Posted by: rcottrill | October 8, 2010

Today in 1865 – Hugh Stowell Died

Hugh Stowell, born in 1799, on the Isle of Man, was an Anglican clergyman who served his denomination in a number of positions. He was also a great man of prayer. His son wrote, “My father’s last utterances abundantly showed his love of and delight in prayer. Almost every word was prayer…The morning of his death the only articulate words that we could catch, uttered two or three hours before his decease, were ‘Amen! Amen!’”

His passion to commune with God is indicated by the only hymn of his that is still in common use, From Every Stormy Wind That Blows. Because it uses the imagery of the Old Testament “mercy seat,” let’s take a moment to look at the Scripture regarding that.

The context is God’s instruction to Israel for building a worship centre called the tabernacle. The most sacred item in the tabernacle, kept by itself in an inner sanctuary called the holy of holies, was the ark of the covenant. In the ark, among some other things were to be placed the stone tables inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The lid of the ark, made of solid gold, was called the mercy seat. (Note: the “cubit” [kewbit] is about 18 inches.)

Graphic Ark of CovenantYou shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width. And you shall make two cherubim [angelic beings] of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat….And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat….And there I [the Lord] will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat. (Exod. 25:17-22)

Graphic Mercy Seat DiagramIn between the two golden cherubim, Jehovah God manifested His presence in the form of a glorious light that the Jews called the shekinah. Picture the arrangement, referring to this simplified drawing. Above, was the revealed presence of a holy God. Below, his righteous and holy Law, broken many times by the people. How could such a holy One meet and have fellowship with a sinful people? The answer: The only way was for the shed blood of a substitute to intervene. This was symbolized in an annual ceremony under the Law of Israel.

Once a year, the high priest entered the holy of holies and applied the blood of a sacrifice to the mercy seat. This portrayed the way that the shed blood of a substitute came between a holy God and His broken Law. And this symbolism was finally fulfilled in reality at the cross of Calvary. “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). We are able to have our sins forgiven, and find acceptance with God, through faith in the sacrifice of Christ.

Hugh Stowell pictured his fellowship with God as an approach to the mercy seat, where the justice of a holy God was satisfied through Christ. Through the blood of Christ shed on the cross, he was able to have access to God.

From every stormy wind that blows,
From every swelling tide of woes,
There is a calm, a sure retreat;
’Tis found beneath the mercy seat.

There is a place where Jesus sheds
The oil of gladness on our heads;
A place than all besides more sweet;
It is the blood bought mercy seat.

There, there, on eagles’ wings we soar,
And time and sense seem all no more;
And heaven comes down, our souls to greet,
And glory crowns the mercy seat.

(2) More from Isaac Watts – Jesus Shall Reign
Isaac Watts was both a brilliant man and a very significant hymn writer. For good reason he has been called “the Father of English Hymnody.”  His Jesus Shall Reign, a paraphrase of Psalm 72, pictures the coming reign of Christ. But nearly two centuries ago there was a remarkable illustration of the transforming power of the gospel that foreshadows the blessings of the Messiah’s coming kingdom

By 1821, missionary work had already been taking place on the Pacific island of Fiji. Many had come to Christ. Then, one day, the people there were terrified to see a Tonga war canoe appear on the horizon. No wonder they were fearful. The Tonga warriors were ferocious head-hunters and cannibals. But incredibly they had not come that day to kill. They wanted to buy a Bible. Somehow they had heard about Christ, and wanted to know more.

Even more remarkable, this was their second attempt to reach Fiji. A canoe had been sent out some time before, only to vanish without a trace. Now, a second boat had made the perilous journey across 250 miles of open ocean on the same urgent quest. They had not even realized that a Bible would be completely useless to them. Not one of them could read! But a solution was proposed.

Seeing in their earnestness the call of God, a missionary named John Thomas agreed to return with them to teach the Word of God. Over the next twenty years, on Tonga and the neighbouring islands, that ministry was visited with such blessing that thousands put their faith in the Saviour. Then, on Whit-Sunday (Pentecost) of 1862, an amazing worship service was held.

Under the spreading umbrella of a banyan tree, some 5,000 native Christians assembled. The meeting was led by “King George,” a local ruler who had himself been a cannibal in his younger years. He too was now a dedicated follower of Christ. Around him sat a coterie of old chiefs, warriors who had fought many a grisly battle in days gone by.

All rejoiced in God’s gracious salvation, and their faces radiated with sublime joy. King George announced that the islands would now be governed according to Christian principles. Formerly bound by wicked cruelty and dark superstition, they now bowed the knee to Christ.

One hymn chosen to be sung that day was Jesus Shall Reign. Picture the scene in 1862. As the sunlight beamed down on that South Sea island, dancing and sparkling on the incoming waves, 5,000 native believers lifted their voices and sang, in their own tongue, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run.” Delivered from heathen darkness by the power of Christ, they were the living embodiment of the words.

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

From north to south the princes meet
To pay their homage at His feet;
While western empires own their Lord,
And savage tribes attend His Word.

To Him shall endless prayer be made,
And praises throng to crown His head;
His name like sweet perfume shall rise
With every morning sacrifice.

Peoples and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.

Blessings abound where’er He reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blessed.


  1. […] Wordwise Hymns The Cyber […]

  2. […] His people through prayer today. (For an explanation of the significance of the mercy seat, see Today in 1865.) Col. Joy’s hymn […]


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