Some Interesting Hymn History: ( Courtesy of Sharefaith Team )
Holy, Holy, Holy Reginald Heber (1861)
Long before Reginald Heber penned the words to this famous hymn, the prophet Isaiah had a vision and heard the call of the angels — “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Hearing the chorus, Isaiah crumpled in abject humility and adoring worship — “Woe is me!” Years later, Reginald Heber felt this same awe at God’s holiness, and wrote this hymn in response to what he experienced. Heber, who was a minister in the Church of England, composed the poem for Trinity Sunday. The poem lay forgotten until after Heber died at the age of 43. His wife found the poem in a collection of papers, and shared it with musician John B. Dykes (1823-1876). The song was published with music in 1861. God has used this song to impress millions of people with the truth of his holiness.
Be Thou My Vision attributed to Dallán Forgaill, (6th century A.D.)
Most people have heard of St. Patrick, or at least celebrated his day’s namesake. Fewer people, however, have heard of the blind Irish monk, Dallan Forgaill, author of “Be Thou My Vision.” Forgaill was a 6th-century Irish monk who ministered in the wake of Patrick’s evangelization and church planting. He composed the song as he remembered St. Patrick’s missionary labors and the zeal that characterized his life. For generations, the poem became part of the Irish monastic tradition, used as a prayer and chanted in the Old Irish language. It wasn’t until 1905 that the song was translated by Mary Byrne, and it was 1912 before it was versified. Today, the exalted words and Godward vision of the song are loved by believers just as they were hundreds of years ago by the Irish believers.
How Great Thou Art , Carl Gustav Boberg (1885)
It’s a prayer, a plea, and a declaration of God’s infinite greatness. This song was written by Carl Gustav Boberg, a 26-year old pastor in Sweden. As the story goes, Boberg was caught in a thunderstorm one Sunday afternoon after church. From his perch in the mountains, Boberg watched as the storm swept in with a bolt of lightning and massive clap of thunder. The storm hurtled through the meadows and grain fields, reverberating across the countryside with the sound of its astounding power. After the storm, pastor Boberg looked out his windows overlooking Mönsterås Bay. A rainbow spread across the sky, the birds were singing, the church bells were softy tolling, and Carl was overwhelmed by God’s power and majesty. The result was an outpouring of adoration and worship in the writing of the song, O Store Gud. The song made a circuit of translations, German, Russian, and English, and picked up a stanza from an English missionary Stuart K. Hine in 1949. Now, the song is sung by millions of Christians in dozens of languages, all praying the same heartfelt prayer of “humble adoration, “My God, how great Thou art!”
How Firm a Foundation R. Keene (1787)
When it first appeared in print, the author’s name was only listed as “K” leaving many baffled as to the true author of the song. Extensive research has uncovered the songwriter. English pastor John Rippon published the hymnbook, A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, in which the song first appeared. Most likely the song was written by Rippon’s song leader, R. Keene. Regardless of its authorship, the Bible is the real foundation of “How Firm a Foundation.” Many of the song’s phrases are direct Scripture quotations, and certainly, the entire song is a Scripture-soaked testimony to God’s Word. The theologian Charles Hodge loved the song. During one prayer meeting in which the song was sung, Hodge was so gripped with emotion that he couldn’t sing the words, “I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” The song is so rich that it is worthy of meditation, and certainly deserves the place of recognition that it has had during its long history.
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The history behind the hymn “Amazing Grace”
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
Chances are, you started humming along as you read those Amazing Grace lyrics. Considering that some estimates claim that the beloved spiritual is performed roughly 10 million times annually, it’s no wonder. “Amazing Grace” is easily one of the most recognizable hymns in the English-speaking world.
Although the words and tune (NEW BRITAIN, for those of us who aren’t hymn tune connoisseurs) are recognizable to most, many are unaware of the song’s history. We tend to sing its words and reflect on them in terms of our own lives — grateful for God’s grace — and understandably so. But knowing where the song came from allows us to appreciate it in a new and more profound way.
The story behind the hymn “Amazing Grace”
Written almost two and a half centuries ago in 1772, the words for the beloved song were borne from the heart, mind and experiences of the Englishman John Newton. Knowing the story of John Newton’s life as a slave trader and the journey he went through before writing the hymn will help to understand the depth of his words and his gratefulness for God’s truly amazing grace.
Having lived through a rather unfortunate and troubled childhood (his mother passed away when he was just six years old), Newton spent years fighting against authority, going so far as trying to desert the Royal Navy in his twenties. Later, abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a violent storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm.
Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master, a profession in which he served for several years. Bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips, he admitted to sometimes treating the slaves abhorrently. In 1754, after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned his life as a slave trader, the slave trade, and seafaring, altogether, wholeheartedly devoting his life to God’s service.
He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and became quite popular as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, among them the great “Amazing Grace,” which first appeared in the Olney Hymns, printed by Newton and poet/fellow writer William Cowper. It was later set to the popular tune NEW BRITAIN in 1835 by William Walker.
In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade. He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.
And now, we see how lyrics like:
I once was lost,
but now am found,
but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
carry a much deeper meaning than a sinner’s mere gratitude. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written “Amazing Grace” if not for his tumultuous past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God’s grace in our lives:
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Holy Lord – Steve Bell