Posted by: rcottrill | September 7, 2010

Today in 1892 – John Whittier Died

John Greenleaf Whittier was born on a farm in Massachusetts. In his youth he read a book of verse by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, which fueled his interest in writing verse. Today, he is considered to be in the ranks of America’s greatest poets.

Whittier was a Quaker (a member of the Society of Friends), and eventually gained fame as the “Quaker Poet.” He was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery in America. (Was attacked by mobs several times because of this.) When he attended Haverhill Academy, he supported himself by teaching, and by working as a shoemaker. In 1835 Whittier was elected to the Massachusetts legislature. He also served as the editor of several publications, and published many books of his poetry.

Some fine hymns have been taken from Whittier’s poetical works, but he did not consider himself a hymn writer. He said, “I am not really a hymn writer for the good reason that I know nothing of music….A good hymn is the best use to which poetry can be devoted, but I do not claim that I have succeeded in composing one.” (Many would differ with him on that!)

The hymns taken from John Greenleaf Whittier’s poetry include: Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, I Know Not What the Future Hath, and Immortal Love–Forever Full. You may find the last of these listed as We May Not Climb the Heavenly Steeps. It is the same hymn, taken from the same poem, but just starting in a different place. The words “immortal love” actually begin the poem, while “We may not climb” is the opening phrase of a later stanza.

Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never ebbing sea!

We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring the Lord Christ down;
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For Him no depths can drown.

But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,
A present help is He;
And faith still has its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.

O Lord and Master of us all,
Whate’er our name or sign,
We own Thy sway, we hear Thy call,
We test our lives by Thine.

HYMNS AND THE BIBLE. For some, it seems that factors such as “Is it the newest and latest?” or “Is it one of our old favourites?” are the basis for their choice of hymnody. But I would argue that first and foremost must be this question: Is it biblical? I invite you to check out my article on the subject.

(2) Eternity! Eternity! (Data Missing)
We know nothing of the origin of the hymn Eternity! Eternity! except that it first appeared in print in 1625. Catherine Winkworth has given us the English version of the unknown author’s German original. It is a long hymn–a dozen seven-line stanzas. And it’s purpose is to call all to think seriously upon the finality of eternity, and consider what their eternal destiny will be. Below is a sample of this unusual song. You can see the entire hymn on the Cyber Hymnal.

Eternity! Eternity!
How long art thou, Eternity!
And yet to thee time hastes away,
Like as the warhorse to the fray,
Or swift as couriers homeward go,
Or ship to port, or shaft from bow.
Ponder, O Man, Eternity!

Eternity! Eternity!
How long art thou, Eternity!
For e’en as on a perfect sphere
End nor beginning can appear,
E’en so, Eternity, in thee
Entrance nor exit can there be.
Ponder, O Man, Eternity!

Eternity! Eternity!
How long art thou, Eternity!
O Man, full oft thy thoughts should dwell
Upon the pains of sin and hell,
And on the glories of the pure,
That both beyond all time endure,
Ponder, O Man, Eternity!


  1. […] (For a bit more about John Whittier and another of his hymns, see Today in 1892.) […]

  2. Hymntime suggests the tune, “Kirken den er et” for Eternity, Eternity.

    My favorite text for this tune is, “Built on the Rock the Church doth Stand.” I am reminded of a few years back when a church was destroyed in the Middle East. The news broke overnight and I heard about it on Sunday morning before church. We sang this hymn based on the Gospel reading, which happened to relate to the news of the day.

    Built on the Rock the church doth stand
    Even when steeples are falling.
    Crumbled have spires in every land;
    Bells still are chiming and calling,
    Calling the young and old to rest
    But above all the soul distressed
    Longing for life everlasting.

    • A beautiful example of holy defiance. The “I will build My church” of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 16:18) still stands. It is an antidote against discouragement, when individual congregations go through difficult times.

  3. […] a hundred hymns have been drawn from his poetry. (For a couple more of them, see Today in 1872, and Today in 1892.) From a poem of 22 stanzas Whittier called The Eternal Goodness, comes a hymn of trust in the Lord […]


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