Wednesday, November 2, 2016

"My faith looks up to Thee..."

It was the night before one of the great battles of the American Civil War. Six or eight Christian soldiers gathered in a tent to pray. They knew some of them would die the next morning, so they decided to copy a hymn familiar to them all, and sign it with their names. The hymn they selected begins, "My faith looks up to Thee." But where did it come from?
It was written by Rev. Ray Palmer (1808-1887), shown here with a Congregational church he pastored. In 1830, Palmer was just out of college, and plagued by illness and loneliness. Suddenly a verse came to him straight from his heart. "I gave form to what I felt by writing with little effort the stanzas," he said later. "I wrote with tender emotion, and ended the last line in tears." He copied the words on a piece of paper and put it in his pocket, where it remained for almost two years, until he met Dr. Lowell Mason, a celebrated composer, on a street in Boston. Mason asked Palmer if he had any lyrics for the upcoming book, Spiritual Songs for Social Worship. Palmer reached in his pocket and gave Mason the folded paper. Mason set the words to music, and a few days later when they met again Mason told him, "Sir, you may live many years and do many things, but you will always be known as the author of these words." Since then, the hymn has been translated into almost every language and dialect in the world. So today, when we sing this beloved old hymn, let's feel the comfort it brought to Civil War soldiers preparing to die in battle, and to its author, Ray Palmer, as he found the words in his heart.  Here are the first and last verses. "My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine! Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away. O let me from this day be wholly thine!  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!"

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