The Story Behind “Fairest Lord Jesus”

Fairest Lord Jesus,

Ruler of all nature,

O Thou of God and man the son,

Thee will I cherish,

Thee will I honor,

Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.

 

Fair are the meadows,

Fairer still the woodlands,

Robed in the blooming garb of spring:

Jesus is fairer,

Jesus is purer,

Who makes the woeful heart to sing.

 

Fair is the sunshine,

Fairer still the moonlight,

And all the twinkling starry host:

Jesus shines brighter,

Jesus shines purer,

Than all the angels heaven can boast.

Munster Gesangbuch, 1677

Translator Unknown

 

This is sometimes called the Crusader’s Hymn, even though it was probably never sung until several hundred years after the Crusades. It may have first been sung by the followers of reformer John Huss, who lived near Prague around 1400. In an anti-Reformation purge, Hussites were expelled from Bohemia and went into Silesia, where they became weavers and cobblers, maintaining their faith in secret. But they had a strong tradition of hymn singing, and the most reliable tradition says that this hymn came from these humble Christians.

The hymn contains no comments on persecution, but only praise to a wonderful Savior. Whoever wrote the hymn was close to nature and adored God’s creation, but recognized that even fairer than the creation is the Creator. This season as we bask in the beauties of all that God has given us to enjoy, we mustn’t forget that Jesus is fairer and purer than all the blooming garb of spring.

From “The One Year Book Of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based On Great Hymns Of The Faith”, by Robert K Brown and Mark R. Norton

The Story Behind “Abide With Me”

  1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
    The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
    When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
    Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
  2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
    Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
    Change and decay in all around I see—
    O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
  3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
    What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
    Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
    Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
  4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
    Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
    Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
    I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
  5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
    Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
    Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
    In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

        Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

 

Henry Lyte coined the phrase “It is better to wear out than to rust out.” And Henry Lyte wore out when he was fifty-four years old, an obscure pastor who labored for twenty-three years in a poor church in a fishing village in Devonshire, England. This hymn, written shortly before his death, was inspired by the words of the two disciples met by Jesus on the road to Emmaus: “Abide with us, [they said,] for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29, KJV).

Note the fourth stanza, which carries such hope for the Christian. As Lyte wrote this, he knew he was dying of tuberculosis and asthma. It was “eventide” for him, darkness was deepening, and he felt very much alone. But he was not alone, and we are not alone even in our darkest times. Our Lord is with us, “the help of the helpless,” the one who never changes, our guide and security. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

From “The One Year Book Of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based On Great Hymns Of The Faith”, by Robert K Brown and Mark R. Norton

Story Behind “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”

George Matheson went completely blind when he was eighteen years old. Still, he remained a star student. He went on to become a great preacher in the Church of Scotland, assisted by his sister, who learned Greek and Hebrew to help with his research.

This hymn was written on the evening of June 6, 1882. “I was at that time alone,” Mattheson later wrote. “It was the day of my sister’s marriage… Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.”

What was it that happened to him? Some think he was remembering the time he himself was engaged to be married and his fiancee broke the engagement when she learned that he would soon be completely blind. Or perhaps it was difficult for him to have his devoted sister getting married. In any case, he was led to ponder God’s eternal love, which would turn his “flick’ring torch” into blazing daylight.

George Mattheson (1842-1906)

From “The One Year Book Of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based On Great Hymns Of The Faith”, by Robert K Brown and Mark R. Norton

“O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” sung by Danny Gaither:

John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”

The Gift of forgiveness is often best appreciated by those who need it the most. The Reverend John Newton experienced this truth firsthand. His tombstone tells the story: “John Newton, clerk, once and infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had so long labored to destroy.”

These words were written by Newton himself, a testimony to God’s transforming power. After years as a hardened slave trader, that “wretch” met Jesus Christ and abruptly turned to defend the gospel he had so long despised.

Throughout Newton’s years of ministry, God’s amazing grace remained central to Newton’s thinking. When it was suggested he retire (at age eighty-two!) due to poor health and a failing memory, he responded, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior!”

John Newton (1725-1807)

From “The One Year Book Of Hymns: 365 Devotional Readings Based On Great Hymns Of The Faith”, by Robert K Brown and Mark R. Norton