As Christians we have all had different experiences, different joys, different pains, different disappointments, different regrets, different afflictions, but we all have the same Jesus. We all have experienced ups and downs, highs and lows, sorrows and joys, and through it all Jesus has said, “My Grace is sufficient” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Story after story in the Bible relates to us the incredible trials and successes of believer after believer, from childless Abraham and Sarah who in their old age saw the fulfillment of God’s promise though the birth of their son Isaac (found in the book of Genesis); to Job who lost everything including all seven of his grown children, his wealth, and his joy, but who saw it restored and multiplied in the end (the book of Job); to Paul who was a Hebrew of Hebrews and a well-respected man of standing among the Jews who then for Jesus lost it all, was beaten, went hungry, endured hardships, pain, shipwreck, loneliness, and eventually was martyred for Jesus, and yet before his death saw the Gospel spread throughout the known world because of his labors (2 Corinthians 11). They each had different trials, but they all had the same Lord. And through their stories we can see that God did not leave them comfortless. We also can see through their stories that God comforts us through the stories of their experiences.
And this is still the same for Christians throughout history. Many of the hymns that we sing to the Lord when we gather together were inspired through the trials, tragedy, hardships and grief of their authors. Though not all of us have been through the same experiences, we all have experienced the unending love and incredible mercies of Christ throughout our lives, and have been sweetened by His presence, giving off a fragrant aroma like that of crushed roses.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what a few of the hymn writers have been through, and how their pains and joys still inspire us today as we continue to sing their songs unto the Lord.
“His Eye Is On The Sparrow”
Civilla Martin and her husband became very close to a couple named Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. Mrs. Doolittle was bedridden 20 years, and Mr. Doolittle wheeled himself to and from work in a wheelchair. Yet, in spite of their great afflictions, they were full of joy and were a comfort for all who knew them. When Mr. Martin asked them what the secret to their cheerfulness was, Mrs. Doolittle responded, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” It was through this relationship and because of those words that Civilla Martin penned the inspirational song, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”
“Just As I Am”
“Just As I Am” was written by a young woman named Charlotte Elliott. She was an angry, bitter lady, for she had a disability that could not be overcome. Her anger was directed at God, for she felt that God must not love her. Her family wanted to help her, so they invited a Swiss minister to dinner. It was at this dinner that she erupted violently. After her embarrassed family exited the dining room, the minister gently spoke with her. At one point, Charlotte asked him, “If I wanted to become a Christian and to share the peace and joy you possess, what would I do?” To which the minister replied, “You would give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame.” Then thoughtfully she inquired, “I would come to God just as I am? Is that right?” And so, she came to believe in Jesus during that heart-to-heart discussion. Later for the sake of her minister brother who was raising funds for a school for poor ministers she wrote a poem that was published entitled, “Just As I Am.” That poem went on to become the most famous hymn in history. Though for the rest of her life she still struggled with her infirmities and disability, she was encouraged by letter after letter sent to her by those who had been profoundly touched by her poem that later became a hymn made popular during the altar call at the Billy Graham crusades.
“He Giveth More Grace”
Annie Johnson Flint was born on Christmas Eve and was to her parents the “greatest earthly gift.” A short 3 years later, Annie would lose her mother who died in childbirth, and a short time after that would also lose her father who had been “suffering from an incurable disease.” Her father, a godly man, willed Annie and her baby sister to a good baptist family named Flint, in order that they be raised in a solidly Christian household. At the age of 8 while attending a revival meeting, she believed in Jesus for herself and was truly converted. She was a cheerful and optimistic child, full of hope and undying faith.
Later, two years into a teaching career, the debilitating affliction of rheumatoid arthritis began to rear its ugly head in her life. On top of this, her sister and her were made orphans again when both of their adoptive parents died within a few short months of each other. The two of them had very little money, but her love of music and poetry became a monetary blessing. “Two card publishers printed some of her greetings and released the first little brochure of her poems,” and through the Sunday School Times she began to correspond with countless hurting people who did not understand what they were enduring. Through the poems and other words that she wrote to them, “she became convinced that God intended to glorify Himself through her in her weak, earthen vessel; and like Paul, she gained real assurance and could say with the apostle, the promise granted to him: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” She could also say with Paul, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” She believed that God had laid her aside for a purpose, even though that purpose was obscure to her at times” (any quotes about Annie Flint are taken from https://hymnary.org/person/Flint_Annie).
“God Leads Us Along”
God Leads Us Along” was written by George A. Young. Not much is known about Young, but what is know is that he was a carpenter and preacher of the Gospel. Researchers believe he more than likely lived between the years 1855-1935, and diligently served the Lord in small rural areas of the United States. Though he held no known huge revival meetings nor had a mega church nor was a popular television preacher, he sought to preach the Gospel wherever he went while at the same time raising his beloved family. After years of scrimping and saving, he and his wife were able to build their own small home. However, not long after the completing of this home, those who hated his message of the Bible burned it down while he was away ministering to others. In 1903 he wrote the words and composed the music to “God Leads Us Along” which depicts a lovely Psalm 23-like pastoral scene with a chorus of profound meaning.
“Around 1942, hymn writer Haldor Lillenas (The Bible Stands; Wonderful Grace of Jesus) decided to track down George Young’s widow, and find out more. He got an address in a small town and, driving there, he stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. When the attendant saw the address, he said, “Why sir, that’s the County Poor House up the road about three miles. And mister, when I say poor house, I really mean poor house!”
Not knowing what to expect, Lillenas made his way there. He found Mrs. Young, a tiny, elderly woman, in surroundings that were far from congenial. However, she radiated the joy of the Lord, and spoke of how He’d guided her and her husband over many years. Then, she exclaimed, “Dr. Lillenas, God led me here!” I’m so glad He did, for you know, about every month someone comes into this place to spend the rest of their days….So many of them don’t know my Jesus. I’m having the time of my life introducing them to Jesus! Dr. Lillenas, isn’t it wonderful how God leads!”” (Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Histories, by Alfred B. Smith (Dickinson Press Incorporated, 1981 quoted on https://wordwisehymns.com/2011/12/14/god-leads-us-along/).
We as Christians can know that God cares about us. He did not just care about the Bible story characters nor just about these hymn writers. He cares about us. That’s why these hymns were born. They were born so that we could be comforted through them, inspired through them, be encouraged through them. Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O LORD my God, are . . . thy thoughts which are to usward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.” Psalm 139:17-18a says, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand…” Not only this, but 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” So first of all, know that God cares for you!
Furthermore, whether we have been inspired by another’s trial or our own, in good times and joy, in grief and great loss, bitterness and uncertainty and broken dreams, we all like these hymn writers, have a testimony, a story to tell. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 we see that God comforts us so that we in turn can comfort others. “3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” Truly, we are to edify one another with songs, hymns and spiritual songs as seen in Ephesians 5:18-21.
So, number one, let’s remember that God cares for each of us individually. Let’s not forget all of His daily benefits (Psalm 68:19)! As it says in Psalm 103:1-6,
“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:
3 Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;
4 Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
5 Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The LORD executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.”
Let’s also remember that we are here for others as well because God cares for them, and wants to love them through us. As long as we breathe, we have purpose. These hymn writers could easily have given up, but instead they sang a song that is still resonating today, even now in your hearts. We may never write a great hymn nor be famous, but we can still give a word of encouragement or comfort to someone we know. That’s all these hymn writers did at the time. They were not great. They were not famous. They were simply Christians going through trials and tribulations who chose to praise God through the midst of it, and wrote a song, a song which has survived the test of time and still inspires God’s people today. Like crushed roses smell sweeter, even so, may the fragrance of our trials minister to the needs of others. May we not forget that we are the body of Christ, God’s Holy of Holies, and it is our purpose to build up one other and share our stories to encourage and inspire each other to press on. Remember, God cares for us, and therefore, we all have a story to tell!
Morgan, Robert J., Then Sings My Soul, 2006.
Osbeck, Kenneth W., Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories for Personal Devotion, 1990.
Alfred B. Smith, Al Smith’s Treasury of Hymn Histories, Dickinson Press Incorporated, 1981).
His Eye is On the Sparrow:
“His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/h/i/s/hiseyeis.htm.
He Giveth More Grace:
“He Giveth More Grace,” http://littlebirdieblessings.blogspot.com/2011/08/he-giveth-more-grace.html, August 19, 2011.
“Do You Ever Wonder About Great Hymns Like He Giveth More Grace?”, https://rare.us/your-daily-bread/faith-your-daily-bread/do-you-ever-wonder-about-the-story-behind-great-hymns-like-he-giveth-more-grace/, by Tami Nantz, May 2015.
“Annie Johnson Flint,” https://hymnary.org/person/Flint_Annie, http://www.homecomingmagazine.com/ (excerpts)
Just As I Am:
“Miss Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871,” http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/biographies/elliott.html.
“Charlotte Elliott Faced God with One Plea,” https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/charlotte-elliott-faced-god-with-one-plea-11630559.html.
“History of Hymns: “Just As I Am” Comes from Writer’s Struggle with Confining Illness,” https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-just-as-i-am-comes-from-writers-struggle-with-confining-il, article by Irene Ting-Ting Lai, via Discipleship Ministries, the United Methodist Church website.
God Leads Us Along
“God Leads Us Along,” https://wordwisehymns.com/2011/12/14/god-leads-us-along/.
Because He Lives:
“Courage and Strength For His Child: Because He Lives,” http://www1.cbn.com/devotions/courage-and-strength-his-child-because-he-lives, as taken from Lindsay Terry’s Stories Behind 50 Southern Gos pel Favorites, 2005.
“Rev. McDowell: The Story Behind the Gaither’s “Because He Lives,” http://www.oleantimesherald.com/lifestyles/rev-mcdowell-the-story-behind-the-gaithers-because-he-lives/article_2d73f288-ccaa-11e3-9d7f-0019bb2963f4.html, article by Rev. Dan McDowell, special to the Oleans Times Herald, April 25, 2017.
“Because He Lives: The Story Behind a Worship/Southern Gospel Classic,” http://www.crossrhythms.co.uk/articles/music/Because_He_Lives_The_story_behind_a_worship__Southern_gospel_classic_/59502/p1/ (Quote by Gloria Gaither), article by Tony Cummings.
“His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” https://www.hymnlyrics.org/mostpopularhymns/his_eye_is_on_the_sparrow.php
“He Giveth More Grace”