John Milton is considered one of England’s greatest writers. An accomplished scholar, he wrote in both Latin and Italian, as well as in English. He also served in the Puritan government under Oliver Cromwell. John Milton is considered a Protestant in faith, though his view were at times eccentric. He is most remembered today for his epic poem, Paradise Lost. But we also have one hymn in common use from his pen, written when he was 15 years old.
Living in a day when metrical versions of the Psalms were about the only congregational songs used by the established church, he contributed Let Us with a Gladsome Mind a paraphrase of Ps. 136. The original has 24 two-line stanzas, plus the refrain. Here are a few stanzas.
Let us, with a gladsome mind,
Praise the Lord, for He is kind.
For His mercies shall endure,
Ever faithful, ever sure.
Let us blaze His name abroad,
For of gods He is the God.
He with all commanding might
Filled the new-made world with light.
All things living He doth feed;
His full hand supplies their need.
(2) Today in 1889 – Oswald J. Smith Born
Canadian hymn writer Oswald Jeffrey Smith was taking seminary training in the city of Chicago, at the turning of the twentieth century. Perhaps the pressure of student life was getting to him, as it has for many. He calls it a time of “uncertainty, doubt, and disappointment.” But as he walked the streets of the city, his thoughts turned to how the Lord Jesus Christ had abundantly provided for him.
First, he considered how he owed his salvation to Christ. Then, how the Lord guided and cared for him. Next, he meditated on how He provides a model for us to follow, and finally of His coming reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. As each of these themes occurred to him, he created lines of poetry in his mind that later became the gospel song Jesus Only. It has encouraged the faith of many since, just as it did the young seminary student. Here are a couple of stanzas.
For salvation full and free,
Purchased once on Calvary,
Christ alone shall be my plea–
Jesus! Jesus only.
Jesus only, let me see,
Jesus only, none save He,
Then my song shall ever be–
Jesus! Jesus only!
He my Guide from day to day,
As I journey on life’s way;
Close beside Him let me stay–
Jesus! Jesus only.
(3) Today in 1916 – Alfred B. Smith Born
Alfred Barnerd Smith was a gospel musician most of his life. He played the violin, directed choirs, wrote songs (over 500 of them), and founded an influential publishing company. He is sometimes called the Dean of Gospel Music. In partnership with John Peterson, he wrote the familiar song Surely Goodness and Mercy. And the hymnal he edited, Living Hymns, is one of the best (now revised, with another 50 selections added to the 800 plus to the original). Recommended!
One day in 1938 Smith paid a visit to another gospel song writer. George Stebbins was 94 years old then. He had written music for Fanny Crosby’s hymns, and others of that era. He knew Philip Bliss, D. L. Moody, and Ira Sankey personally. Stebbins was a link with the past. Al Smith sat and listened to his inspiring stories for three whole hours. (As a result of this meeting, and other research, he wrote the book Hymn Histories.)
As he drove away, Smith prayed that the Lord would somehow enable him to be a blessing to many, as these saints of former times had been. Could he perhaps write a memorable song that would have a wide impact? As the car made its way to a home he was visiting, a song formed in his mind. When he arrived, he scribbled his idea down and, leaving it on the piano, still unfinished, he went on to a meeting.
Later that evening, he discovered that his song had been completed for him. A daughter in the home, Frances Townsend (an English teacher), had filled in a missing phrase with “what glory that will be.” The result is a little chorus, based on Jn. 3:16 that gives us the gospel in a nutshell:
For God so loved the world
He gave His only Son
To die on Calv’ry’s tree,
From sin to set me free;
Some day He’s coming back,
What glory that will be!
Wonderful His love to me.
Another little chorus from Alfred Smith’s pen provides a practical commitment for daily living. The godly wisdom described in the Word of God has to do with our values and priorities. Instead of our lives being ruled by temporal and material values, we need a spiritual and eternal value system. Mr. Smith’s song says simply:
With eternity’s values in view, Lord,
With eternity’s values in view;
May I do each day’s work for Jesus,
With eternity’s values in view.