Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2010

Today in 1878 – Elizabeth Prentiss Died

Elizabeth Payson started submitting her writings for publication at the age of 16. She went on to publish many books, including Stepping Heavenward, a unique work of fiction written in the form of a young lady’s journal. Though the story takes place in the nineteenth century, modern authors such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Elisabeth Elliot and Kay Arthur have recommended it to teen-aged girls today, as a challenge to a deeper walk with Christ. The possibility of a superficial devotion filled Elizabeth Payson Prentiss with dread. She wrote, “To love Christ more is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul.”

In 1845, the author married George Prentiss, a Congregational pastor who became professor of Homiletics and Polity at Union Theological Seminary. Elizabeth was a contented home-maker, with a keen sense of humour. Then, a dark shadow descended upon her and her husband. Within a short space of time, two of their three children died. Elizabeth wrote in her diary of her “empty hands, worn-out, exhausted body, and unutterable longings to flee from a world that has so many sharp experiences.”

Yet it was during that time (in 1856) that this grieving mother wrote a poem entitled More Love to Thee. She did not think much of it. Did not even show it to her husband for some thirteen years. Then in 1869 it was put in print, and set to music. It has become a much-used hymn, translated into many languages.

Unfortunately, a number of hymn book editors have omitted the third stanza. It is startling in its boldness and depth of insight. With the Apostle Paul Elizabeth Prentiss had come to understand that the Lord can do a great work in us through suffering (II Cor. 12:7-10). If faith can accept that God knows best, and a love for Christ well up to fill the void, then tragic loss can be seen in a more positive light. As Prentiss’s astonishing prayer in the third stanza puts it,

Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain;
Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

(2) Today in 1908 – Ira Sankey Died
Ira David Sankey was one of the most significant gospel musicians of the late nineteenth century. Partnered with evangelist Dwight L. Moody, he carried on an effective ministry on both sides of the Atlantic for nearly 30 years. (In the picture, he is seated at a little reed organ. Mr. Moody is sitting behind, the second man from the right.) Sankey was not only a singer and song leader, but a gospel hymn writer and a publisher of sacred music.

To celebrate the Lord’s soon return, Ira Sankey wrote the words and music for a jubilant song he called The King Is Coming (not to be confused with the more recent composition by the Gaithers). The circumstances surrounding the writing of this particular hymn are rather unusual. Sankey says,

During one of my trips to Great Britain [this one was in 1888], a storm raged on the sea. The wind was howling through the rigging, and waves like mountains of foam were breaking over the bow of the vessel. A great fear had fallen upon the passengers. When the storm was at its worst we all thought that we might soon go to the bottom of the sea. The conviction came to me that the Lord would be with us in the trying hour and, sitting down in the reading room, I composed this hymn.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Our King is coming!
And the time will not be long,
Until we hail the radiant dawning,
And lift up the glad new song.

O wondrous day! O glorious morning
When the Son of Man shall come!
May we with lamps all trimmed and burning
Gladly welcome His return!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Our King is coming!
And the time will not be long,
Until we hail the radiant dawning,
And lift up the glad new song.

O may we never weary watching,
Never lay our armour down
Until He come, and with rejoicing
Give to each the promised crown.

Two other songs for which Mr. Sankey provided the tune, you can check out on the Cyber Hymnal: I Am Praying for You, and What a Gathering!

(3) Today in 1911 – Deeper and Deeper written
IGraphic Oswald Smitht is in the discovery of the deeper things of God–I may even say through our immersion into the depths of them–that we ourselves gain spiritual maturity as we become a reflection of what He is (II Cor. 3:18).

In 1911, such thoughts came to the mind of Oswald Jeffrey Smith walking along a street in the town of Woodstock, Ontario. As he headed toward a church where he was to preach that Sunday morning, the words and melody for a new hymn formed themselves in his mind.

In four more years he would become the pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, a position he would hold for nearly 45 years. Under his leadership the congregation would become Canada’s greatest missionary sending agency of the mid-twentieth century. But in 1911 he was just a young preacher, preparing to minister for the Lord.

Smith hoped he could get to his rented room after the service before forgetting the song that was singing itself into his heart. He did, later completing several more stanzas. The author says, “The writing of the hymn afforded me much joy, nor has it ever grown old.” The song, entitled Deeper and Deeper, carries us through several stages as we come to know more of the heart of Jesus, His will, His cross, His joy, and finally, His matchless love.

Into the heart of Jesus
Deeper and deeper I go,
Seeking to know the reason
Why He should love me so,
Why He should stoop to lift me
Up from the miry clay,
Saving my soul, making me whole,
Though I had wandered away.


  1. […] other songs by Oswald Smith, see Today in 1878 (Item 3), and Today in 1674 (Item […]

  2. […] But Ira Sankey did far more than that. A composer of many tunes, and the writer of a number of song texts as well (about 1,200 in all, of words or music), he sometimes used the pen name Rian A. Dykes, an anagram using the letters of his actual name. Ira Sankey published a song book, Sacred Songs and Solos, that became a standard for many years afterward. (For more about the man and his songs, see the second item under Today in 1878.) […]

  3. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  5. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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