Story Behind The Hymn

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

One of America’s most popular hymns, “the traveling hymn”, was buried and nearly forgotten for 80 years shortly after Fanny Crosby wrote it. 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 Crosby penned the words.

In 1870, William H. Doan, strong supporter of the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody and gospel singer Ira Sankey, published it in his hymnal, Songs of Devotion. One fateful day, Ira Sankey discovered this hymn in Doan’s hymnal. He liked it enough to publish it in his Sacred Songs and Solos. He went on to introduce it at the Dwight L. Moody evangelistic crusades where it was well received. Eighty-four years later the Rev. Frank Colquhoun, the prolific, hymn-loving British preacher at Norwich Cathedral, met with Cliff Barrows, music director for Billy Graham when he was searching for music to be used at the London Crusades. Colquhoun gave him a copy of this hymn, originally called “Praise for Redemption”. Though unfamiliar with the tune, Barrows decided to include it in the Greater London Crusade Song Book.

Meanwhile, the British press was critical of young Billy Graham and his crusades. Maurice Rowlandson, one of the key figures in the Harringay organizing committee, recalls that “Some people were very skeptical, and nobody was prepared to put the money up for it.” Team members had to take pay cuts, British Parliament was accusing Billy Graham of interfering with British politics, and nobody was expected to show up the first night. Friends encouraged him to cancel or postpone the meetings. Billy Graham sought the Lord for direction. As it turns out, the Harringay Crusades were the closest the British came to mass revival in the 20th century. Over two million people attended the biggest Christian event of its kind in UK history. The event that was supposed to last 4 weeks continued for 3 months. Barrows recalls “From the very outset of the meetings in Harringay, this hymn became one of the favorites and was used almost every night during the last month of those meetings.”

When the Billy Graham team returned to the US, they introduced it at their first crusade in Nashville, Tennessee. The audience loved it. Billy Graham included it in his hymn book. Cliff Barrows would often sing it at their crusades. This hymn, simple in its ideas, but forceful in their expression, was destined to become well-known and well-loved. It praises God who so loved the world that He gave us His Son.

Do you know this hymn?

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