Posted by: rcottrill | April 3, 2010

Today in 1593 – George Herbert Born

GGraphic World Map2eorge Herbert attended Trinity College, at Cambridge, England. He married Jane Danvers after a remarkably short courtship of three days! (This abbreviation perhaps suited his short life. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 40.) At Cambridge, when he was appointed the school’s Public Orator, it was his duty to give speeches (in Latin) to visiting dignitaries, and to express thanks for books donated to the school library. Herbert served briefly in Parliament, and King James I was impressed with the man, and considered making him an ambassador, but the king died before this could be done. Instead, George Herbert became an Anglican clergyman.

He maintained a lively interest in music, and devoted his spare time to practicing on the lute and the viol. He wrote a number of hymns, which were published posthumously in a little book called The Temple. Susannah Wesley introduced Herbert’s poetry to her children, and we have John Wesley to thank for promoting its use in our hymnody. I can recall years ago, singing in a college choral, George Herbert’s call to praise, Let All the World in Every Corner Sing.

Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
The heavens are not too high, His praise may thither fly,
The earth is not too low, His praises there may grow.
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!

Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!
The church with psalms must shout, no door can keep them out;
But, above all, the heart must bear the longest part.
Let all the world in every corner sing, my God and King!

I’m most familiar with hearing this brief hymn sung to the tune All the World, written by Robert Guy McCutchan (under the pen name John Porter), but it has been arranged by a number of composers as a choral anthem. The following choral version is not too bad (to put it mildly!).

(2) Today in 1769 – Gerhard Tersteegen Died
Gerhard Tersteegen was the great poet of the mystical Pietist movement in eighteenth century Germany. He wrote 111 hymns, of which a few are still in use. Because of the poverty of his family, he was unable to receive the university education he had hoped for. After an apprenticeship, he was employed in weaving silk ribbons. He lived alone, eating one meagre meal a day, and giving all he could to help others living in impoverished conditions.

Tersteegen went through a period of deep depression. When he recovered, he wrote, in his own blood, a solemn covenant committing himself to God. He spent 10 hours a day working at his loom, and then 2 hours in prayer, and 2 hours in writing and study. He lived an ascetic and somewhat eccentric life, but is recognized as an outstanding self-taught theologian and preacher. One of his hymns that has survived is God Calling Yet.

God calling yet; shall I not hear?
Earth’s pleasures shall I still hold dear?
Shall life’s swift passing years all fly,
And still my soul in slumber lie?

God calling yet, and shall He knock,
And I my heart the closer lock?
He still is waiting to receive,
And shall I dare His Spirit grieve?

God calling yet; I cannot stay;
My heart I yield without delay;
Vain world, farewell! from thee I part;
The voice of God hath reached my heart.

(3) Today in 1885 – Pass It On written
Henry Burton was born in England. His family were staunch Methodists, and he was converted at the age of 15 in a meeting conducted by his father. A year later, the family emigrated to America, where Burton served as a Methodist Episcopal clergyman for a short time, after which he returned to England and continued ministry there for many years, writing several books and a number of hymns. One of them has an interesting story behind it.

A young man named Mark Pearse booked passage on a ship that would take him from Bristol, England, back home to America. He had limited funds, just enough for his ticket. All began well, but on the way across the stormy Atlantic, he got terribly seasick and remained in his bunk for several days. During this time, there came a knock at the door. It was the steward, with a bill for the meals he had eaten before taking sick. Pearse had assumed that the ticket included the cost of his meals, but it did not.

Sick as he was, he tried to plead his case to the steward, but to no avail. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but I shall have to keep your luggage as security. What is your name and address.” When the sick passenger told him his name was Mark Pearse, the astonished steward took off his cap and reached out a hand. He said that many years before, when he was a boy, his father had died, leaving his mother to care for the family. But Mark’s father had heard about their need, and helped them out. “I never thought the chance would come for me to repay even a little,” the steward said. “But I’m glad I have the opportunity.” And he paid the outstanding amount.

When he arrived at his destination, Pearse told his father what had happened. The father replied, “See how a bit of kindness lives?” and he encouraged his son to pass the kindness shown on to others. Years later, it was Mark Pearse’s son-in-law, Henry Burton, who wrote the gospel song Pass It On, after hearing the story (a song not to be confused with Kurt Kaiser’s with the same name, which begins, “It only takes a spark…”).

Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on!
‘Twas not giv’n for thee alone. Pass it on;
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears,
Till in heav’n the deed appears–Pass it on.

Have you found the heav’nly light? Pass it on!
Souls are groping in the night, daylight gone;
Hold thy lighted lamp on high,
Be a star in someone’s sky,
He may live who else would die–Pass it on!


  1. Robert, THANKS so much for this blog, and for the great GOD-stories of how God worked in the lives of these God-loving men and women through whom we in the 21st century are so blessed with their musical and poetic gifts!

    One of Gerhard Tersteegen’s poems I have long loved is “Thou Hidden Love of God”, written in 1729, and translated by John Wesley in 1738. (Please correct my dates! I have had the poem on my piano’s music rack for a month or so while pondering a new melody, or an SATB arrangement of an old melody, so was tickled this morning to discover your great biography of Gerhard here!)

    Thou Hidden Love of God

    “Thou hidden love of God, Whose height,
    Whose depth unfathom’d no man knows;
    I see from far Thy beauteous light.
    Inly I sigh for Thy repose:
    My heart is pained, nor can it be
    At rest, till it find rest in Thee.

    “Is there a thing beneath the sun
    That strives with Thee my heart to share?
    Ah! tear it thence, and reign alone,
    The Lord of ev’ry motion there.
    Then shall my heart from earth be free,
    When it hath found repose in Thee.

    “O hide this self from me, that I
    No more, but Christ in me, may live!
    My base affections crucify,
    Nor let one favorite sin survive;
    In all things nothing may I see,
    Nothing desire, or seek, but Thee.

    “Each moment draw from earth away
    My heart, that lowly waits Thy call!
    Speak to my inmost soul, and say,
    “I am thy love, thy God, they all.”
    To feel Thy pow’r, to hear Thy voice,
    To taste Thy love, be all my choice!”


    Once in the past you mentioned Tom Fettke and his website, as well as that of The Hymn Society of America, regarding those who write rhymed metrical sacred verse in search of composers to set their words to music. The HSA, apart from having an annual competition, does not, or so it seems, appear to be a very helpful resource! I do understand that your goals in writing this blog are to teach and to inspire (I think this would be accurate), but… would you possibly consider a “sub-set” goal to encourage the writing of new *traditional* tunes and quality words in the 21st century?

    From whence are new sacred poets birthed? From great, Christ-centered teachers of English literature? From Scripture-loving, Holy Spirit-alive, pastors who encourage those in their congregations to use “every skill” ~ including skills of quality writing and an excellent knowledge of music theory ~ as an offering to God (and not just $ in the offering plate)?

    I challenge you, Brother Robert, to let God use you far beyond anything you could ask, think, or possibly imagine in this regard! (And this is by NO means to minimize the great work that God is already doing through your research and writing here on this blog! I and so many others are so very grateful to you, and to GOD Who has so generously given you these “good gifts” [James 1:17].) I dearly love these hymns! Yet! I think that God is busily at work in *every* age to produce *skilled* writers and hymn-smiths, and find it peculiar that finding an outlet for those with either (or both) of such skills is virtually impossible! (nb: I emphasize “skilled” because there is an abundance of mediocrity regarding the writing of words as well as music. Now you will KNOW that an “old fogey” is on the other end of your blog!!!) Where is the next generation of great hymn writers and sacred composers? Where is the parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, or Godly friend of someone who writes well, composes melodious tunes, all to the glory of GOD in this age? Be a musical “Gideon”! Out with the pitchers and trumpets! Bring on the writing pens/computers and staff paper!
    — gracie

    p.s. This is NOT a plea for new writers of CCM!

    • Thanks for your comments. And I am as blessed by my research as the readers are with whom I share it. The way the Lord has turned trials into songs (“beauty for ashes”) is truly inspiring. Sometimes moves me to tears as I write and listen to the clips I find.

      On your other point, I know that many are turning back to the old hymns, having become disillusioned and dissatisfied with the shallow froth of so much contemporary stuff. Perhaps, if we can advance this trend, there will be more interest in producing songs of a similar style to our traditional hymnody. What we don’t need is more reworking and mutilation of classic songs to bring them down to the level of those enamoured with the sensual thunder of rock. Last night one of the TV stations broadcast some atrocity called “The Messiah Rocks.” Curious, my wife and I endured a minute or two of it. A young woman in a lowcut gown was wiggling her way through something that was supposed to resemble a selection from Handel’s masterpiece. We soon turned it off and my wife said, “Not much of the original left, was there?!”)

  2. Your wife’s a good woman! You’re blessed to have her at your side! And — an extra “bonus”: She has discernment, too! YES!!!

    You are so right, Robert (would that make you the “Rev. RIGHT Robert…”?!), there is currently a trending toward the writing of anemic, re-worked classic hymns and dumbed-down versions of the “good stuff”… Who wants to have “total protein substitute” (or whatever it’s called) when there’s solid meat available? Or (for the vegans who read your blog…) who wants to have veggie powder when there are fresh tomatoes, green beans, and corn?!

    Unfortunately, there are actually many TV viewers who *think* (rather mistakenly, and rather sadly for their sakes) that those broadcasts (such as you identified in your reply) are the “real deal”. Wow.

    As I learned while working one summer as a bank teller, the BEST way to identify counterfeit bills is by looking at tons of GENUINE currency. But alas! I’m “preachin’ to the choir”!

    I’m thinking of traditional hymnody — well-written words (grammatically and metrically sound), lovely melodies and beautiful harmonies — all to cause each one who hears and who sings these new hymns to be overwhelmed with WORSHIP of our God Who is our Creator, and Who LOVES creativity when it points people to HIM — and not to the hymnist, the singer, etc. There is no crime for a person’s making an “A” in Part-Writing AND an “A” in one’s Freshman English class in college (generally emphasizing grammar and mechanics); but perhaps there it is a “sin of omission” for those in positions of authority (teachers, instructors, pastors, parents) who see such gifts but who do not encourage those young people that it is as honorable to bless the Family of Believers around the world with new music as it is to write a theological textbook, design a ministry website, or provide supportive and beautiful accompaniment to congregational hymn-singing each Sunday!

    “To the one who *knows* to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is…s-i-n.” — James 4:17

  3. Oops! Funny! After writing about good grammar, I should have proof-read better: “When there ARE fresh tomatoes…” Would you please correct that verb for me? Thanks!

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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