Posted by: rcottrill | January 25, 2012

Close to Thee

Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: Silas Jones Vail (b. Oct. 6, 1818; May 20, 1883)

Wordwise Hymns (Silas Vail)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Silas Vail was a hatter by trade, but writing tunes for gospel songs was a steady avocation. There are two slightly different stories as to the origin of this lovely song. Ira Sankey, in his volume My Life and the Story of the Gospel Songs recalls:

“Silas J. Vail, having composed this tune, brought it to Fanny Crosby, and requested her to write the words for it. As he was playing it for her on the piano, she said, ‘That refrain says “Close to Thee, close to Thee.”’ Mr. Vail said that was true, and it was agreed that it should be a hymn entitled Close to Thee.”

But the author herself originally called the song “Christ, the Portion of His People.” And Fanny Crosby, in her book Memories of Eighty Years, says:

“Toward the close of a day in the year 1874, I was sitting in my room thinking of the nearness of God through Christ as the constant companion of my pilgrim journey, when my heart burst out with the words.”

It’s possible that there is a way these two stories are both correct to some degree. Then again, Fanny having written between 8,500 and 9,000 songs, sometimes even forgot that she’d written a particular piece. But that is not as important as the beautiful wedding of heartwarming words with a fitting tune.

CH-1) 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.

We commonly use the word “portion” to refer to how much food has been placed on our dinner plate. But in the Bible the word frequently has the connotation of a possession or an inheritance. Many times, the Lord Himself is described as the “portion” of His people. David says, “O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance” (Ps. 16:5). Another psalmist cries, “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).

Such an intimate relationship stirs a desire to obey and please God: “You are my portion, O Lord; I have said that I would keep Your words” (Ps. 119:57). The sense of weakness, and of dependance on God, is also expressed by still another psalm: “I cried out to You, O Lord: I said, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living” (Ps. 142:5).

Following the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah wept over his beloved city, but encouraged himself with, “‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, therefore I hope in Him! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him” (Lam. 3:24-25).

Think of how amazing that is–that the eternal and Almighty God should be described as our inheritance and possession! But there is another side of the coin as well. Repeatedly, the Lord describes those who belong to Him as His inheritance and possession. In Deuteronomy, Moses states, “The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the place of His inheritance” (Deut. 32:9). Others express a similar thought (cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Zech. 2:12).

For Christians it is the same. In the New Testament, Paul prays that, “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened…you may know…what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints [how gloriously rich God’s portion is in His people]” (Eph. 1:18).

On both sides, this is intended to be a “portion” that is not simply possessed, but enjoyed. It’s not like a treasure locked away in a vault and rarely displayed or put to use. As the word in Scripture describes our relationship with the Lord, and His with us, it refers to that which is earnestly sought, regularly appreciated, and generously shared.

CH-2) 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.

1) Is the intensity of devotion reflected in the Scriptures, and in Fanny Crosby’s song, a part of your own experience? If not, why not?

2) The Lord asks, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed” (Amos 3:3)? How does this relate to the above questions, and to your own life?

Wordwise Hymns (Silas Vail)
The Cyber Hymnal

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