Hymns of the 1890s

Hymns of the 1890s

The 1890s are often called the “Gay Nineties“, referring to the fact it was full of merriment and optimism.  In the United States, the 1890s were marked by a severe economic depression sparked by the Panic of 1893, as well as several strikes in the industrial workforce.

Some of the more prominent events, concerning the United States in the 1890s, would include:

–  Wars:

Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota (1890).

The Lakotas were the last tribe to be invaded which broke the backbone of the American Indian Wars and the American Frontier.

*  The Johnson County War in Wyoming (1892).

Spanish–American War  (1898)

*  The Battle of Sugar Point took place in the northeast shore of Leech Lake,                    Minnesota.  It is known as “the last Indian Uprising in the United States” (1898).

–  Politics:

*  Grover Cleveland served his second term as president (1894).

*  The US presidential election became a realigning election (1898).

The monetary policy standard supported by the candidates of the 2 major parties arguably dominated their electoral campaigns; William Jennings Bryan, candidate of the ruling Democratic Party campaigned on a policy of Free Silver while his opponent, William McKinley of the Republican Party, which had lost elections in 1884 and 1892, campaigned on a policy of Sound Money and maintaining the gold standard in effect since the 1870s.

William McKinley became president… and served until his assassination in 1901.

–  Economic Turmoil:

*  The Panic of 1893 set off a widespread economic depression in the US that lasted until 1896.  One of the first signs of trouble was the bankruptcy of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, which had greatly over-extended itself.  As concern of the state of the economy worsened, people rushed to withdraw their money from banks and caused bank runs. The credit crunch rippled through the economy.

*  The Klondike Gold Rush (1896-99).

–  Labor Turmoil:

*  The Homestead Strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania; a labor dispute between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (the AA) and the Carnegie Steel Company (1892).

*  The Buffalo switchmen’s strike in Buffalo, New York (1892).

*  The New Orleans general strike taking place in New Orleans, Louisiana; 49 labor unions affiliated through the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The delivery of food and beverages immediately ceased, generating alarm among city residents. Construction, printing, street cleaning, manufacturing and even fire-fighting services ground to a halt (1892).

*  The Cripple Creek miners’ strike, a 5-month strike by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in Cripple CreekColorado (1894).

*  The Bituminous Coal Miners’ Strike, when more than 180,000 miners in ColoradoIllinoisOhioPennsylvania and West Virginia struck (1894).

*  The workers of the Pullman Company went on strike in Illinois (1894).

Leadville Colorado, Miners’ Strike (1896).

*  The Lattimer massacre. The violent deaths of 19 unarmed, striking immigrant anthracite coal miners at the Lattimer mine near Hazleton, Pennsylvania.  The miners, mostly of PolishSlovak, and Lithuanian ethnicity, were shot and killed by the county’s sheriff’s posse.  The Lattimer massacre was a turning point in the history of the United Mine Workers (UMW) (1897).

Newsboys Strike in New York City, New York (1899).

–  Technological Advances:

*  The Kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device invented by Thomas Edison and developed by William Kennedy Dickson, was introduced to the public.  The first film publicly shown on the system was Blacksmith Scene (aka Blacksmiths) (1893).

*  The Benz Velo and its contemporary, the Duryea Motor Wagon, were considered the earliest standardized cars (1895).

Wurlitzer builds the first coin-operated player piano (1898).

–  Literature:

Oscar Wilde published The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).

*  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the first Sherlock Holmes story (1891).

Rudyard Kipling published The Jungle Book (1894).

*  H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The War of the Worlds (1898).  H.G. Wells created modern science fiction with his book The War of the Worlds.

Bram Stoker published Dracula (1897).

–  Sports:

*  1896 saw the first edition of the modern Olympic Games.

–  Music:

The more prominent secular music was called “ragtime”.

But, there were some hymns written in the 1890s, too.  There don’t seem to be as many hymns written in the 1890s as in other decades, though… maybe it’s because everyone was constantly on strike!  Is it possible your favorite hymn was written during this decade?

1890 – He Hideth My Soul; Where He Leads Me

1891 – My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

1892 – Lord, I’m Coming Home

1893 – I Must Tell Jesus; When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder

1894 – Saved by Grace; Take the World but Give Me Jesus

1895 – Open My eyes, That I May See; At Calvary; No, Not One

1896 – I Surrender All

1897 – Satisfied with Jesus; Count Your Blessings

1898 – Face to face with Christ, My Savior; When We All Get to Heaven;

Higher Ground;

1899 – Be Still, My Soul; Heavenly Sunlight

O The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus – written in 1888

O THE DEEP, DEEP LOVE OF JESUS                                       written in 1888

The Story

You may remember the tune to this hymn even more than the words… and the words are great!

The tune to this hymn is called “Ton-Y-Botel”. According to one story – that sounds too far-fetched to be true – this tune was found in a bottle that had washed up on shore from the ocean. And, as you sing this tune, it almost rides up and down, like waves on the ocean. And there is a link between the ocean and the words of this hymn.

Samuel Francis (1834-1925), the author of this hymn, was a son of a London merchant and artist, and he himself was a London businessman who traveled back and forth across the ocean many times. Samuel had a spiritual turning point as a teenager, contemplating suicide one night on a bridge over the River Thames.

In this hymn, Samuel compares the vastness of the ocean with the vastness of God’s love. He says it is reassuring to know God’s love is underneath us and around us, and leads us onward and upward. It should also motivate us as we think of others on distant shores who do not yet know of God’s love for them. We are called to spread His praise “from shore to shore”.

Samuel published a number of hymns in religious newspapers and periodicals. He belonged to the Plymouth Brethren congregation in London, and served as an open air preacher. His hymns and poems appeared in The Life of Faith and other papers and periodicals.

It is important to remember that, even more than loving the ocean, Samuel enjoyed the “deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best.”

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – bask in the deep, deep love of Jesus.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

I’ve A Message From The Lord – written in 1887

I’VE A MESSAGE FROM THE LORD                                           written in 1887

The Story

William Ogden (1841-1897), the author of this hymn, had an ear for music. His parents enrolled him in singing school when he was only 8; soon he could not only read music, but he could also write the notes to the music after hearing the tune only once. At 18, he became the choir director of his church. During the Civil War, he served in the Indiana Volunteer Infantry, but he was proudest of organizing a choir of soldiers that became well-known in the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1887, the year he wrote this hymn, he was superintendent of schools of Toledo, Ohio.

As a Christian, he loved to write gospel songs, and as he thought about the simplicity of salvation, he was reminded of a story in the Old Testament. The Israelites were bitten by poisonous snakes. God told Moses to put the image of a snake on top of a pole, so those who were bitten could be healed simply by looking at the pole. Jesus referred to this story from Numbers 21 in John 3, and said He, too, would be lifted up, and everyone who looked upon Him in faith would have eternal life.

So, William encouraged all in his hymn, “Look and live… look to Jesus now and live.” In fact, this hymn is sometimes titled “Look and Live”.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – hear this message from the Lord. It may be the message you most need to hear!

I’ve a message from the Lord, Hallelujah! The message unto you I’ll give;
’tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah! It is only that you “look and live.”

“Look and live,” my brother, live! Look to Jesus now and live;
’tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah! It is only that you “look and live!”

I’ve a message full of love, Hallelujah! A message, O my friend for you;
’tis a message from above, Hallelujah! Jesus said it, and I know ’tis true!  (Chorus)

Life is offered unto thee, Hallelujah! Eternal life thy soul shall have,
if you’ll only look to Him, Hallelujah! Look to Jesus who alone can save.  (Chorus)

More About Jesus – written in 1887

MORE ABOUT JESUS                                                                    written in 1887

The Story

Eliza Hewitt (1851-1920) wrote this song as she was studying the promises of God that had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The more she studied, the more excited she became as she saw Scripture fulfilled in every aspect of the life of Jesus. All Scripture, she discovered, focused on Jesus Christ.

It is especially significant that Eliza was so faithfully seeking God at this point in her life. At the time, she was recovering from a severe spinal injury. A Philadelphia schoolteacher, Eliza had been struck in the back with a heavy slate by one of her students. She became a virtual shut-in for many years… but eventually was able to be involved in the ministries of her church, the Calvin Presbyterian Church.

Eliza was never able to go back to teaching in public schools, but she did continue to be involved in Sunday School; at one point, her class had as many as 200 children! There, she was able to combine the 2 great loves of her life: children and Jesus.

She wrote several hymns you have heard, “When We All Get to Heaven,” “Sunshine in My Soul,” “Will there be any Stars in My Crown?” and this hymn.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – commit to learning even more about Jesus!

More about Jesus would I know, more of His grace to others show;
more of His saving fullness see, more of His love Who died for me.


More, more about Jesus; more, more about Jesus;
more of His saving fullness see, more of His love Who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn, more of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be, showing the things of Christ to me.  (Refrain)

More about Jesus; in His Word, holding communion with my Lord;
hearing His voice in every line, making each faithful saying mine.  (Refrain)

More about Jesus; on His throne, riches in glory all His own;
more of His kingdom’s sure increase; more of His coming, Prince of Peace.  (Refrain)

Lead On, O King Eternal

LEAD ON, O KING ETERNAL                                                        written in 1887

The Story

In 1887, Ernest Shurtleff (1862-1917) was graduating from Andover Theological Seminary, and his graduating class asked him to write the class poem. Instead of writing a poem, he wrote a hymn… and he asked his graduating class to sing it with him on commencement day. He introduced his hymn… this hymn… by saying, “We have spent days of preparation here at this seminary. Now the day of march has come, and we must go out to follow the leadership of the King of kings, to conquer the world under his banner.”

His words fit that group of graduating seminarians. But the words of this hymn apply to all of us at any time! Every day is a commencement, and the Lord calls us to step through the open door he has given us and face the world in His strength.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – step out into your day under the leadership of your eternal King!

Lead on, O King eternal, the day of march has come;
henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home.
Through days of preparation Thy grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal, we lift our battle song.

Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper the sweet “amen” of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums;
with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.

Lead on, O King eternal, we follow, not with fears,
for gladness breaks like morning where’er Thy face appears.
Thy cross is lifted over us, we journey in its light;
the crown awaits the conquest; lead on, O God of might.

Trust And Obey – written in 1887

TRUST AND OBEY                                                                                      written in 1887

The Story

            When it comes to grocery shopping, the order in which we pick up the items doesn’t really matter. But order is important when it comes to our Christian faith. Our obedience will never save us, nor will it enable us to trust.  In fact, it’s just the opposite; any human effort at obedience in order to earn salvation will only bring frustration. But, when trust comes first, obedience follows naturally… as an act of love.

This hymn was written after an evangelistic meeting, led by Dwight L. Moody, in Brockton, Massachusetts. Daniel Towner (1850-1919) was the song leader that night, and he asked the people present to share how they got saved. Several stood and shared how certain they were of their salvation. But, one young man stood and said, “I am not quite sure, but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.”

Daniel couldn’t forget that testimony from that young man. He wrote it down and sent it to a friend, John Sammis (1846-1919), who had recently left a career in business to enter the ministry. Daniel asked Sammis to write a hymn text on trusting and obeying. Sammis wrote the chorus first, and then 5 verses. Later, Daniel supplied the tune.

To be happy in Jesus, we need to trust first, and then obey.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – assess whether you are obeying out of trust… or obeying trying to earn trust. Trust must come first!

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but His smile quickly drives it away;
not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear, can abide while we trust and obey.  (Refrain)

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share, but our toil He doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross, but is blessed if we trust and obey.  (Refrain)

But we never can prove the delights of His love until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows, are for them who will trust and obey.(Refrain)

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet, or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
what He says we will do, where He sends we will go; never fear, only trust and obey.(Refrain)

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms – written in 1887

LEANING ON THE EVERLASTING ARMS                                 written in 1887

The Story

A.J. Showalter (1858-1924) was a music teacher and publisher from Hartsville, Alabama. In fact, he was teaching in singing schools by age 14!

One day, he finished his classes and was going to his rooming house for the evening. There, he found letters from 2 of his former students. Without knowing what the other had written – or even that they had written, they both told similar stories. Both of the students had lost their wives, and both wives had died on the same day! A.J. began writing letters of sympathy and condolences to his former students.

As he began writing his letters, a verse from Deuteronomy came to mind, giving the assurance of God’s “everlasting arms” supporting His children (Deut. 33:27).

Then he wrote a third letter… this one to a hymn-writer friend in Pennsylvania, Elisha Hoffman. He asked him to help him write a hymn, and suggested the theme of the chorus. Elisha quickly wrote 3 verses and sent them back to A.J.  A.J. put the final poem to music… which became this hymn.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – lean on the everlasting arms of God.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the everlasting arms;

what a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the everlasting arms.


Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;

leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms;

O how bright the path grows from day to day, leaning on the everlasting arms.


What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms;

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms.


I Will Sing the Wondrous Story – written in 1886

I WILL SING THE WONDROUS STORY                                     written in 1886

The Story

The year was 1886. The place was North Adams, Massachusetts. 21 year-old Peter Bilhorn (1865-1936), who had just become a Christian the year before, approached evangelist Francis Rowley (1854-1952) after a church service. Peter was young, but he was eager to use his musical talents for the Lord. The evangelist suggested he compose a song… and the evangelist told him he would then put words to that music.

Rev. Rowley didn’t know if he could write a good poem that could be set to music; he’d never tried. And he didn’t know if Peter could write a good tune, but Peter agreed to try. The following night, they got together, put their work together, and came up with this hymn.

This hymn originally asked the question, “Can’t you sing the wondrous story?” But, it was quickly changed to be a statement of commitment.

Peter, who was a singer as well as a pianist and organist, made this song his personal testimony. Just a couple years before, he was singing in Chicago taverns, so he understood the lines, “I was lost but Jesus found me – found the sheep that went astray.”

Peter went on singing the wondrous story the rest of his life, writing 2,000 songs, designing a lightweight folding organ for evangelistic use, assisting evangelists like Billy Sunday, and ministering around the world with Christian music.

This hymn is one of those unique hymns that changes timing between the verses and chorus.

The Song

Read this hymn, and – today – sing it or say it… but tell someone the wondrous story!

I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ Who died for me.
how He left His home in glory for the cross of Calvary.


Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ Who died for me,
sing it with the saints in glory, gathered by the crystal sea.

I was lost, but Jesus found me, found the sheep that went astray,
threw His loving arms around me, drew me back into His way.  (Refrain)

I was bruised, but Jesus healed me, faint was I from many a fall,
sight was gone, and fears possessed me, but He freed me from them all.  (Refrain)

Days of darkness still come o’er me, sorrow’s path I often tread,
but His presence still is with me; by His guiding hand I’m led.  (Refrain)

He will keep me till the river rolls its waters at my feet;
then He’ll bear me safely over, where the loved ones I shall meet.  (Refrain)

Standing on the Promises – written in 1886

STANDING ON THE PROMISES                                                              written in 1886

The Story

When you are “standing on the promises”, you can be secure regardless of the premises. That was certainly true in the life of the author of this hymn, Kelso Carter (1849-1928).

Kelso was a hard man to keep track of because he was always moving around. A star athlete of a military academy and an excellent student academically, he returned to college after his graduation to become a professor of chemistry, natural science, civil engineering, and mathematics… as well as a coach. Then he moved out West and raised sheep in California. After that, he practiced a different kind of shepherding and was ordained into the Methodist ministry. He spoke often in Methodist camp meetings… when he wasn’t writing novels or mathematics and science textbooks. Later, he returned to his home state of Maryland, studied medicine, and became a practicing physician in Baltimore.

Although Kelso was a professed Christian most of his life, it wasn’t until a crisis with his heart at age 30, that he got serious about his relationship with God. His health was in critical condition and the physicians could do no more for him. Kelso turned to God for help and healing. He knelt and made a promise that healing or no, his life was finally and forever, fully consecrated to the service of the Lord. It was from that moment that the written Word of God became alive to Carter. He began to stand upon the promises of healing, determining to believe no matter what his physical condition, no matter how he felt. Over the course of the next several months his strength returned, and his heart was completely healed! Carter lived another healthy 49 years.

When the Christian and Missionary Alliance asked him to help compile a hymnal for use in their churches, Kelso gladly did so. He personally contributed more than 50 poems and tunes to the hymnal. This hymn was one of them.

Some people don’t like being placed in new jobs, new places, or new situations… but not Kelso Carter. Regardless of his premises, he was “standing on the promises of God”.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – stand firm on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,

through eternal ages let His praises ring,
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,

standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing, standing on the promises of God my Savior;
standing, standing, standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,

when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,

standing on the promises of God.  (Refrain)

Standing on the promises I now can see
perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
standing on the promises of God.  (Refrain)

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
standing on the promises of God.  (Refrain)

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.  (Refrain)

How Great Thou Art – written in 1885

HOW GREAT THOU ART                                                               written in 1885

The Story

            In 1885, Carl Boberg (1859-1940), a 26-year-old preacher, wrote a poem called – in Swedish, “O Store Gud”; translated into English, it’s “Our Great God”. Carl had no intention of his poem becoming a hymn, so – a few years later – he was surprised to hear his poem sung to the tune of an old Swedish melody. It was soon translated into German.

A generation or two later, in the early 1920s, English missionaries Stuart Hine and his wife were ministering in Poland, where they learned the Russian version of Carl’s poem – translated from German – sung to that Swedish melody. Soon after, Stuart created English words for it and arranged the Swedish melody to fit, also adding 2 verses of his own. It was set to a Russian melody, and this is the hymn we now know as “How Great Thou Art”. The version we sing in our churches today – a slow, almost reciting tempo – is totally different from the up-tempo style of the Swedish original.

The first 3 verses were inspired by an experience Stuart Hine had as he ministered in the Carpathian mountains, and heard the mighty thunder echoing all around him. As he pushed on, he was deeply impressed by the beauty of the woods and forest glades, as well as the singing of the birds. The 4th verse came after he returned to England.

The song didn’t become popular in America until the 1950s, made popular by George Beverly Shea & Cliff Barrows during the Billy Graham crusades, and was soon the number one hymn on both sides of the Atlantic. It ranks as a favorite hymn in many churches today.

The Song

            Read this hymn, and – today – praise God for His greatness, not just with your words but also your actions!

The original version would be translated like this:

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder

of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of Thine,
and how Thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
sustaining earthly life with love benign,

With rapture filled, my soul thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God! (repeat)

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
where golden ships in azure issue forth,
where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
of changing seasons and of time on earth.  (Refrain)

When crushed by guilt of sin before Thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel Thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
my soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.  (Refrain)

And when at last the mists of time have vanished
and I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter, Lord, to dwell in peace with Thee.  (Refrain)


The version you probably know would be translated like this:

O Lord my God!  When I in awesome wonder

consider all the works Thy hand hath made.

I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,

Thy power throughout the universe displayed.



Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:  How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee:  How great Thou art, how great Thou art!


When through the woods and forest glades I wander

and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;

when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur

and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:  (Refrain)


And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,

sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;

that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,

He bled and died to take away my sin:  (Refrain)


When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation

and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!

Then I shall bow in humble adoration,

and there proclaim, “My God, how great Thou art!”  (Refrain)