JESUS, KEEP ME NEAR THE CROSS written in 1869
Usually, when writing a song, the words come first… then the music is composed to fit it. But, sometimes, Fanny Crosby worked backwards… and fit words to the tune.
Frances “Fanny” J. Crosby (1820-1915) was the author of over 8,500 gospel songs. Though blind at 6 weeks of age, Crosby began composing texts at age 6. She later became a teacher at the New York School for the Blind, where she was a student. A friend of several presidents, Crosby became one of the most important advocates for the cause of the blind in the United States.
In the case of this hymn, William Doane wrote a tune… and then asked Fanny Crosby to listen to it, to see if the tune said anything to her.
This hymn’s tune reminded Crosby of the Cross, and its importance in our lives. She knew the Cross of Christ is the central point of history. Without the Cross, there is no salvation… no eternal life… and no hope. And, if we don’t stay near the Cross, we lose our focus in life. We sometimes forget the Cross is crucial for salvation… but also for daily life.
Many writers have commented on Fanny Crosby’s ability to employ the technique of hypotyposis – painting a vivid scene as if it were present – even though she was blinded soon after birth.
The famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody was said to have asked Crosby the following question toward the end of her life: “If you could have just one wish granted, what would it be?” Moody expected her to ask for sight. Sensing this, she is said to have replied, “If I could have one wish, I’d wish that I might continue blind the rest of my life.” Moody was taken back and asked, “How can you say that?” Crosby said, “Because, after being blind for all these years, the first face I want to see now is the face of Jesus.”
The eschatological theme of “Near the Cross” captures the hope and joy of heaven that is so characteristic of Crosby’s hymns: “Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.”
Read this hymn, and – today – let it help keep you near the cross.
Jesus, keep me near the cross; there a precious fountain,
free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul, love and mercy found me;
there the bright and morning star sheds its beams around me. (Refrain)
Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me;
help me walk from day to day with its shadow o’er me. (Refrain)
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever,
till I reach the golden strand just beyond the river. (Refrain)