Posted by: rcottrill | July 16, 2010

Today in 1863 – Howard Smith Born

Howard E. Smith was a church organist who composed a number of hymn tunes, including the one used for Love Lifted Me. The words for this song were written by James Rowe, and his daughter describes for us how the two men worked on it:

Howard E. Smith was a little man whose hands were so knotted with arthritis that you would wonder how he could use them at all….I can see them now, my father striding up and down, humming a bar or two, and Howard E. playing it and jotting it down.

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

There is a line in the second stanza of the hymn that I especially appreciate. “Love so mighty and so true merits my soul’s best songs.” That is a worthy sentiment. In both the writing and the selection of our hymns, and in their use, we should keep in mind who we are singing for, and singing about. The Lord is worthy of our very best.

Having said that, I do have some reservations about this particular song. The words are fine, but Howard Smith’s tune does not always suit their mood and meaning. The tune of a hymn should serve as the frame of a picture does, enhancing the message, and supporting it. The tune and the words should be saying the same thing. But that is not always the case here.

The kind of bouncy rhythm of the melody does not suit the words “I was sinking deep in sin.” (Someone suggested it almost sounds as though the lyric should be, “I was sinking deep in sin, Yahoo!”) The third stanza’s “Souls in danger, look above” is likewise not suited to the happy, rhythmic tune. Since the song uses a somewhat irregular metre, it does not seem possible to switch to another familiar tune. It might help a bit to sing it more slowly.

(2) Today in 1895 – Elwood Stokes Died
Graphic Elwood StokesLittle is known of Elwood Haines Stokes except that he was one of the founders of a New Jersey religious community, and president of the Ocean Grove Campmeeting Association. His prominence in the late nineteenth century is attested to by the statue raised in his honour. Sensing a need for more hymns about the Holy Spirit, Stokes wrote Fill Me Now in 1879.

Hover o’er me, Holy Spirit,
Bathe my trembling heart and brow;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come and fill me now.

Fill me now, fill me now,
Jesus, come and fill me now;
Fill me with Thy hallowed presence,
Come, O come, and fill me now.

Thou canst fill me, gracious Spirit,
Though I cannot tell Thee how;
But I need Thee, greatly need Thee,
Come, O come and fill me now.

Of this prayer hymn, my musician father would likely have said, “I don’t agree with all the details, but I appreciate the sentiment being expressed.” The work of the Holy Spirit is often misunderstood, and there are few hymns on that subject that are fully biblical.


“Be filled with the Spirit,” says Ephesians 5:18. But in order to grasp what the Word is saying we need to note a couple of things. First, all Christians are forever indwelt by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9; I Cor. 6:19). We do not need to ask Him to come into our lives. And second, the Greek word for “filled” (pleroo) is more often translated fulfilled in the New Testament.

His filling ministry is not a spatial thing. It’s not as though we need to be “topped up” with the Holy Spirit the way we fill a gas tank. What Paul is speaking of in the Ephesians text is His empowering to enable us to fulfil the will of God. (The artisans of Israel were filled with the Spirit to equip them to design the intricate furnishings of the tabernacle, Exod. 31:1-5).

Occasionally, in Bible times, the filling of the Spirit was a sovereign act of God, seeming to require no personal qualifications or human action at all. John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit while still a babe in his mother’s womb (Lk. 1:15). But that does not seem to be the norm for Christians on this side of the cross.

Greek scholars suggest the verb tense for “be filled” (or, if you will, be fulfilled) is more literally “be being fulfilled.” That is, be in such a condition, and have such an attitude, that the Spirit of God is able to fulfil His purpose of equipping you to serve the Lord. No Bible verse actually tells us to ask for the Spirit’s fulfilling ministry. But we are responsible, by God’s grace, to be in a condition of heart and life which allows Him to do His work unhindered in and through us.

While not exactly synonymous with walking in the Spirit, these two are closely related. “If we live in the Spirit [through the new birth] let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). Walking requires step by step faith in God and obedience to His Word, and the confession of any known sin (I Jn. 1:9). And as we walk, the Spirit fills (and fulfils), and as He fulfils, we walk.

It might be going too far to suggest believers should never ask for the Holy Spirit’s filling–which is tantamount to praying for God’s enabling grace. But more pragmatic and practical prayers, related to the specific need, can have the same result. The believers in the early church prayed, “Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word….And when they had prayed…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29, 31).


  1. […] Wordwise Hymns (James Rowe and Howard Smith) The Cyber […]


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