Posted by: rcottrill | November 7, 2010

Today in 1847 – Will Thompson Born

William Lamartine Thompson was a successful popular song writer before he became a hymn writer. When a publisher in New York offered him only twenty-five dollars for four songs he had written, he decided to form his own company and publish them himself. It was not long before he was selling millions of copies, and he became known as the “Bard of Ohio,” and the “Millionaire Song-writer”!

No doubt about it, Will Thompson was a success! But he admitted later that he still felt there was something missing from his life. He said, “One day God spoke to my heart through meeting [evangelist] D. L. Moody. He told me, ‘Will, they are good songs you wrote, but why not write some songs that will bless people’s hearts and lives, and bring them to Christ.’” Said Thompson, “From that day on I have written only sacred songs, and it’s a decision I have never regretted.” One of these, Jesus Is All the World to Me, might well have been the author’s own testimony.

Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me, I want no better friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a Friend, beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy, He’s my Friend.

Another of Will Thompson’s songs, Lead Me Gently Home, has most often been treated as a solo number. (I have sung it myself on occasion.) It says:

Lead me gently home, Father,
Lead me gently home,
When life’s toils are ended
And parting days have come;
Sin no more shall tempt me,
Ne’er from Thee I’ll roam,
If Thou’lt only lead me, Father,
Lead me gently home.

But the song that has had a greater impact than all the rest is Thompson’s invitation hymn, Softly and Tenderly. It has been the means of drawing many to the Saviour.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.

You get two for the price of one with the following video clip. There is a lovely rendering of the first stanza of Softly and Tenderly, and a plug for a great movie. If you have never seen The Trip to Bountiful, I encourage you to check it out. A Hollywood movie that’s wholesome, and delivers an important message (Who’da thunk it?). It deals with being caregivers to a senior parent in the home. And by its sometimes painful example of what not to do, it is a thought-provoking film indeed.

One day in 1899, Will Thompson got word that his friend, Dwight Moody, had suffered a heart attack and was not expected to live. As quickly as possible, Thompson made his way from Liverpool, Ohio, to Northfield, Massachusetts. There he found that all visitors were being kept from Mr. Moody’s room. But as soon as the sick man heard of his arrival, he asked to see him. Reaching out a feeble hand, he said. “Will, I would rather have written Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling than anything I have been able to do in the world.”

(2) Today in 1918 – Billy Graham Born
WGraphic Billy Grahamilliam Franklin Graham is certainly not a hymn writer. But there is no denying the worldwide impact of his many evangelistic meetings over the past 60 years. With his musicians Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea, (along with accompanists such as Tedd Smith and Don Hustad) Graham’s mass choirs have popularized a number of gospel songs.

How Great Thou Art was virtually unknown until the team brought it back from Britain and introduced it in their 1955 Toronto Crusade. And it may be surprising to learn that Fanny Crosby’s great hymn, To God Be the Glory, though greatly loved in Britain, was practically unknown in America (where it was written!) until Graham’s crusades reintroduced it. Here is the story.

To God Be the Glory was written in the United States, some time before 1873, but little used afterward. The author, Fanny Crosby, does not mention it in any of her writings, nor does the composer of the tune, William H. Doane. Many years passed, with few Americans ever hearing the song. It seemed destined to fade into oblivion. But in 1954 it was “rediscovered”–over in England.

When Cliff Barrows was putting together a song book for Billy Graham’s first London Crusade, British advisors suggested the inclusion of To God Be the Glory. Ira Sankey had used it there in Dwight Moody’s evangelistic meetings  in the nineteenth century, and the churches had continued to sing it. Barrows liked the strong words, and he agreed.

In Dr. Graham’s crusade in London’s Harringay Arena, it became the theme hymn and was sung nearly every night. On the team’s return to America, they were scheduled to conduct meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. In August of 1955, in that city, the hymn was reintroduced to the nation where it had been born. It has been published in many hymnals since. Lost for a time, it has been found once more.

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.


  1. I love “To God be the Glory!” It seems especially appropriate as we approach Thanksgiving…at least in the U.S. I realize yours already occurred! But anyway, the hymn is such a celebration of the most important thing to be thankful for!

    • I agree. And I found it interesting that a great hymn such as that would get lost, and be re-introduced to the land of its birth so many years later. If I’m not writing to you before, have a blessed and joyful Thanksgiving!

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