Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliot was the niece of Charlotte Elliot, author of the hymn Just As I Am. She wrote a number of hymns for the church in England where her father served as pastor. Elliot published a book called Under the Pillow containing 48 of her hymns. It was designed for the use of those in hospitals and infirmaries.
The one song of hers in common use today is the Christmas hymn Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne. It reminds us of the infinite condescension required for God the Son to take on our humanity. Though “being in the form of God, [He] did not consider it robbery [a thing to be clutched and held on to] to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).
The third stanza, a touching reference to Christ’s words in Luke 9:58, is sometimes omitted from our hymn books. It says:
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
(2) Today in 1855 – Louis Benson Born
Dr. Louis Fitzgerald Benson practiced law for seven years. Then, after seminary training, he became a Presbyterian pastor. However, his most lasting contribution to the church at large is likely his scholarly work in the area of hymnology. Considered one of the leading authorities on the hymns of the Christian church, he had a private library of some 9,000 volumes on the subject, writing extensively on hymn history himself. Louis Benson wrote a number of hymns, and provided English translations of the work of others. One of his own is O Sing a Song of Bethlehem.
O sing a song of Bethlehem, of shepherds watching there,
And of the news that came to them from angels in the air:
The light that shone on Bethlehem fills all the world today;
Of Jesus’ birth and peace on earth the angels sing alway.
He said that the ideal hymn should have the qualities of: reverence, spiritual reality, beauty, and cheerfulness. In his classic work The Hymnody of the Christian Church, he says:
Hymnody, then, is a spiritual function, and its welfare proceeds from the heart. Nevertheless its congregational expression needs guidance and thoughtful ordering, as much now as at Corinth in the days of St. Paul.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD HYMN. To learn of several other factors that work together to make a good quality hymn, take a look at my article on the subject.
(3) Today in 1865 – Peter Bilhorn Born
American gospel musician and evangelist Peter Philip Bilhorn had a remarkable career in many respects. His family was Bavarian, and their original name was Pulhorn. This was changed officially by a judge named Abraham Lincoln (before he became president). With his older brother, Bilhorn established the Eureka Wagon and Carriage Works, in Chicago. He also had a marvelous singing voice, and entertained in the concert halls and beer gardens in the area. But when he came to Christ, he determined to use his gifts in the service of the Lord.
Bilhorn became a much traveled evangelist, also serving as a song leader in the early ministry of Billy Sunday. At the World’s Christian Endeavour Convention in London’s Crystal Palace, he conducted a choir of 4,000 voices. On the invitation of Queen Victoria, he sang several of his own songs in the chapel at Buckingham Palace.
Seeing the need for a small portable pump organ that could be used in street meetings and on the mission field, Peter Bilhorn designed and built one himself. The small but powerful organ folded down into a unit about the size of a large suitcase. The Bilhorn Brothers Organ Company grew from this, and they sold a variety of models worldwide. (I can recall playing an organ of this type in Sunday School, many years ago.) The inventor turned all his profits from their sale back into the Lord’s work.
One time, while conducting meetings in Wisconsin, the evangelist retired to his room for the night, but could not sleep. He felt compelled to take his folding organ and go out into the bitter cold. Walking down a street, he saw a gleam of light in a basement window. When he knocked, he was admitted to a room where a group of men were gambling. He set up his organ and began to sing. As a result of this bold ministry, six men trusted in the Saviour that night.
Peter Bilhorn wrote around 2,000 gospel songs, sometimes providing the tune for others, as he did for I Will Sing the Wondrous Story, and other times writing both words and music himself, as for Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love. The ensemble below plays the tune of the latter hymn.
There comes to my heart one sweet strain,
A glad and a joyous refrain,
I sing it again and again,
Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.
Peace, peace, sweet peace,
Wonderful gift from above,
Oh, wonderful, wonderful peace,
Sweet peace, the gift of God’s love.
Through Christ on the cross peace was made,
My debt by His death was all paid,
No other foundation is laid.
For peace, the gift of God’s love.