Posted by: rcottrill | March 21, 2012

In Jesus

Words: James Proctor (dates unknown)
Music: Robert Harkness (b. Mar. 2, 1880; d. May 8, 1961)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: We have little information about James Proctor, including the dates of his birth and death. (At a guess, I’d say about 1840 and 1900, respectively.) However, the story behind this gospel song is one of the most remarkable in the history of hymnody. You can check it out in the Wordwise Hymns link. The song was published in 1903. I’ve sung it as a solo many times, and in the 1950’s I had the privilege of meeting Robert Harkness, the composer of the tune.

It’s true. People try many different ways to find peace of mind and hope for the future. Some engage in good works and community service. Some focus on the acquisition of wealth and property. Some do all they can to be popular and win the praise of others. Some indulge in the proverbial wine, women and song. But for all this, there’s still something lacking. And Jim Proctor found he couldn’t make sense of life with the way he was living, and the belief system he’d espoused. There had to be something (and Someone) more.

CH-2) My soul is night, my heart is steel—
I cannot see, I cannot feel;
For light, for life, I must appeal
In simple faith to Jesus.

The book of Ecclesiastes deals with this subject. It records a sermon preached by King Solomon in old age, looking back on his life (Ecc. 1:1). He had tried all of the things mentioned above, and more, but found them empty. The word “vanity” is found 28 times in the book, a word meaning a breath or a vapour. Pleasure, wealth, power, and so on, all seem as fragile and temporary as a mist that dissipates and vanishes away.

All of that relates to life “under the sun”–another expression Solomon uses often (27 times). It refers to this mortal life, from the womb to the tomb. If that’s all there is to life, then it is indeed vanity, a mere nothing. But after Solomon has clearly established that point, he describes another dimension of life that can give it meaning and purpose.

That is, that we cannot understand life without factoring in God and eternity. We are accountable to God for what we’ve done with our lives, and there is an eternal destiny beyond the grave to prepare for (Ecc. 12:13-14). The Lord Jesus dealt with this when He told His hearers to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21; cf. vs. 33), and Paul likewise sounded a similar note (Col. 3:1-4; cf. I Tim. 6:7).

After struggling for a long time on the wrong path, Mr. Proctor found that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Person and work, made sense of a lot of things in his life that were otherwise dark and unknowable.

CH-3) He died, He lives, He reigns, He pleads;
There’s love in all His words and deeds;
There’s all a guilty sinner needs
Forevermore in Jesus.

The men Proctor had associated with previously were agnostics and atheists. They’d no doubt think he’d lost his senses, if he left his association with them and trusted Christ as his Saviour. But he did it. And wrote:

CH-4) Though some should sneer, and some should blame,
I’ll go with all my guilt and shame;
I’ll go to Him because His name,
Above all names, is Jesus.

1) A philosopher wrote that each person has “a God-shaped blank” in his soul. What does this mean?

2) What kinds of priorities and activities will enable the Christian to lay up treasures in heaven?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. I have been unable to find this hymn in print. If you have a copy in “hymn” format I would like to receive a copy. Could y ou direct me to a source or possibly email a copy to me. Thank you. I enjoyed your blog on the hymn. I am re-reading “Amazing Grace” a devotional by Kenneth Osbeck and I am trying to collect a copy of each hymn. This is one I have been unable to find.
    Thank you for your thoughtful devotional.

    • Thanks for the question. I’ve sent along the requested song via e-mail. It’s also found in the hymn book Living Hymns. God bless.

      • Thank you for your very prompt response. I have printed the music and I will add it to my collection. My husband is a pastor and just began a series on Eccesiastes. I printed your devotional for his reference since this hymn is so illustrative of the futility of a life without Jesus! May God continue to bless your ministry. Thanks for the reference to “Living Hymns”. It would be a nice addition to my growing collection of hymnbooks. They are truly a lost treasure!
        Thanks again. Blessings “In Jesus”,
        Sarah Brannon

  2. I think these words also go very nicely with the tune GREENWELL.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, the tune Greenwell works fine with this hymn. (It’s a bit of an odd metre so there aren’t many tunes to choose from.) I would recommend that if Greenwell (normally used with O for a Faith That Will Not Shrink) is used, it not be taken too quickly, given the subject matter.


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