Jeremiah Eames Rankin Says Goodbye

Jeremiah Eames Rankin died on November 28, 1904, at the age of 76.

Born on January 2, 1828, at Thornton, New Hampshire, Jeremiah was educated at Middleburg College, Vermont. After his ordination to the American Congregational ministry in 1855 he pastored in various American states, including 15 years as minister of the First Congregational Church, Washington DC (1869-1884).

Rankin was of a literary bent and looked for useful ways to stimulate and minister to his congregants. He wrote poetry, compiled other people’s works and composed hymns. Among his works is The Babie, a poem composed to reflect awkward Scottish accent. Another book, The Journal of Esther Burr, is a biography of one of Jonathan Edwards’ daughters.

Rankin wrote hymns and added them to two collections which he edited, “The Gospel Temperance Hymnal” and “Gospel Bells”.

Yet Dr Rankin’s most enduring work, the hymn “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” came with no particular purpose or inspiration. He had simply noted in a dictionary that the word “Goodbye” was a conjugation of “God be with you”. So he decided to compose a benediction song that effectively said “Goodbye” in an appropriate manner for a congregation.

God be with you ’till we meet again,
By His counsels guide, uphold you,
With His sheep securely fold you –
God be with you ’till we meet again.

For all his literary talents Rankin could not compose the tune for himself. So he sent the text off to two prospective suppliers of melody. One was a well known composer and the other an unknown Methodist schoolmaster, who was a very amateur and by no means competent musician.

When the music was ready, Rankin preferred the schoolmaster’s tune, thus giving the otherwise unknown W.G. Tomer a share of the international limelight.

The song was popularized by Ira Sankey in D.L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings. And many a missionary sailing for an overseas field of service would hear friends singing it as the boat left the wharf.

A scout master visiting a dying lad in a London hospital heard the boy repeating “One Four One”. The man had no idea what the boy meant, but after the lad’s death the man discovered that Hymn 141 in the hymnbook was “God be with you til we meet again”. For a season some English scout groups began using “141” as their code for “Goodbye”.

In 1889 Rankin was elected to the Presidency of Howard College, Washington DC, a school originally founded as an African-American seminary after the Civil War, where he continued until his death.

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.

The Sunbeam, Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane

This is the day that … Elizabeth Cecilia Douglas Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1830. She was the delicate, retiring one of three sisters whose example impacted their community.

“Gentle and retiring in disposition, and generous to a degree, she was known as ‘The Sunbeam’ among the poor and suffering in Melrose”, the village in which she lived, and made famous in Walter Scott’s novels (including The Abbot and the Monastery).

Elizabeth and her sisters belonged to the Free Church of Scotland where Rev. James Irwin later ministered. “There still remains,” he wrote, “a treasured memory of their wholehearted devotion to the church … their generosity was a constant joy to my predecessor and the church treasurer!” (The Romance of Sacred Song, by D. Beattie, page 55).

The sisters gave away everything they did not require for their daily needs, so they might meet the needs of the poor. Elizabeth gave herself to Bible Study and poetry writing. Many of her poems were published anonymously.

Her poem … “There were ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold” …was found in a newspaper by Ira Sankey and spontaneously set to music as he sang and played the organ with only the words before him! (My Life Story, by Ira Sankey, page 307). It was 1874, in Glasgow, Scotland. “A short time afterwards I received, at Dundee, a letter from a lady who had been present at the meeting thanking me for having sung her deceased sister’s words” wrote Sankey (ibid.).

Elizabeth Clephane’s other well-known poem was also published posthumously, and set to music three years later …
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand!

The hymn is testimony to her ardent Bible study, as it is replete with Biblical references and allusions. The reference to “the mighty Rock” is taken from Isaiah 32:2. The reference to “the weary land” is taken from Psalm 63:1. The reference to “home within the wilderness” is taken from Jeremiah 9:2. The reference to “rest upon the way” is taken from Isaiah 28:12. The reference to “noontide heat” is taken from Isaiah 4:6. The reference to “burden of the day” is taken from Matthew 11:30.

Miss Clephane died at the age of 38.

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.