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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Boston Musical Herald
This language was the heart-utterance of Mrs. Sarah Flower Adams, who was born in Cambridge, England, in February, 1805, and whose history has been but very slightly known to the great public, who have cherished her hymns as one of the most sacred treasures for nearly half a century.
Her father was the editor of a weekly Cambridge paper. Her mother was a woman of fine gifts and culture, and she herself was the youngest child.
She was noted in early life for the taste she manifested in literature, and in more mature years for great zeal and earnestness in her religious life. She contributed prose and verse to the periodicals of the day, and her art criticisms were valued.
Married at an early age, and of frail constitution, she still, amid many bodily sufferings, kept her pen busy, her thoughts and writings always tending upwards. At what time and amid what circumstances she caught the inspiration from which she evolved that wonderful hymn which has since echoed round and round the globe, is not, known; but it was probably during some period of peculiar trial, when her spirit was uplifted through sorrow almost above its earthly body. She little dreamed that her hymn, like those of Toplady, Charlotte Elliot, and Ray Palmer, would be heard through the ages.
It was first published in 1841, in a volume of sacred lyrics, issued by Mr. Fox, of England, just eight years before the death of the gifted authoress, who only lived to the age of 44, and thus never knew the fame that was to attach to her hymn and her name.
The hymn soon began to appear in various collections, and was everywhere received with delight. It was given the tune, "Bethany," which became very popular in this country. Everybody who has grown up in a Christian land knows it by heart, and in many countries which do not float the banner of Christ, it is almost equally familiar.
"Last year," says Dr. Cuyler, in his "Heart Life," Professors Smith, Hitchcock, and Park, as they wound their way down the foothills of Mount Lebanon, came in sight of a group of fifty Syrian students, standing in a line, singing in chorus. They were the students of the new College of Beirut, at Abieh, and they were singing in Arabic to the tune of ‘Bethany.' As the procession drew near they caught the sublime words :
Nearer my God, to Thee!
Nearer to Thee;
E'en though it be a cross
That raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.
"`I am not much given to the weeping mood,' said Professor Hitchcock, when describing the thrilling scene, but when we rode through the ranks of those Syrian youths, I confess that my eyes were a little damp.'”
"If it be permitted to the departed people of God," continues Dr. Cuyler, "to witness the transactions of earth, we may imagine with what rapture the glorified spirit of Sarah Flower Adams heard her heart-song thus chanted in the land of sacred history."