Born in Ireland, Arthur Sidney Clibborn was the son of a linen mill owner. Though raised in a Quaker home, he later joined the Salvation Army. After marrying the daughter of the Army’s founder, William Booth, he changed his name to a hyphenated Booth-Clibborn. Arthur and Catherine worked with the Salvation Army in France, Switzerland, Belgium and Holland. Booth-Clibborn wrote over 300 hymns.
The words of O God of Light were first published in the Salvation Army’s War Cry magazine. The author says they were written “in times of persecution and imprisonment.” It is a stern and audacious prayer, reminiscent of the words of David, who wrote, “Let the righteous strike me; It shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; It shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5). It is a bold prayer, inviting discipline if it is needed. Booth-Clibborn’s hymn seems to reflect a similar spirit. But he speaks with confidence that the rod of chastening is in the hand of a loving Father (cf. Heb. 12:5-11).
O God of light, O God of love,
Shine on my soul from heaven above!
Let sin appear in Thy pure ray
As black as on the judgment day;
Let perfect love apply the test,
And all that’s wrong make manifest.
O take Thy plummet and Thy line,
Apply them to this heart of mine,
And thus reveal each crooked place,
By contrast with true righteousness!
Let holy truth condemn each sham;
Show what Thou art, and what I am.
O smite and spare not, faithful God!
A Father’s hand still holds the rod;
O make my sin-stained conscience smart,
And write Thy law upon my heart
So plainly, that my will shall bow
In full surrender, here and now!
(2) More from Oswald Smith
Since Canadian hymn writer Oswald Jeffrey Smith wrote more than 1,200 hymn texts, he is another whose work is difficult to cover in a series of brief entries. (For more about him and his hymns, see the third item under both Today in 1825 and Today in 1878, and the second item under Today in 1674.) The precise date when his song God Understands was written is unknown, but it was created around 1935 to minister to one particular person.
Dr. Smith’s youngest sister Ruth, and her husband Clifford were freshman missionaries serving in Peru. They were preparing to come home to Canada on their first furlough. But shortly before they left, Clifford was killed in a car accident. Ruth returned home with their two small boys, a grieving widow at the age of 26. Oswald Smith dedicated God Understands to his sister, and says it was a great comfort to her. And there’s this postscript: In God’s good time, the two boys grew up to become ministers of the gospel.
God understands your sorrow, he sees the falling tear,
And whispers, “I am with thee;” then falter not, nor fear.
He understands your longing,
Your deepest grief He shares;
Then let Him bear your burden,
He understands, and cares.
God understands your heartache, He knows the bitter pain;
O, trust Him in the darkness, you cannot trust in vain.
God understands your weakness, He knows the tempter’s pow’r;
And He will walk beside you however dark the hour.