James Rowe is Lifted by Love

Hymn Writer, James Rowe was born in Devonshire, England on January 1, 1865.

At an early age Rowe entered the Government Survey Department, where he continued till 1890. when his family migrated to America and he settled at Albany, NY. There Rowe became a railroad employee and married Blanche Clapper.

He later devoted his life to literary pursuits and became famous for writing hymn lyrics, becoming one of the most prolific hymn poets of the twentieth century. By his own record, he produced more than 19,000 hymns for a number of different composers.

In 1896 he turned his hand to writing hymns. “Poetry, came easy to him”, said his daughter in one of her letters. His first song was “Speak it for the Saviour”.

“He delighted in composing extemporaneously a poem of some length as he spoke to an assembled audience.” (Songs of Glory by W.J. Reynolds, page 126). Not only gospel songs flowed from his pen, but also “humorous verse for greeting cards.”

Rowe wrote several enduring hymns with the assistance of a pianist, composes, Howard E. Smith, who was born on July 16, 1863. Smith was an active musician throughout his life and served many years as an organist in Connecticut.

In a letter dated 23 May, 1955, James Rowe’s daughter (Mrs. Louise Rowe Mayhew) wrote: “Howard E. Smith was a little man whose hands were so knotted with arthritis that you would wonder how he could use them at all, much less play the piano, but he could and did.” She goes on to describe how her father paced to and fro around the room composing the words of his best-known gospel song whilst Howard E. Smith, the local church organist, set them to music. The result?
I was sinking deep in sin, Far from the peaceful shore;
Very deeply stained within, Sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me … Now safe am I.

That song. “Love Lifted Me”, was written in 1911, or 1912 and was copyrighted in 1912.

Other gospel songs written by James Rowe include:
Be like Jesus … this my song,
In the home and in the throng…

And the grand old Elim chorus…
I walk with the King …Hallelujah!
I walk with the King, praise His name…

Rowe not only composed songs and poems, but he was also an effective singing teacher. It is recorded on one singing instructor named Eugene Monroe Bartlett that “his schools brought together such well known singing teachers as James Rowe and Homer Rodeheaver”.

Rodeheaver, a popular gospel singer, recounts an occasion when he sang Rowe’s song, “I walk with the King”, “to a great crowd of coloured folks one night”. He explains that “one of the good old-fashioned aunties got up from the back row, taking off her sun-bonnet, waving it in the air, and stepping high down the aisle, she exclaimed, ‘Hallelujah! I walk wid Him too, brudder!’ Then there came the chorus from all over the house, ‘Yeah! we all walk wid Him down here!’”

Gypsy Smith had a favourite song among Rowe’s 8,000 hymns and poems that were circulated, being…
“Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.”

Many of Rowe’s best songs owe much of their popularity to the attractive musical settings of Mr. B. D. Ackley, who was at one time pianist for Billy Sunday.

James Rowe went Home to walk the golden street with his King on 10 November, 1933, in Vermont, USA.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

William Cowper the Depressed Hymn Writer

William Cowper was born, in Hertfordshire, England, on November 26, 1731.

His father, Reverend John Cowper, was a Church of England clergyman. His mother, Anne, died when William was but six years of age, and he found himself in boarding school facing “loneliness, insecurity and bullying”. It was probably the result of these sad days that led to bouts of insanity in adulthood.

He studied law, was called to the bar in 1754 … but never practised law. Fear of appearing in public and mental illness prevented him from doing so. “On this occasion he bought poison and placed a penknife at his heart, but hadn’t the courage to kill himself by either. Then he tried hanging himself with a garter, but the garter broke” (Gospel in Hymns, by Barclay, page 13).

Lord David Cecil, in his biography of Cowper, tells us that he was committed to Dr Cotton’s asylum in St Albans, “a gibbering, raving maniac” (page 71). “Day after day he lay upon his bed bound for fear he would kill himself.”

The fear that he had committed the unpardonable sin burned into his brain.

It was whilst in the asylum, “walking in a garden, he came upon a Bible lying on a bench”. He read John 12 – and took the Bible to his room to read some more. “I flung myself into a chair near the window,” Cowper wrote later, “and ventured once more to apply to it for comfort and instruction. The first verse I saw was the 25th verse of Romans 3: “Whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins.” Immediately, I received strength to believe it and the full beams of the Son’s righteousness shone upon me. I saw the sufficiency of the atonement He had made, my pardon sealed in His blood… In a moment I believed and received the gospel…” (Quoted in The Stricken Deer, the Life of Cowper, by Lord David Cecil, page 74).

It would be good to be able to say that he was miraculously healed of his mental troubles. But such was not the case. There were still days ahead of unbearable suffering, and attempted suicide again.

Eighteen months later, however, he left Dr Cotton’s asylum.

Cowper found lodging in Huntingdon, with the Reverend Morley Unwin, his wife Mary and his family. After Unwin was killed in a riding accident in 1767, Cowper continued to board with Mary and her family.

The following year Cowper and the Unwin ladies moved to Olney in Buckinghamshire to be under the ministry of the Reverend John Newton, who was the evangelical curate there. In 1786 Cowper and Mary Unwin moved to the nearby village of Weston Underwood.

Cowper formed a close friendship with Rev. John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace”. For the next 12 years Newton and Cowper served the Lord as a team, the latter caring for “the poor, the sick and the dying”.

When a bout of melancholy oppressed his friend, Newton suggested they write hymns. Thus it was that William Cowper loomed large in the history of hymnody.
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform …
There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins …
Hark, my soul, it is the Lord, ‘tis the Saviour, hear His Word…
Oh, for a closer walk with God …
Sometimes a light surprises …
All these, and more, came from his pen.

Despite periods of severe depression (melancholia), Cowper’s eighteen years in Olney and eight at Weston Underwood were marked by his great literary achievements as poet, hymn-writer, letter-writer and translator.

Cowper’s works include: The famous Olney Hymns, published in 1779, on which Cowper and Newton collaborated; The Diverting History of John Gilpin, a humorous ballad written in 1782 and first published anonymously, but which became so popular that after Cowper admitted authorship, he became a household name; The Task, which condemned slavery, published in 1785 and was very well received by all levels of society, including the Royal Family, influencing the later Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth; and a new translation of Homer, which Cowper planned as an improvement on Alexander Pope’s version.

Cowper was also one of the greatest English letter-writers, writing both of everyday life in Olney and Weston Underwood and of political and literary events. His letters show wit, acute observation and great good humour.

Cowper’s place at Olney is now a museum. A painting on the wall shows an eccentric poet absent-mindedly boiling his watch over the grate and holding an egg in his hand! (Bailey, page 133).

Bouts of depression continued until 25 April, 1800, when he passed into his heavenly home where suffering and pain are no more.

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 www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

Ira David Sankey Singing Revivalist

This is the day that … Ira David Sankey was born in Pennsylvania, in 1840. His father was a prominent man, a state senator, banker and editor. He was under appointment by Abraham Lincoln to collect internal revenue.

Young David displayed a fondness for music and developed an excellent singing voice.

In his early years he attended the Methodist Episcopal Church, became Sunday-School superintendent, led the YMCA and led the choir.

During the Civil War he was one of the first to enlist with the Union Army.

Three years later, on 9 September, 1863, Sankey married a member of his choir, Fanny Edwards. “She has been a blessing and a helpmate to me throughout my life and in all my work,” he wrote in his autobiography (page 17).

Sankey was in constant demand as a singer for all kinds of religious gatherings.

In 1870 he met D.L. Moody at a 6.00 a.m. YMCA prayer meeting, and after hearing him sing, Moody challenged him to become his partner in an evangelistic ministry. Before long Sankey was leading the singing and contributing some gospel solos at Moody’s meetings in Chicago.

Sankey and Moody travelled to the UK in June 1873, and there Sankey’s singing gave him an international reputation. His wonderful compass of voice, clear enunciation and evident sincerity made a deep impression throughout Great Britain, so much so that before he returned to America the names of “Moody and Sankey” had become household words throughout Europe. (wholesomewords.org)

Many converts testified to the impact made by Sankey’s singing as well as the preaching of the evangelist.

Sankey’s Hymn Book is reputed to have sold 80 million copies in the first 50 years (1873-1923).

Among the well-known tunes Sankey composed are those to which we sing these words: There were ninety and nine…; Simply trusting every day…; Encamped along the hills of light…; The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide…; Under His wings…; Oh! Safe to the Rock that is higher than I…

On 13 August, 1908, Sankey joined the Heavenly choir.

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 www.donaldprout.com.

Grant Colfax Tullar with Tunes and Songs

This is the day that … Grant Colfax Tullar was born in Connecticut, in 1869. At that time Grant was President, and Colfax was Vice-President, hence the little fellow’s name!

His mother died when he was only two years of age, and he was reared by “unsympathetic relatives”, worked in a woollen mill, then a shoe store. At the age of 19 he was converted at a Methodist camp meeting, and went on to become a Methodist minister.

In 1898 he was in the home of a pastor and his wife in New Jersey. Tullar tells the story in his book, Written Because, that at the tea table there was only “a wee dab of jelly” left. The hosts, knowing his love for jelly, insisted that he have it. As he started to scoop it onto his plate he asked, “So this is all for me, is it?”

And immediately the theme of a gospel song suggested itself to him. He went to the piano and wrote words and music:
All for me the Saviour suffered,
All for me He bled and died …

That night the pastor, Rev. C.L. Mead, sang it as a solo at the evangelistic meeting.

Next morning a letter arrived from Mrs Carrie Breck, including the words of a poem she had just written. And those words fitted the melody Grant Tullar had composed the previous evening. So he discarded his “All for me” words, and today many a gospel singer has sung Mrs Breck’s words to Grant Tullar’s melody –
Face to face with Christ my Saviour,
Face to face – what will it be …

Grant Tullar pastored a Methodist Church for some time before entering full-time evangelistic work. In 1893 he founded the Tullar-Meredith Publishing Company of New York. Through that enterprise he edited many hymnals and gospel songbooks and wrote both words and music to a number of hymns. He died on 20 May, 1950.

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 www.donaldprout.com.

Philip Doddridge Speaking into Lives

This is the day that … Philip Doddridge was born in 1702, the 20th child of a London tradesman.

“So feeble the spark of life that he was first laid aside as dead” – until a servant girl noticed a movement … and the child lived. Except for sister Elizabeth, all the other children did die in infancy.

By the age of 13 he was orphaned, and a prosperous gentleman named Downes became his self-appointed guardian. He grew up in a godly environment, both at home and school. “Although he could never tell when he was first conscious that Christ was his Saviour, he knew that he loved Christ and was in fellowship with Him…” (Life of Dr P. Doddridge, by H.J. Garland, page 14). He “openly confessed his Lord and joined the Church” (of England) on New Year’s Day, 1718.

The Duchess of Bedford offered to send him to university and pay all fees for his theological training. But by this time Philip Doddridge had swung to the non-conformists (those who did not ‘conform’ to the state church or ‘conform’ to the rules of the Prayer Book).

Thus it was that he became pastor of the Chapel Hill Congregational Church in Northampton for 22 years, during which time he opened an Academy where 200 young men were trained for the ministry. It is said that he had a student read to him, even whilst he was washing and shaving…” (Gospel in Hymns, by A. Bailey, page 66).

He married Miss Mercy Maris on 22 December, 1730 … and he wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, which is mentioned in the biographies of William Wilberforce, C.H. Spurgeon, Henry Martyn and Mary Slessor as having an influence upon their lives.

He wrote 364 hymns, many of which are still to be found, and used, to the present day. One of the best known is …

O happy day, that fixed my choice
on Thee, my Saviour and my God …

Others include :

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve
And press with vigour on …

Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes
The Saviour promised long …

O God of Bethel, by Whose hand
Thy people still are fed …

His hymns were usually written to be sung after his sermon, “given out by the presentor and sung a line at a time” (Life and Hymns of Doddridge, by H. Garland, page 30).

Philip Doddridge died in Lisbon, Portugal, on 26 October, 1751. Among his final words, spoken to Lady Huntingdon, were: “My tears are tears of joy. I can give up my country, my loved ones and friends into the hand of God; and as to myself, I can as well go to Heaven from Lisbon as from my own study in Northampton. I am more afraid of doing wrong than of dying” (ibid, page 53).

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 www.donaldprout.com.