Posted by: rcottrill | November 29, 2013

Nearer, Still Nearer

Words: Lelia Naylor Morris (b. Apr. 15, 1862; d. July 23, 1929)
Music: Lelia Naylor Morris

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Lelia Naylor gave her heart to Christ at the age of ten. At the age of nineteen, she married Charles Morris. In her adult years, she became not only a gifted poetess, but a gifted musician. This song was published in 1898, in a book edited by William Kirkpatrick and Henry Gilmour. The latter was the man who encouraged Mrs. Morris to become a hymn writer. The phrase “Haven of Rest” is in quotation marks in Lelia Morris’s hymn, because it references a song, written by Gilmour. He had produced The Haven of Rest eight years before.

The presence of God may be thought of in at least a couple of ways.

First, the Bible clearly teaches His omnipresence. “‘Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?’ says the LORD; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the LORD” (Jer. 23:24). As God, He is always and fully present everywhere. That is, it’s not simply that God is so large that part of Him can be found in every part of the universe. There is no place where all of God is not present at all times, and fully aware of all that happens there.

But there is another level or aspect of His presence to consider. One that involves an interpersonal relationship, when the Lord’s presence is perceived, or at least acknowledged by faith. The believer relates, not to some obscure and distant deity, but to One in whose active presence he lives and moves. As David the psalmist recognizes:

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell [sheol, the place of the dead], behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me” (Ps. 139:7-10). “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18).

Notice in the latter text that for fellowship with God to be established and maintained, the believer must desire and seek it. As the Apostle James puts it, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Jas. 4:8).

The sinner who looks to Christ in faith for salvation is “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). That has to do with his established legal standing before God as His child. But for intimate and personal communion to occur, there needs to be ongoing interaction. It’s the same, of course, in relationships at the human level. One can be his parents’ child, and yet be cold and distant from father or mother. Things like mutual trust and love take time and effort to grow and maintain.

When we go our own way, in disobedience to God, that fellowship is broken. That happened to Israel as a nation, when they went after other gods. But the Lord called to them in love and mercy, “‘Return to Me,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and I will return to you’” (Zech. 1:3).

Restoration is not a matter of performing the right rituals. It’s possible to read Scripture or sing hymns in a cold and formalistic way. Many in Israel were doing that, and the Lord said, “These people draw near with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me” (Isa. 29:13). No one who reads this blog can doubt that I love the great hymns and gospel songs of the church. They can stir the heart and provide a devotional vocabulary that enlivens our worship. But only if the truths they contain are accepted and internalized.

We see that in Lelia Morris’s hymn. The Saviour is “precious” to her (CH-1), but she longs for a deeper, and richer relationship with Him. There is a recognition that it is sin that prevents this. But she can only come to the Lord as she is, with her “sinful, now contrite heart,” and seek His cleansing (CH-2). Sin has it’s “pleasures,” but at its root is pride. The author sees her need to turn her back on sin, concluding that Jesus her Lord is enough to satisfy her heart (CH-3).

As with many hymns, so here there is a recognition that even the highest and best relationship with Christ in this life is not ideal. We are weak and wayward so often. But more and better is coming up ahead, when “in glory [our] anchor is cast” (CH-4).

CH-1) Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Saviour–so precious Thou art!
Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast.
Shelter me safe in that “Haven of Rest;”
Shelter me safe in that “Haven of Rest.”

CH-4) Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last.
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to Thee;
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to Thee!

1) How is this close fellowship with the Lord maintained in the Christian life?

2) What other hymns come to mind that relate to the subject of fellowship with the Lord?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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