Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories

September 22

MAJESTIC SWEETNESS SITS ENTHRONED
Samuel Stennett, 1727–1795
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)
The dominant theme of the beautifully expressed text in this hymn, “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned,” is the adoration of Jesus Christ. It is based on the descriptive passage found in the Song of Solomon 5:10–16. Here the awaiting maiden, anticipating the return of her lover, describes him with such terms as: “Chief among ten thousand,” “head of pure gold,” “body like polished ivory,” “altogether lovely …”
The Bible often refers to believers as the bride of Christ. We too are awaiting the return of our lover, the One who is “fairer than all the fair.”
This hymn text originally had nine stanzas and was titled “The Chief Among Ten Thousand” or “The Excellencies of Christ.” It first appeared in Rippon’s famous Baptist collection, A Selection of Hymns from the Best of Authors, published in 1787.
The author, Samuel Stennett, was a well-known Baptist pastor in London, England, and was regarded as one of the outstanding evangelical preachers of his day. Dr. Stennett was also an influential writer on numerous theological subjects as well as the author of thirty-nine hymns. Despite his many accomplishments, however, he will always be best remembered for these beautiful words of adoration often used in communion services as well as for spiritual enrichment during times of personal devotions:
Majestic sweetness sits enthroned upon the Savior’s brow; His head with radiant glories crowned, His lips with grace o’er flow; His lips with grace o’er flow.
No mortal can with Him compare among the sons of men; fairer is He than all the fair who fill the heav’nly train, who fill the heav’nly train.
He saw me plunged in deep distress and flew to my relief; for me He bore the shameful cross and carried all my grief, and carried all my grief.
To Him I owe my life and breath and all the joys I have; He makes me triumph over death and saves me from the grave, and saves me from the grave.

    For Today: Song of Solomon 5:10–16; Colossians 1:15–20; Hebrews 1:1–3

Express in your own words your feelings of love and adoration to your heavenly bridegroom for all that He means in your life and the anticipation of someday soon actually seeing Him. Allow these musical truths to help you during this time of personal devotions—

Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories

September 21

MY FAITH LOOKS UP TO THEE
Ray Palmer, 1808–1887
In whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in Him. (Ephesians 3:12 RSV)
“My Faith Looks Up to Thee” was written in 1832 by Ray Palmer, a 22-year-old school teacher. Several months after his graduation from Yale University and while still living with the family of the lady who directed the girls’ school where he taught, Palmer wrote the text for this hymn. He had experienced a very discouraging year in which he battled illness and loneliness.
The words for these stanzas were born out of my own soul with very little effort. I recall that I wrote the verses with tender emotion. There was not the slightest thought of writing for another eye, least of all writing a hymn for Christian worship. It is well-remembered that when writing the last line, “Oh, bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!” the thought of the whole work of redemption and salvation was involved in those words, and suggested the theme of eternal praises, and this brought me to a degree of emotion that brought abundant tears.
Two years later, while visiting in Boston, Palmer chanced to meet his friend, Lowell Mason, a well-known name in musical circles during this time. Upon seeing Ray Palmer’s text, Mason stated: “Palmer, you may live many years and do many good things, but I think you will be best-known to posterity as the author of ‘My Faith Looks Up to Thee’.” Lowell Mason composed a melody for this text, a tune which he called “Olivet” in reference to the hymn’s message. Soon the hymn appeared in its present form in a hymnal edited by Mason. And from that time on this musical expression has had an important place in nearly every hymnal that has been published:
My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine; now hear me when I pray, take all my sin away; O let me from this day be wholly Thine!
May Thy rich grace impart strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire; as Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee pure, warm and changeless be—a living fire!
While life’s dark maze I tread and griefs around me spread, be Thou my guide; bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away, nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.
When ends life’s transient dream, when death’s cold sullen stream shall o’er me roll, Blest Savior, then, in love, fear and distrust remove—O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul.

    For Today: Psalm 118:8, 9; Romans 1:17; 5:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 12:9

Reflect on this statement—Faith is simply learning to say “Amen” (so be it!) to God. Express your faith by singing—

Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories

September 20

JESUS, THE VERY THOUGHT OF THEE
Attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, 1091–1153
English Translation—Edward Caswall, 1814–1876
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1, 2)
This hymn text comes from the height of the Middle Ages, a period of history often scornfully called “The Dark Ages.” The spiritual and moral darkness of the church had reached a new blackness. The institution founded by Christ some 1,000 years prior was mainly degenerate and corrupt. The moral standards of many of its prominent leaders were characterized by disgrace and shame. Yet within this system of religious confusion, God laid it upon the heart of a dedicated monk to write a devotional poem about his Lord that has since become the text for one of the finest hymns in our hymnals. As was true then and now, God always has a remnant of true believers who maintain His eternal truths.
At an early age Bernard was known for his piety and scholarship. With his natural charms and talents, he had many opportunities open to him for a successful secular life. While still in his early 20’s, however, he chose the life of a monk at the monastery of Citeaux, France. Within three years Bernard’s forceful personality, talents, and leadership qualities were recognized, and he was asked to form other branches of this order throughout Europe. Within Bernard’s lifetime 162 other such orders were founded. One of these new monasteries was at Clairvaux, France, where Bernard was made its abbot or head. Here he remained until his death in 1153.
Jesus, the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast; but sweeter far Thy face to see and in Thy presence rest.
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, nor can the mem’ry find a sweeter sound than Thy blest name, O Savior of mankind.
O hope of ev’ry contrite heart, O joy of all the meek, to those who fall how kind Thou art! how good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah, this nor tongue nor pen can show—the love of Jesus, what it is; none but His loved ones know.
Jesus, our only joy be Thou, as Thou our prize wilt be; Jesus, be Thou our glory now and thru eternity.

    For Today: Psalm 66:2; 130:7; Jeremiah 17:7; Ephesians 3:19

Earnestly seek to be one of God’s faithful remnant—“salt” and “light”—keeping His truths alive for this generation to hear and believe.

Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories

September 19

ASK YE WHAT GREAT THING I KNOW
Johann C. Schwedler, 1672–1730
Translated by Benjamin H. Kennedy, 1804–1889
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)
A question that many struggle with today is “What is the real purpose of living?” Or, “What is the ultimate reality or joy in life?” The testimony of the author of the book of Ecclesiastes would no doubt echo the frustrations of many in contemporary society—“All is vanity, empty and meaningless.”
The author of this hymn text, Johann Schwedler, a prominent German minister and hymn writer of his era, discovered quite a different answer for his life—“Jesus Christ, the Crucified”—the consoler, reviver, healer, and final rewarder. For the apostle Paul, all of life also revolved around a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—“For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).
C. S. Lewis has written: “Either Jesus Christ was what He claimed or He was a liar and we should repudiate Him. Or if He was not what He claimed to be and not a liar, He was a madman, and we should treat Him as such. Or He was what He claimed to be and we should fall at His feet and worship Him.”
With doubting Thomas, the apostle Paul, and devout followers of Christ through the centuries, may our purpose in life be expressed in a devoted, daily relationship with our Lord. May we speak out with clarity and conviction: “My Lord and God—my highest joy!”
Ask ye what great thing I know that delights and stirs me so? What the high reward I win? Whose the name I glory in? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
Who defeats my fiercest foes? Who consoles my saddest woes? Who revives my fainting heart, healing all its hidden smart? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
Who is life in life to me? Who the death of death will be? Who will place me on His right, with the countless hosts of light? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
This is that great thing I know—This delights and stirs me so: Faith in Him who died to save, Him who triumphed o’er the grave, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.

    For Today: Acts 2:36; Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:20; 6:14; Philippians 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 3:15

Be prepared to speak out if someone should ask about your real purpose in life. Carry this hymn as a help—

Amazing Grace: 366 Hymn Stories

September 18

NEAR TO THE HEART OF GOD
Words and Music by Cleland B. McAfee, 1866–1944
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy. (Psalm 94:19)
O Thou who dry’st the mourner’s tears! How dark this world would be,
If, when deceived and wounded here, we could not fly to Thee.
—Thomas Moore
Life is often filled with unexpected problems or crises. Unrest and despair will darken the way of even the strongest saint. Yet the Christian—because of the refuge he has in God—should strive to maintain composure and stability in spite of stress and difficulties. We cannot escape the pressures and dark shadows in our lives; but they can be faced with a spiritual strength that our Lord provides. As we are held securely “near to the heart of God,” we find the rest, the comfort, the joy and peace that only Jesus our Redeemer can give. Because of this, we can live every day with an inner calm and courage.
This is the message that Cleland McAfee expressed in this consoling hymn at a time when his own life was filled with sadness. While he was serving as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Dr. McAfee was stunned to hear the shocking news that his two beloved nieces had just died from diphtheria. Turning to God and the Scriptures, McAfee soon felt the lines and the tune of this hymn flow from his grieving heart. On the day of the double funeral he stood outside the quarantined home of his brother Howard singing these words as he choked back the tears. The following Sunday the hymn was repeated by the choir of McAfee’s church. It soon became widely known and has since ministered comfort and spiritual healing to many of God’s people in times of need.
There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God, a place where sin cannot molest, near to the heart of God.
There is a place of comfort sweet, near to the heart of God, a place where we our Savior meet, near to the heart of God.
There is a place of full release, near to the heart of God, a place where all is joy and peace, near to the heart of God.
Chorus: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee near to the heart of God.

    For Today: Psalm 34:18; 73:28; Ecclesiastes 5:1; Matthew 11:28–30; Hebrews 4:16

Determine to live courageously regardless of what may come your way—but always with a sensitive awareness of God’s nearness. Use this musical prayer to help—

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