Posted by: rcottrill | October 4, 2013

The Lily of the Valley

Words: Charles William Fry (b. May 30, 1838; d. Aug. 24, 1882)
Music: William Shakespeare Hays (b. July 19, 1837; d. July 23, 1907)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: With his family, Charles Fry, a Methodist layman and a bricklayer by trade, formed a group called the Musical Frys, that traveled around England. He later became associated with William Booth, assisting him in his evangelistic meetings. The marker over Fry’s grave states that he was “the first bandmaster of the Salvation Army.”

In 1881, Charles Fry (whose birth name was William Charles Fry) created a gospel song making use of word pictures in the Bible book the Song of Solomon. When he died in 1882, the song was found among his papers. In that year, Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey visited England to hold evangelistic meetings, and the song was passed on to Sankey, quickly becoming a favourite in the meetings. There was the same positive response when he brought it back to America.

Fry had written the words, but no one knew the composer of the music, when the hymn was published in 1885. Only later was it discovered that a man with the imposing name of William Shakespeare Hays wrote the melody for a secular minstrel show ditty in 1871. Its original lyrics were “The Little Ole Log Cabin Down the Lane.” Mr. Fry adapted it, and made better use of it!

CH-1) I have found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul;
The Lily of the Valley, in Him alone I see
All I need to cleanse and make me fully whole.
In sorrow He’s my comfort, in trouble He’s my stay;
He tells me every care on Him to roll.

He’s the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star,
He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.

Solomon’s romantic love song was put to a new use many centuries after it was composed. The Song of Solomon describes, with colourful imagery, the courtship and marriage of the king and a young woman. It unfolds almost like an opera, with singing parts given to the king, to his betrothed, and to a chorus of attendants called “the daughters of Jerusalem.”

The oriental poetry is sometimes strange to our ears–as when the bridegroom says to his beloved, “Your hair is like a flock of goats” (S.S. 4:1), or “Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep” (vs. 2), or “Your temples…are like a piece of pomegranate” (vs. 3). But no doubt some of the expressions we use today would sound just as odd to Solomon!

Later , we find the inspired writers of the New Testament comparing the relationship of Christ to His church with that of a bridegroom and his bride. In winning converts to Christ, the Apostle Paul says, “I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (II Cor. 11:2). And he exhorts husbands to “love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). The great day when the church is caught up into the presence of Christ we’ll celebrate together “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).

This comparison of Christ and His church to the marriage relationship casts the Song of Solomon in a new light. Not only is it a factual and historical portrayal of romantic human love, but it can have a secondary application to the church, and Christ, our heavenly Bridegroom. Such applications of Old Testament people, places, things and events to the person and work of our Saviour are technically referred to as types (the pictures) and antitypes (the fulfilments).

It’s not difficult to think of the marriage supper of the Lamb, when the bride says, “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (2:4). Her adoration of the groom as chief among ten thousand” (5:16), and “altogether lovely” (5:16), likewise fits our worship of Christ. Two poetic images that the bride actually uses of herself, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys” (2:1) have also been applied to Christ in hymnody.

I would like to add a caution, however. Though it is legitimate to see Christ reflected in the Old Testament in this way, we must be careful not to rob the original of it historical reality and substance. We need to see the Song of Solomon as a celebration of love between a man and a woman. Though it provides colourful images that remind us of Christ, Solomon remains a historical character, and the lessons of the book regarding the wholesome purity of married love must not be missed.

CH-2) He all my grief has taken, and all my sorrows borne;
In temptation He’s my strong and mighty tower;
I have all for Him forsaken, and all my idols torn
From my heart, and now He keeps me by His power.
Though all the world forsake me, and Satan tempt me sore,
Through Jesus I shall safely reach the goal.

1) What other Old Testament persons, places, things and events can you think of that provide helpful illustrations of the person and work of Christ?

2) What other hymns come to mind that make use of the Old Testament in this way?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Question #2: “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” both name the fiery and cloudy pillars that led the Israelites through the wilderness; both hymns also hint of the manna, and the water from the rock.

    • Thanks. And Fanny Crosby’s gospel song, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, makes a spiritual application of the manna and water from the rock provided for Israel (stanza 2).


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