Story Behind the Hymn
In the midst of a worldwide cholera pandemic (1846-1860), 19-year-old Samuel Trevor Francis meets Jesus when contemplating suicide. In his own words, he recalls the incident:
On my way home from work I had to cross Hungerford Bridge to the south of the Thames. It was a winter’s night of wind and rain, and in the loneliness of that walk I cried to God to have mercy upon me. Staying for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, the temptation was whispered to me, ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul, ‘You do believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I at once answered, ‘I do believe, and I put my whole trust in Him as my Saviour.’ Instantly there came this reply. ‘Then you are saved,’ and with a thrill of joy I ran across the bridge, burst through the turnstile, and pursued my way home, repeating the words again and again, ‘Then I am saved; then I am saved.’
When Francis became clear about his salvation that fateful night on the bridge, his life direction was set. He wrote:
I thought I was saved by my working,
My goodness, my praying, my tears;
I labored with wearisome effort
To conquer my sins and my fears–
Until I at last saw the Saviour,
And knew it was only His blood
That could bring me, a vile, wretched sinner,
Near, near to a heart-searching God.
Francis was born in England in 1834 and raised in a godly home. His earliest memory is of kneeling beside his mother, listening to her intercede for her boys that they would “grow up to be God-fearing men.” Though he attended church regularly and sang in the choir, he did not know Jesus personally. At 18 years old, he moved to his uncle’s home. There he attended Bible studies led by an eccentric chemist who asked, “If [he] would like to see a man buried alive?” (referring to baptism). It is there that Francis heard the gospel message presented clearly for the first time. The simple message of man’s sinful condition and God’s remedy found in Jesus. He received Jesus and spent the remaining 73 years of his life open-air preaching and writing hymns for all who “love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.” Everyone who knew this well-loved poet testified that he was a consistent, fruitful witness wherever he went. His love for Jesus ran deep within his soul.