Posted by: rcottrill | October 6, 2010

Today in 1816 – William Bradbury Born

The name of William Batchelder Bradbury may not be too familiar to some, but he made a great contribution to our hymnody. Bradbury was a pioneer in music for children, both in the public school system and in the Sunday School. And it was this man who first encouraged Fanny Crosby to begin writing hymns.

A church organist, William Bradbury also organized singing classes, and taught music in the public schools. With his brother, he founded the Bradbury Piano Company. He devoted much time to composing and editing, and was the composer of dozens of gospel hymn tunes, such as those for Jesus Loves Me, Holy Bible, Book Divine, Even Me, Saviour, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, The Solid Rock, Sweet Hour of Prayer, and many more.

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne
Make all my wants and wishes known;
In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempter’s snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.

(2) Today in 1818 – Silas Vail Born
Silas Jones Vail, born in Brooklyn, New York, trained as a hatter. He clerked in a store, and later had a successful business of his own. Vail also compiled and published collections of songs. His book The Athenaeum Collection included 10 new songs by popular composer Stephen Foster. Then, in 1874, in collaboration with Horace Waters and W. F. Sherwin, Vail published Songs of Grace and Glory, a book of Sunday School songs.

In the book was printed, for the first time, Fanny Crosby’s lovely song, Close to Thee. Silas Vail composed the tune for it. Well, actually, he composed the tune before the words were written. Then Vail went to see Fanny Crosby, and played it for her, asking that she think of some words to go with it. While he was playing it, Fanny said, “That refrain says ‘Close to Thee; close to Thee.” The composer agreed, and a new song was born.

“‘Then I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach Me; For who is this who pledged his heart to approach Me?’ says the Lord. ‘You shall be My people, And I will be your God.’” (Jer. 30:21-22)

“Let us draw near with a true heart and full assurance of faith.” (Heb. 10:22)

Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me,
All along my pilgrim journey, Saviour, let me walk with Thee.
Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee,
All along my pilgrim journey, Saviour, let me walk with Thee.

Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be;
Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee.
Close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee, close to Thee,
Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with Thee.

(3) Today in 1945 – George Stebbins Died
American musician George Coles Stebbins was born in 1846, and lived through almost a century of the development of gospel music. He studied music in Buffalo and Rochester, New York, then moved to Chicago, where he became acquainted with many of the gospel song writers of the day, George Root, Philip Bliss, and Ira Sankey.

He served as the director of music in a couple of churches, but in 1876, evangelist Dwight L. Moody persuaded him to focus on evangelistic ministry. He directed the choir for Moody’s first evangelistic campaign in that year. And for the next quarter of a century he was associated with Mr. Moody and other evangelists. (For more about Mr. Stebbins, see the second item under Today in 1773.)

In addition to serving as a choir director and song leader, George Stebbins composed hundreds of hymn tunes, and assisted in the publication of a number of song collections. Among many others, he wrote tunes for:

Calling Today
Have Thine Own Way, Lord
I’ve Found a Friend
Jesus, I Come
Must I Go and Empty-handed?
Saved by Grace
Saviour, Breathe an Evening Blessing
Take Time to Be Holy
There Is a Green Hill Far Away
Throw Out the Lifeline
Ye Must Be Born Again

Fanny Crosby’s fine gospel song Saved by Grace had an interesting beginning. In his book, Reminiscences and Gospel Hymn Stories, Mr. Stebbins tells what happened.

During the August Conference at Northfield in 1893, Fanny Crosby, who was a guest in Mr. Sankey’s summer home, was invited to address the conference at one of its sessions. At the close of her remarks, she quoted the verses of Saved by Grace….That evening Mr. Sankey asked, “Fanny, where did you get the hymn you quoted?”…She replied, with a smile, that she had stored it away in her memory, to use when she was asked to address meetings, and added, “I don’t intend to let any of you singers have it, either.” Meaning thereby that she did not want it set to music, lest it become well known and less desirable for her individual use.

However, there was a reporter at the meeting, who took down the words in shorthand. Not knowing of Fanny’s wish to keep the poem for her exclusive use, he published it in the paper. Ira Sankey and George Stebbins spoke of this afterward. Sankey felt that since they had become widely known, they should be set to music, and he asked his friend Mr. Stebbins to write a tune. It became a song much used in Dwight Moody’s meetings–and there’s no evidence that Fanny Crosby objected in the end.

Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing;
But oh, the joy when I shall wake
Within the palace of the King!

And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace;
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story—Saved by grace.

Some day my earthly house will fall.
I cannot tell how soon ’twill be;
But this I know—my All in All
Has now a place in heav’n for me.

Some day: till then I’ll watch and wait,
My lamp all trimmed and burning bright,
That when my Saviour ope’s the gate,
My soul to Him may take its flight.


  1. “Saved By Grace” was my father’s favorite hymn, and he often sang it around the house. We kids would turn our backs and roll our eyes, thinking it was so dreary.

    I no longer think it’s dreary.

    • Interesting how age, and simply more experience of life, can add to our understanding of what these old hymns were saying. Thanks for your note. Drop by any time.

  2. Hi Robert. Thank you so much for your comment on my blog post, Silver Strands.

    Your post for today made me smile because just yesterday I sent a link for “Sweet Hour of Prayer” to a friend. We visit a nursing home weekly and my aunt, who goes along, has suggested this song several times. It is one we need to learn better so we can sing it for her.

    Do you have a history on “Life’s Railway to Heaven?”

    • Thanks for your encouragement. I’ve conducted services and sung for the seniors many, many times over the years. May the Lord bless you in this ministry. As to Life’s Railway to Heaven, what I have on that song is here. As to a bit about Sweet Hour of Prayer, check here. Y’all come back! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much. This was one of the songs I so loved to hear my father sing and my own children sang it at Dad’s memorial service just one year ago.
    ( It was Dad who went into the nursing homes ahead of us. He played and taught in four different homes each week until he literally had no strength left. Some he had visited faithfully for over 20 years. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in early September and passed away four weeks later. He is an incredible source of inspiration and a true hero of the faith.

  4. […] Wordwise Hymns (Silas Vail) The Cyber […]

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