Posted by: rcottrill | September 25, 2010

Today in 1827 – Emma Bevan Born

Emma Frances Shuttleworth was the daughter of Philip Shuttleworth, warden of New College, Oxford, and later bishop of Chichester. In 1856 she married Robert Cooper Lee Bevan, a banker. She published several books of hymns translated from German.

The most familiar of these songs is Christ Receiveth Sinful Men, written by Erdmann Neumeister in 1718. He wrote it to accompany a sermon on Lk. 15:2, “The Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man [Christ] receives sinners and eats with them.’” Coupled with James McGranahan’s tune, it has the feel of a nineteenth century gospel song, and some might be surprised that it is nearly 300 years old!

Sinners Jesus will receive;
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.

Sing it o’er and o’er again;
Christ receiveth sinful men;
Make the message clear and plain:
Christ receiveth sinful men.

Now my heart condemns me not,
Pure before the law I stand;
He who cleansed me from all spot,
Satisfied its last demand.

(2) Today in 1866 – Cleland McAfee Born
Cleland Boyd McAfee is known for one hymn only (my mother’s favourite hymn). Most of his ministry led him in other directions. McAfee taught on the faculty of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, directed the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and served as moderator of the Presbyterian Church of America. At the time of writing his hymn, he was the chairman of the Christian Philosophy department, college chaplain, and choir director, at Park College, Parkville, Missouri, a position he held for almost 20 years.

Mr. McAfee wrote the hymn Near to the Heart of God in 1903, after two daughters of his brother Howard died of diphtheria within 24 hours of each other. The choir of Park College went to Howard McAfee’s quarantined house and sang it outside the window to encourage the grieving family.

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where we our Saviour meet,
Near to the heart of God.

(3) Today in 1918 – William Pitts Died
Though the song that made William Savage Pitts famous is little more than a sentimental ballad, there is a fascinating story behind it. It was written before the existence of the church it describes–a visionary lyric that even includes the colour of the paint that would one day be used! Dr. Pitts says,

Graphic Church in the Wildwood

One bright afternoon of a day in June, 1857, I first set foot in old Bradford, Iowa, coming by stage from McGregor. My home was in Wisconsin. The place where the little brown church now stands was a setting of rare beauty. There was no church then but the spot was there, waiting for it. When back in my home, I wrote the song The Little Brown Church in the Vale [or The Church in the Wildwood]. Then, I put the manuscript away.

In the years of 1859 and 1860, the good people of Bradford were determined to build a church [pictured here]. By the early winter of 1864 the building was ready for dedication. While I was holding a singing school [nearby], the class went one evening to the church. I had brought with me from Wisconsin my manuscript of the song. It had never been sung before by anyone but myself. I sang it there.

It gained speedy recognition locally, and with the years won its way into the hearts of the people of the world. Soon after its publication the church at Bradford, which had been painted brown (for want of money to buy better paint, some say), became known as ‘The Little Brown Church in the Vale.’ My hope is that it will stand for a thousand years.

The doctor’s wish seemed in jeopardy during the late 1800’s. The community served by the church began to decline when the railroad was routed to a nearby town. Services were discontinued and the building abandoned. Then, in 1900 an organization was created to keep the church in repair as a historic site. In 1914, regular services commenced once more, and in 1934 a full-time pastor was called. Because of the song, it has become a tourist attraction, and a favourite site for weddings. At one point, well over a hundred weddings a month were being conducted in the little brown church!

There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood,
No lovelier spot in the dale;
No place is so dear to my childhood
As the little brown church in the vale.

From the church in the valley by the wildwood,
When day fades away into night,
I would fain from this spot of my childhood
Wing my way to the mansions of light.

The Carter Family, that sang and recorded their own unique brand of mountain gospel music in the 1920’s and 30’s, was influential in the later development of the bluegrass, country, and southern gospel genres. The next generation continued to have an impact when June Carter married Johnny Cash and the pair became widely known through recordings, as well as television and concert appearances. Here from 1932 is the original Carter Family singing Dr. Pitts’ song.


  1. Near to the Heart of God is one of my favorites too.
    It really speaks to grieving hearts.

    • Interesting you should say that, given the origin of “Near to the Heart of God.” Scripture says God “comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (II Cor. 1:4). The hymn breathes a spirit of comfort to us now because it grew out of an experience of God’s comfort all those years ago.

  2. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  3. In the late 1940’s Dad taught Church in the Wildwood to us, his two sons. It was especially meaningful to him, as evidenced by the emotions it produced in him when he tried to sing it. It is the same to me today whenever I try to sing it. I feel very close to God at those times. Words of comfort and salvation. Thanks for your web site.

    • Thanks for sharing. Drop by again. 🙂

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]


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