Cleland Boyd McAfee Presbyterian Leader and Hymn Writer

This is the day that … Cleland Boyd McAfee was born in Montana, USA, in 1866.

The son of a minister, Cleland pursued ministry, as did his brothers and other relatives, and rose to the pinnacle of the American Presbyterian Church which he served. His life was spent in the pulpit, the class and the study. Four others in his generation with ministers as well.

At the age of thirty-five, whilst pastoring the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Illinois, he wrote a hymn, words and music. He received news that two nieces had died from diphtheria. Grieving from the loss, he turned to the words of the Psalmist. As he read the scriptures, he was inspired to write the words and the tune to “Near to the Heart of God.” “the choir learned it on the Saturday night,” his daughter later recorded – and they went to the McAfee home and sang it under the stars outside the quarantined house …”

And the hymn?

There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God…

The first public performance of the hymn was at the girls’ funeral. The hymn became popular immediately and spread quickly.

McAfee married Canadian born Harriet and together they produced three daughters, Ruth, Catherine and Mildred. Thus his desire to have the family name continued was defeated.

Cleland B. McAfee is described as “an eminent theologian, a brilliant speaker, author of numerous books, and honoured by his denomination to serve as Moderator of the General Assembly … yet today, Dr McAfee is best remembered for this one simple, unassuming, devotional hymn” (101 More Hymn Stories, by K. Osbeck).

McAfee lived on the Seminary Campus and maintained a genuine pastoral rapport with his students. As moderator he had a keen sense of when to lower the boom on the fundamentalist controversy.

His books are freely available as e-books from many sites on the internet, revealing a studious mind and an excellent communicator.

Dr McAfee died on 4 February, 1944.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at