Posted by: rcottrill | March 12, 2010

Today in 1607 – Paul Gerhardt Born

A Lutheran pastor, Paul Gerhardt is also perhaps the greatest of the early Lutheran hymn writers, next to Martin Luther. Gerhardt’s life and the warmth of his preaching reflected the compassion of the Saviour. But he suffered a great deal. In The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn Tunes,  historian David Breed writes:

He was not settled permanently anywhere until he was forty-four years of age, nor married until he was forty-eight. He endured great affliction in the long illness and death of his wife, and in the lost of four out of five of his children. Finally he was dispossessed of his position, and retired to a humble parish in Lübben, where he laboured for seven years among a rude, unsympathetic people, and where he died.”

Yet out of that burdened life this marvelous hymn was born. A German prayer poem he read inspired him to compose and publish a hymn in 1653 that he called O Jesu Christ, Mein Schöstes Licht (O Jesus Christ, My Beautiful Light).  The tune commonly used is St. Catherine. In the song Gerhardt extols the love of Christ, responding to it with a great and holy passion. We know the hymn now by its opening phrase.

Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
Unite my thankful heart with Thee
And reign without a rival there.
To Thee alone, dear Lord, I live;
Myself to Thee, dear Lord, I give.

O, grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell but Thy pure love alone!
Oh, may Thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown!
All coldness from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought, be love.

(2) Today in 1826 – Robert Lowry Born
Robert Lowry attended the University at Lewisburg (later known as Bucknell University), where he became a professor of literature. He was ordained as a Baptist clergyman, and pastored churches in Westchester, Pennsylvania, New York City, and Brooklyn, as well as several other places. He worked as a music editor for the Biglow Publishing Company, and helped editor many gospel song books. Lowry also wrote about 500 gospel tunes (as for Isaac Watts’s Come, We That Love the Lord), and many hymn texts, such as: Nothing but the Blood of Jesus, and Shall We Gather at the River.

Introduced at a camp meeting in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, and published in 1876, Nothing but the Blood of Jesus is a significant gospel song because it reminds us of the eternal value of the shed blood of Christ–a doctrine that is sadly missing from much preaching today. It is based on Heb. 9:22, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission [no forgiveness].”

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

The last two stanzas of this hymn are rarely printed and used today, but they are fine too.

Now by this I’ll overcome–
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Now by this I’ll reach my home–
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Glory! Glory! This I sing–
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
All my praise for this I bring–
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Graphic RiverConcerning Shall We Gather at the River, one day in July of 1864, thoughts of eternity came to the mind of Robert Lowry, then pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church, in Brooklyn, New York. Summer that year was oppressively hot, and there was a deadly epidemic raging through the crowded city. Pastor Lowry was called upon to visit many bereaved families as death touched home after home. What could he say? What message of hope could he bring?

The Lord gave him a thought that he shared over and over. Each time, the pastor would assure the sick and sorrowing that through faith in Christ we can look forward to a great reunion day at the river of life described in the book of Revelation (Rev. 22:1-2). He encouraged them to think of meeting the departed once again by the river.

After one particularly exhausting day of comforting the distressed people of his congregation, the pastor returned home and laid down on a couch to rest. He reports that as he lay there he pictured in his imagination that beautiful heavenly scene, the glorious throne of God, and the shining crystal waters of the river. “Visions of the future passed before me with startling vividness,” Lowry says. He wondered why so much attention is given to crossing the river of death, and so little to meeting at the river of life. It was at that moment an idea for a new hymn formed in his mind. He states:

As I mused, the words began to construct themselves. They came first as a question of Christian inquiry, “Shall we gather at the river?’ Then they broke out in chorus, ‘Yes, we’ll gather at the river.”

Soon Pastor Lowry had created both words and music for a stirring gospel song.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

Here is a nice choral arrangement of the hymn. Unfortunately, the one who videotaped it was too far back. The solo stanza of the spiritual, Deep River, does not pick up well, and the attempts of the couple in the back row to take a picture, and discuss how to do so are a bit distracting. But I still enjoyed the choir. Hope you do too.


  1. Robert, little could you have known that I have been searching in vain (until this very moment) for the words of “Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me”! THANKS for including this little-known hymn text here; it’s among my top-10 favorite texts, and one that I set (new tune and harmonization) while a sophomore in college. — Gracie

  2. […] Today in 1676 – Paul Gerhardt Died Gerhardt wrote many hymns. Two of them were translated into English by John Wesley: Give to the Winds Thy Fears, and Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me. The latter is best sung to the tune St. Catherine (commonly used for Faith of Our Fathers). It is one of those songs that just overflows with passionate adoration of the Lord. (For more about Paul Gerhardt and this hymn, see Today in 1607.) […]

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