Posted by: rcottrill | June 5, 2017

Father, Whate’er of Earthly Bliss

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Words: Anne Steele (b. May ___, 1716; d. Nov. 11, 1778)
Music: Naomi, by Hans Georg Nägeli (b. May 26, 1773; d. Dec. 26, 1836)

Wordwise Hymns (Hans Nageli)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: Without much question Anne Steele was the greatest woman hymn writer of the eighteenth century. In the devotional depth of her many hymns, she has been compared to Frances Havergal who came along a century later. But while many of Miss Havergal’s hymns (Take My Life and Let It Be; Lord, Speak to Me; Like a River Glorious; Who Is on the Lord’s Side?) are still sung today, Miss Steele’s are largely unknown–indeed, few Christians in the 21st century have even heard of her. This needs to be remedied!

Anne Steele was born, and lived out her entire fifty-two years in Broughton, Hampshire, in England. She was the oldest daughter of a timber merchant, who served the local Baptist church as a lay pastor for forty years, without remuneration.

Anne’s life was dotted with tragedies, making the present hymn all the more poignant and meaningful. When she was three, her mother died. When she was nineteen, a severe hip injury left her permanently disabled. Three years later, she was engaged to be married, but it’s been reported her fiancee drowned the day before their wedding. (Wikipedia claims later research contracts this tragedy, but for whatever reason she seems to have remained single.) Yet the things that could have left her bitter made her better. Out of her trials came a rich treasury of devotional verse–144 hymns, and 34 metrical versions of Psalms.

In spite of her gifts as an author, Anne preferred to remain in the background. Her poems were not even put in print until about ten years before her death, and were published then under the pen name Theodosia. Earlier, when she sent off two volumes of verse to a publisher, her father wrote in his journal:

“This day Annie sent part of her composition to London to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it and bless it for the good of many.”

As to the present hymn, the three brief stanzas come from a ten-stanza poem entitled “When I Survey Life’s Varied Scene.” It was a contemporary of Steele’s, Augustus Toplady (who gave us the hymn Rock of Ages), who selected and published separately the three stanzas as “The Request,” now known as Father, Whate’er of Earthly Bliss.

We face many trials in this life. Some are of our own making, but many are not. And God is able to take all these experiences and bring good out of them (Rom. 8:28). Our suffering deepens our trust in God and brings ultimate glory to Him. As Paul put it:

“He [the Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (II Cor. 12:9).

Times of difficulty challenge us, and build character.

“The testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas. 1:3-4).

The child of God who is steadfast in faith in suffering will be rewarded one day.

“Our light affliction, which is but for a moment [relatively speaking], is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (II Cor. 4:17).

Anne Steele prays for a calm and thankful heart, in spite of her troubles. She wants to focus on her relationship with the Lord. These are commendable sentiments for every Christian.

“Now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6-7).

CH-1) Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne, let this
My humble prayer, arise:

CH-2) Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessing of Thy grace impart,
And make me live to Thee.

CH-3) Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.

As weeping friends gathered around Anne Steele’s deathbed, on November 11th, 1778, her final words were, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (quoting from Job 19:25-26). On her tombstone is this tribute:

Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue,
That sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the angelic song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.

1) What has been your attitude toward your own troubles and trials?

2) Have you been able to see ways in which the Lord can use them for good?

Wordwise Hymns (Hans Nageli)
The Cyber Hymnal


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