Posted by: rcottrill | May 30, 2010

Today in 1819 – From Greenland’s Icy Mountains written

Well known cleric and hymn writer Bishop Reginald Heber was visiting his father-in-law Dean Shipley. There was to be a service on a missionary theme in Shipley’s church, and on Saturday the Dean asked Heber if he would write a suitable hymn for it. Seating himself at the side of the room, away from the general conversation, the author went to work.

The Lord Jesus says we are to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mk. 16:15). And it was that commission that fueled the efforts of Reginald Heber. He had a great passion for foreign missions, as his later ministry in India  shows. After a few minutes the Dean asked what he had written, and Heber read the first three stanzas of From Greenland’s Icy Mountains that begins:

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand:
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

“There, there, that will do very well,” responded Dean Shipley. (He disliked long hymns.) But his son-in-law objected, “No, no, the sense is not complete.” He went to work again and added another stanza. The whole project was finished in 20 minutes. Here is the inspiring final stanza we would have missed if not for Reginald Heber’s insistence.

Waft, waft, ye winds, His story, and you, ye waters, roll
Till, like a sea of glory, it spreads from pole to pole:
Till o’er our ransomed nature the Lamb for sinners slain,
Redeemer, King, Creator, in bliss returns to reign.

For more about Reginald Heber and his great hymns, see Today in 1783 (the date of his birth).

(2) Today in 1838 – Charles Fry Born
A bricklayer by trade–as were his father and grandfather before him–Charles William Fry was also a gifted musician. He and his family accompanied William Booth in his evangelistic work, and Fry became known as the first bandmaster of the Salvation Army. He soon discovered that the construction business, run by him and his three sons, began to suffer from his absences for ministry engagements. After a time of prayer, and consultation with General Booth, Fry closed the business and the family went into full-time gospel ministry.

William Fry’s song of testimony, The Lily of the Valley, was published in 1881. That phrase is taken from the Song of Solomon 2:1, where it is actually spoken by the woman betrothed to King Solomon. She says,  “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.” Traditionally, both poetic phrases  have been borrowed to describe the Lord Jesus, and His beauty of character. The song begins:

I have found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
The Lily of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.
In sorrow He’s my comfort, in trouble He’s my stay;
He tells me every care on Him to roll.

He’s the Lily of the Valley,
The Bright and Morning Star,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.


  1. Great insights on Bishop and hymn writer Heber. You have quite a project here! Thanks for giving me the heads-up about it on my blog.

    – violet

    • Thanks Violet! A project indeed! And in addition to the daily blog, I’ve got a website through which I answer Bible and hymn questions, and put out a monthly newsletter. Also have a book coming out in 2 or 3 months on carols and Christmas hymns. Oh, and did I mention a weekly newspaper column on hymns, and occasional speaking engagements? ‘Scuse me while I go and lie down! 🙂

  2. […] more on how From Greenland’s Icy Mountains came to be written, see Today in 1819.) Holy, Holy, Holy was written for Trinity Sunday, when Reginald Heber was a vicar in England. […]

  3. […] (3) Today in 1881 – The Lily of the Valley published Charles William Fry was the Salvation Army’s first band leader. He has left us this one gospel song that is still in common use, The Lily of the Valley. It was first published in the Salvation Army’s periodical, War Cry. (For more about Mr. Fry and his song, see the second item under Today in 1819.) […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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