Posted by: rcottrill | June 11, 2010

Today in 1884 – William Gaskell Died

The Bible talks about Christian ministry as a process in which many have a part. Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (I Cor. 3:6). And sometimes a person who gains only limited recognition, or later fades into obscurity, can play an important part in God’s program all the same. For instance, it was his Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, who led evangelist D. L. Moody to Christ. Kimball is all but forgotten, but God used him to bring Moody to Himself, and Moody brought thousands more.

Another who had that kind of little-recognized influence was a man named William Gaskell. He served as pastor of the Cross Street Chapel in Manchester, England, for over 60 years. But since he was a Unitarian in doctrine, many of us would find ourselves opposed to some of the beliefs he held. Gaskell wrote many hymns, but they are long forgotten. However, it was in another area that he made an unexpected contribution.

William Gaskell was a teacher, as well as  being a pastor. He gave lectures on literature and other subjects in Manchester. But he went a step further. The city at that time had a large population of poor and underprivileged people. He took it upon himself to tutor both boys and girls who could not get an education elsewhere. Catherine Winkworth was among his students (as was her sister).

And if Gaskell’s contribution to hymnology is forgotten today, Catherine Winkworth’s certainly is not. Considered the foremost English translator of old German hymns, her name is found in nearly every hymn book. If you have ever sung hymns such as Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, or If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee, or Now Thank We All Our God, you have benefited from her service for the Lord.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

(2) Sitting at the Feet of Jesus (Data Missing)
From the 19th century comes a lovely little gospel song that is based on the occasion described in Luke when Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, sat at the feet of Christ to hear His teaching (Lk. 10:39).

We know nothing of the author. He or she is listed simply by the initials J.H. (or sometimes J.H.T.). Asa Hull’s tune is also used for All for Jesus. (You can hear it played on the Cyber Hymnal.)

Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
Oh, what words I hear Him say!
Happy place! so near, so precious!
May it find me there each day.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
I would look upon the past;
For His love has been so gracious,
It has won my heart at last.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
Where can mortal be more blest?
There I lay my sins and sorrows
And, when weary, find sweet rest.
Sitting at the feet of Jesus,
There I love to weep and pray,
While I from His fullness gather
Grace and comfort every day.

Bless me, O my Saviour, bless me,
As I sit low at Thy feet.
Oh, look down in love upon me;
Let me see Thy face so sweet.
Give me, Lord, the mind of Jesus;
Make me holy as He is.
May I prove I’ve been with Jesus,
Who is all my righteousness.


  1. The English speaking Church owes Ms. Winkworth a debt of gratitude for her translations.

    We would really miss out on some great hymnody otherwise!

    Also, even though new hymnals may update her language, the footnote usually reads: Translation: Catherine Winkworth, alt.

    • Agreed. John Julian’s massive work with its listing of 30,000 hymns, including those originally in Latin and German, etc., shows how much we’d be missing without capable translators. John Wesley, Jane Borthwick and others have opened this door for us.

  2. Translating a hymn is no easy task. It is one thing to write a poem with good meter and rhyme; it is quite another to take someone *else’s* poem, translate the concepts into another language, and then incorporate good meter and rhyme.
    Another translator found in our hymnals is John Mason Neale, about whom it is said that his poetry is more beautiful than the originals. I believe that he translated from Latin and Greek texts.

    • Yes, you are correct about Neale. And Edward Caswell has given us a number of Latin hymn translations. It is interesting that Hebrew poetry in the Word of God uses a different system. Here’s a quick note on that.

      English poetry often makes use of rhyming words, words that sound alike.

      Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe;
      Sin had left a crimson stain,
      He washed it white as snow.

      Hebrew poetry (in Bible books such as Job and Psalms) uses a different technique. Instead of matching sounds, it uses matching ideas.

      The wisdom and providence of God can be seen in this. He knew the Bible would need to be translated into many different languages. Sound-alike words would often be lost in the process, but not matching ideas.

      ¤ Sometimes two lines express a common idea (saying a similar thing in a different way). For example: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, / And cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2). Washing and cleansing are similar. Iniquity and sin are, as well.

      ¤ Sometimes two lines of poetry will express contrasting ideas. For example: “Weeping may endure for a night, / But joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

      ¤ Sometimes two lines express a completing idea, with the second line adding more information. For example: “His delight is in the Law of the Lord, / And in His Law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). The second line gives us behaviour to demonstrate the attitude in the first line.

      ¤ Sometimes two lines give us a comparing idea, with one thing being compared to another. For example: “As a father pities his children, / So the Lord pities those who fear Him (Ps. 103:13).


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