Story Behind the Hymn
Lincoln was president, the Civil War raging in America, and a Canadian teenager became a believer. William Ralph Featherston expressed his love for Jesus in a thoughtful poem. Shortly thereafter, he sent it by stagecoach to his aunt in Los Angeles. She liked the poem and shipped it off to Britain where it was published in the “London Hymn Book” in 1864. Six years later that hymnal came to America and Adoniram Gordon, a Baptist minister, discovered the hymn. He was touched by the sincerity of the words, but not the tune. He began to hum, improvising the tune, until he came up with something he liked. Once achieved, he had a member of his family play the notes on the piano and write them down. The poem with their new melody was published in the 1876 edition of “The Service of Song for Baptist Churches.”
Ira D. Sankey, singer and composer closely associated with Dwight L. Moody, tells of a famous actress and how she related this hymn to her audience. She was walking down the street one day. Passing an open door she saw an invalid girl laying on a couch watching the people go by:
Thinking to cheer her up, [the actress] went inside. The sick girl was a devout Christian. Impressed with her words, her patience, her submission, her heaven-lit countenance, and the manner in which she lived her religion, the actress seriously considered the claims of Christianity. She was thoroughly converted and became a true follower of Christ. She told her father, the leader of the theater troupe, of her conversion and her conviction that she could not live a consistent Christian life and still be an actress. Her father was upset, attempting to convince her that their living would be lost and their business ruined if she persisted. Because she loved her father dearly, she consented to fill the published engagement set for a few days from then. She was the star. That evening came and the father rejoiced that he had won back his daughter and their living was not to be lost. However, as the actress came out on stage to the applause of the large audience, she stepped forward. A light beamed from her beautiful face. To the now-silent audience she repeated [the first stanza of this hymn].
Through Christ she had conquered. She left, the audience in tears, and retired from the stage, never to appear on it again. But through this, her father was converted. Through their combined evangelistic labors, many were led to Christ.