Posted by: rcottrill | February 26, 2010

Today in 1773 – John Burton Sr. Born

JGraphic Open Bibleohn Burton Sr. lived in Nottingham, England, for the first 40 years of his life, then moved to Leicester. He is described as a dedicated Baptist layman, who wrote his early hymns for the children in his Sunday School. He helped compile the Sunday School Union Hymn Book of 1810, that went through 20 editions over the following half century.

There is only one of Mr. Burton’s hymns in common use now, Holy Bible, Book Divine. He first published the words in 1803, in a book he wrote–with a long title, often typical of those times: Youth’s Monitor in Verse, a Series of Little Tales, Emblems, Poems and Songs. The hymn is valuable because it lists many of the important uses of God’s Word.

Holy Bible, Book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine to tell me whence I came;
Mine to teach me what I am.

Mine to chide me when I rove;
Mine to show a Saviour’s love;
Mine thou art to guide and guard;
Mine to punish or reward.

Mine to comfort in distress;
Suffering in this wilderness;
Mine to show, by living faith,
Man can triumph over death.

Mine to tell of joys to come,
And the rebel sinner’s doom;
O thou holy Book divine,
Precious treasure, thou art mine.

For a couple of interesting renditions of this fine hymn, see the second item under Today in 1734.

(2) Today in 1846 – George Stebbins Born
George Coles Stebbins was one of the preeminent gospel tunesmiths of the nineteenth century. And since he lived until 1945, dying at the age of 99, he provides an important bridge back to the sacred music of those earlier times. Stebbins knew and worked with many of the important figures in the evangelistic world, Dwight Moody, Ira Sankey, Fanny Crosby, and many more. His book, Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories gives us a colourful personal look at many of these men and women, with anecdotes relating to hymn history.

For example, here is Stebbins account of making a recording of My Redeemer, Philip Bliss’s last-known hymn, back in the 1800’s, when Thomas Edison’s invention was new. Mr. Stebbins is reported to have had a wonderful tenor voice, but keep in mind that until this time, nobody had actually been able to hear himself or herself sing!

I had been singing it [Bliss’s hymn] a great deal in New England, and near the close of our meetings in one city, an Edison phonograph–the most startling invention of that age–was being exhibited….I was accordingly invited to “make a record,” as it is now called, which I did.

The record was made on a cylinder wrapped in tinfoil, which was turned by hand both in recording and reproducing…and when it was made I stepped aside and heard myself sing. I remember as if it were but yesterday the novel experience, as I had never seen a phonograph before, and the hearing of my own voice, and every word with striking distinctness enunciated, and even my characteristic manner of singing, modulation of voice and phrasing, produced a unique sensation.

In common with other gospel musicians of the time, such as Philip Bliss, George Stebbins not only wrote music, he was also an evangelist. Around the year 1900, he spent a year preaching in India, Egypt, Italy, Palestine, France and England, touring these countries with his wife Elma. But it was in music that Stebbins made his own distinctive mark.

Among the many tunes he composed are a host of melodies for texts by Fanny Crosby, plus: Green Hill, for There Is a Green Hill Far Way; and tunes for Ye Must Be Born Again; Have Thine Own Way, Lord; Must I Go, and Empty Handed; Take Time to Be Holy; and, in 1878, the tune Evening Prayer, for Saviour, Breathe an Evening Blessing.

Saviour, breathe an evening blessing
Ere repose our spirits seal;
Sin and want we come confessing:
Thou canst save, and Thou canst heal.

Though the night be dark and dreary,
Darkness cannot hide from Thee;
Thou art He who, never weary,
Watchest where Thy people be.

Father, to Thy holy keeping
Humbly we ourselves resign;
Saviour, who hast slept our sleeping,
Make our slumbers pure as Thine.

Here is an organ rendition of Mr. Stebbins’s tune. The organist (quite unnecessarily, I think) apologizes to the one doing the recording for an almost unnoticeable slip in one stanza. To be fair to her, this was not a public event, and she felt free to chat with the unseen recorder. But it’s perhaps a good place to talk about mistakes made in actual services of the church.

Most of us are not professional musicians. I’ve made slips playing the organ or piano, and also singing solos. (And even professionals can make mistakes!) In Christian ministry, often the best thing to do is ignore them and move on.  As much as possible, let’s keep the focus on the song, not on us. The less that is made of the flub, the less likely it is to be remembered. We are trying to convey a message and honour the Lord, not show how skilled we are (cf. Jn. 3:30; I Cor. 2:1-5).


  1. […] One day in 1877, Luther heard about a man who was dying after only being a Christian for one month. The fellow was troubled. But not at the prospect of death. What bothered him most was the wasted years of his life, and the little he’d been able to accomplish for the Lord. “I’m not afraid to die,” he said. “Jesus saves me now. But must I go empty handed?” Charles Luther’s heart was stirred by the man’s penetrating question and he wrote a gospel song about it. (The tune was composed by George Stebbins. to learn more about him, see the second item under Today in 1773.) […]

  2. […] He served as the director of music in a couple of churches, but in 1876, evangelist Dwight L. Moody persuaded him to focus on evangelistic ministry. He directed the choir for Moody’s first evangelistic campaign in that year. And for the next quarter of a century he was associated with Mr. Moody and other evangelists. (For more about Mr. Stebbins, see the second item under Today in 1773.) […]

  3. […] 24, 1822) Music: Aletta, by William Batchelder Bradbury (b. Oct. 6, 1816; d. Jan. 7, 1868) Links: Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns (James Edmeston and George Stebbins) The Cyber […]


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