Saturday: Hope: Story Behind the 4th Hymn

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

“The traveling hymn.” One of America’s all-time most popular hymns. Written by Fanny Crosby and almost forgotten shortly after. William H. Doan, philanthropist and strong supporter of Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, gospel singer and composer, composed the tune in 1870. Doan included this hymn in his hymnal, Songs of Devotion. Sankey most likely discovered it in Doan’s hymnal and published it in his Sacred Songs and Solos. He went on to introduce it at the Dwight L. Moody evangelistic crusades.

In 1954 the Rev. Frank Colquhoun suggested the Greater London Crusade Song Book include this hymn. It was. Cliff Barrows, music director for Billy Graham, recalls the London crusades. “From the very outset of the meetings in Harringay, it became one of the favorites and was used almost every night during the last month of those meetings.” When they returned to the US, they introduced it at their first crusade in Nashville, Tennessee. The audience took to it immediately. Often used in the Billy Graham crusades, included in their hymn book, and sung by Cliff Barrows, it was destined to become well-known and well-loved. As a result, this popular hymn, praising God who so loved the world that He gave us His Son, can be found in most hymnals today as it is a well-recognized hymn of praise and adoration for God.

Popularized in London during the Great Awakening, then returning to America where it originated, this hymn well reflects on the awesome work that God had been doing in Great Britain at the time—and for nearly two centuries after it was written. While most hymns center on Christ, this one directly addresses God, who has done great things. However, the primary focus of God’s actions is on the redemption of humanity through Jesus Christ. J. R. Watson writes regarding this hymn that “It is simple in its ideas, but forceful in their expression, relying on a fortissimo emotionalism which is entirely appropriate for certain kinds of religious gatherings.” William J. Reynolds, church musician, makes the following comment: “An examination of Fanny J. Crosby’s text reveals an expression of objectivity not usually found in gospel hymnody. Here is a straight-forward voicing of praise to God, not simply personal testimony nor sharing some subjective aspect of Christian experience.”

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