Posted by: rcottrill | January 21, 2010

Today in 1815 – Matthias Claudius Died

Matthias Claudius, the son of a Lutheran pastor, was born in Reingeld, Holstein, in 1740. The family name started out as a first name! A couple of centuries before, an ancestor names Claus Paulsen decided to Latinize his name as Claudius Pauli, and his descendants adopted Claudius as their surname.

Matthias Claudius took some theological training, but then decided to change to a study of law and languages. He became a newspaper editor, and also worked as a local Commissioner of Agriculture and Manufactures, and later as a bank auditor.

The influence of free thinkers such as the German literary giant Johann Goethe led Claudius to renounce religion for a time. But when stricken with a serious illness at the age of 39, he reached out to God and returned to his father’s Lutheran faith, committing his life to Christ. His humble reliance on the Lord is reflected in his many volumes of poetry and prose.

In 1782, Matthias Claudius wrote a dramatic sketch picturing the harvest festival on a typical farm in northern Germany. As part of the presentation, the people gathered round and sang the Peasant’s Song, which began, in German, “Wir pflügen und wir streuen.” We now know it, in English translation, as the hymn, We Plow the Fields and Scatter. (For a bit more about this hymn, see the second item under Today in 1731.)

We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
Accept the gifts we offer, for all Thy love imparts,
And what Thou most desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.

Here’s a unique little video that combines a couple of verses of this hymn with amateur farming films from about 70 years ago. (I rather wish it had given us the full hymn.)

(2) Today in 1849 – Julia Johnston Born
Julia Harriette Johnston lived most of her life in Peoria, Illinois. Her father was a Presbyterian pastor there. Julia was the superintendent of the younger children’s department of the Sunday School for over 40 years, and teacher of the infant class. She served, as well, as president of the Presbyterian Missionary Society of Peoria for 20 years (an organization founded by her mother). Miss Johnston also wrote more that 500 hymns. A few of them are still in use. Most familiar is Grace Greater Than Our Sin (see item two under Today in 1837). Another fine celebration of the gospel is found in her song He Ransomed Me, published in 1916.

There’s a sweet and blessèd story
Of the Christ who came from glory
Just to rescue me from sin and misery.
He in lovingkindness sought me,
And from and sin shame hath brought me.
Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me.

Hallelujah, what a Saviour,
Who can take a poor lost sinner,
Lift him from the miry clay and set him free!
I will ever tell the story,
Shouting, “Glory, glory, glory!”
Hallelujah! Jesus ransomed me.

From the depth of sin and sadness
To the heights of joy and gladness
Jesus lifted me, in mercy full and free.
With His precious blood He bought me;
When I knew Him not, He sought me,
And in love divine He ransomed me.

(3) Today in 1887 – Alfred Ackley Born
Alfred Henry Ackley was the younger brother of Bentley DeForest Ackley. Both where extensively involved in creating gospel songs. But where Bentley was mainly a tunesmith, Alfred wrote the words of maybe a thousand hymns and gospel songs. He served his Presbyterian denomination in various capacities, and also compiled hymnals and song books for the Rodeheaver Publishing Company. Only one of Alfred Ackley’s songs remains popular today.

In 1933, he was holding a series of evangelistic meetings. After one of these, he was approached by a young Jewish student with a question: “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” In response, Alfred Ackley appealed to the certainty of his own heart. “He lives, I tell you! He is not dead, but lives here and now!…I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.” After sharing  in this way, the musician had the privilege of leading the young man to faith in Christ. It was following that encounter that Ackley sat down at the piano and wrote both words and music for the gospel song, He Lives.

I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him He’s always near.

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.


  1. […] (2) Today in 1919 – Julia Johnston Died Julia Harriet Johnston lived in Peoria, Illinois. She wrote over 500 hymns, including There’s a Sweet and Blessed Story, and Grace Greater Than Our Sin. (To see more about her, and another hymn written by Julia Johnston, see the second item under Today in 1815.) […]

  2. […] any list of those suggested as appropriate for Harvest Festival services. Robert Cottrill’s WordWise Hymns has a post on the hymn’s author Matthias […]

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber Hymnal (Alfred […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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