 1865 with no intention of ever being published, especially in adult hymn books. Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, its author, was at that time the curate of a parish in Yorkshire county in the north of England, and he recounts how and why he wrote it: It was written in a very simple fashion … Whitmonday is a great day for school festivals in Yorkshire, and one Whitmonday it was arranged that our school should join …

Hymn Stories: Jesus, Lover of My Soul

I have written previously about Charles Wesley and his talented and prolific hymn writing. I also mentioned earlier in this series his involvement in bringing us “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” But I haven’t yet said anything about how he got into hymn writing. Both Charles and his brother John–two of Susanna Wesley’s 19 children–were zealous for ministry when they finished their studies at Oxford University. Both were soon ordained as clergymen in the Church of England; and in …

Hymn Stories: How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

John Newton has made regular appearances on this blog. Over the years I have posted a number of quotes and hymns by him. A few years ago I reviewed Jonathan Aitken’s biography of Newton and provided a short summary of his life and legacy. And most recently I mentioned his influential role in the life of William Cowper and their collaborative hymn writing work. Since the focus of this series is hymn writing, perhaps we could say a little more …

Hymn Stories: Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus

Few of the hymns I have covered in this series were written in connection to particular events that occurred in their authors’ lives. “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” is an exception as it was composed in the aftermath of the untimely death of the author’s beloved friend. In the spring of 1858 revival was taking place in Philadelphia. The movement grew out of midday prayer meetings coordinated by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Rev. Dudley A. Tyng, a young …

Hymn Stories: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

The final post in this Hymn Stories series highlights the work of the man who may be the most popular hymn writer yet: the great reformer, Martin Luther. Among his voluminous works, Luther wrote some 36 hymns. “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” however, is far and away the most well known. Based on Psalm 46, the hymn is a celebration of the sovereign power of God over all earthly and spiritual forces, and of the sure hope we have …