Posted by: rcottrill | September 18, 2015

Wonderful, Wonderful Jesus

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Words: Anna Belle Russell (b. Apr. 21, 1862; d. Oct. 29, 1954)
Music: Ernest Orlando Sellers (b. Oct. 29, 1869; d. Oct. 19, 1952)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: The story about this song involves three people, but there’s a fourth individual that it doesn’t involve. Some years ago, I was the interim pastor of a church in the Toronto area that was attended by a woman named Anna Russell (1911-2006). She was a famed British comedian, and a talented musician as well, who gave concerts all over the world. A very funny lady. Until I learned more about Anna Belle Russell, who wrote our hymn in 1921, I wondered if the woman I knew was the hymn writer. But they were two different people.

Not far from where we used to live, in Hamilton, Ontario, there is a monument recalling a sad love story.

George Johnson was a school teacher there, many years ago. Margaret Clark was one of his senior pupils. Eventually, the two fell in love, and planned to be married. At the time, Maggie was seriously ill, but George envisioned her recovering, and the two of them going on together into old age. He wrote a poem about it that went on to become a world famous song, still being recorded today.

The two were married in 1864, but the girl’s health continued to deteriorate. Maggie died the following year. When You and I Were Young could have been a sweetly sentimental song about their enduring romance, but it took on a sad poignancy as a result. The future that George hoped to enjoy with his wife was snatched away. The song says in part:

I wandered today to the hills, Maggie,
To watch the scene below;
The creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
Where we used to long, long ago.

Oh, they say we have outlived our time, Maggie,
As dated as songs that we’ve sung;
But to me, you’re as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

That story got me thinking about the hymns we sing, and how they sometimes take on a new depth of meaning–even a distinctly different meaning–because of changing events in our lives. There is quite a difference, for example, between singing a joyful song of praise when things are going well, and singing it when life has dealt us a painful blow, and we are going through times of trial.

The situations are so different, in fact, that when some experience severe difficulties, hymn singing is about the last thing they want to do. Perhaps they have the feeling that the Lord has let them down, so why would they want to praise Him? There are times when the problems are of our own making, but many times not. Like George and Maggie, we suffer the troubles that tend to touch every life in this fallen world.

But at such times we can, in faith, reaffirm our confidence in the constancy of God’s love for His children (Rom. 8:35-39), looking to Him for mercy and grace to deal with what we are going through (Heb. 4:15-16). Sometimes, when we trust in our Captain to lead us through the storm, we gain new insight into important life lessons.

Paul and Silas, beaten, and cast into a Roman prison because of their ministry for Christ, sang hymns of praise to God there (Acts 16:23-25). The early Christians came to count it a privilege to be “worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41)–as did the martyrs, in later years, who sang songs of praise in the arena, facing the ravening beasts that would take their lives. They bore a powerful witness to their trust in God, and rejoiced that they would soon stand in His presence, all sorrow and suffering over.

By faith, we can find songs to sing, even in the darkest days. Truly, “God…gives songs in the night” (Job 35:10). Hymn writer Anna Belle Russell believed that. Anna was a resident, with her sister Cora, of Corning, New York. Though she wrote a number of songs, it’s one that was published in 1921 that concerns us. It says:

1) There is never a day so dreary
There is never a night so long,
But the soul that is trusting in Jesus
Will somewhere find a song.

Wonderful, wonderful Jesus,
In the heart He implanteth a song:
A song of deliverance, of courage, of strength,
In the heart He implanteth a song.

3) There is never a care or burden,
There is never a grief or loss,
But that Jesus in love will lighten
When carried to the cross.

Anna Russell and Ernest Sellers created the song. But it was a prominent British evangelist named Rodney (“Gypsy”) Smith (1860-1947) who made it well known, using it many times in his meetings on both sides of the Atlantic. In a hymn book he published in 1927 called Wonderful Jesus and Other Songs, it is called “The Gypsy Smith Campaign Song.”

1) What is it about the Lord Jesus that is particularly “wonderful” to you?

2) How can you share this blessing with others this week?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Thank for your informative and interesting posts that most importantly glorify our Lord and Saviour, and bless us readers. Are you familiar with a song from probably the 60’s called “Available”? As I recall some of the lyrics went like this: Available, if God should chose me. Available, if God would use me,…. here or there, it matters not where….” I probably wouldn’t now endorse all the theology in the words but the sentiment in the song was such that God might have used to advance desires in my heart back the to live a useful and fruitful life for Him. Thank you once again and may the LORD continue to use you in His vineyard.

    • Thanks for your kind words. As for the song, you’re close on the date. Written by Dick Anthony, it was published in 1971. It does sound familiar, but I checked a couple of dozen books and couldn’t find it. My focus is mainly on the traditional hymns and gospel songs, so I’ll have to leave that one to others. God bless you and make you a blessing.


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