by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836–1879)

How do a prayer meeting, a statement by Mephibosheth, and a Swiss Reformed preacher relate to the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be”?

It all began in 1874, when Frances Ridley Havergal visited a home for young women. All of them were unhappy. Frances prayed for them, and all but two gave their lives to Jesus. She spent time visiting one-on-one with the remaining two women, and finally, after midnight, they surrendered to the Lord. Frances was so overcome by this answer to her prayers that she remained awake, re-consecrated her life to Christ, and wrote down the 11 couplets that form this hymn. She named it “Self-Consecration to Christ.” Interestingly, the words came from Mephibosheth’s self-sacrificing statement to King David: “Yea, let him [Ziba] take all” (2 Sam. 19:30). Havergal sold numerous heirlooms and more than 50 pieces of her jewelry to raise money to evangelize the lost. The hymn is reminiscent of Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Matt. 22:37).

In Havergal’s family, this song was always sung to her father’s tune. However, the tune HENDON in our hymnal was composed by Henri Abraham Cesar Malan, a Geneva-born preacher who composed more than 1,000 hymns tunes and texts.

by Cleland B. McFee (1866–1944)

Listeners to the Voice of Prophecy will recognize this hymn as the theme of its radio broadcast that began in 1930, but they may not realize that the story behind the hymn is set in tragedy.

Dr. Cleland Boyd McFee was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago when he was informed that his brother’s two daughters had died of diphtheria. Dr. McFee was known to write special hymns, both words and music, for the quarterly Communion service of his church. On this sad occasion, it was natural for him to let the solace of the Scriptures inform his hymn-writing to comfort the bereaved family. On the day of the double funeral of his nieces, he stood outside the quarantined home of his brother Howard, choking back tears and singing this hymn which he titled “The Heart of God.” The hymn first appeared in print in 1903.

McFee had a distinguished career as pastor and teacher in Chicago and Brooklyn. In 1901, when his nieces died, he was professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in Chicago. Later, in 1912, he was a professor at McCormack Theological Seminary in Brooklyn. From 1930– 1936, he served as secretary for the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.

by Annie S. Hawks (1835–1918)

Annie S. Hawks, who wrote this deeply personal hymn in 1872, leaves this account of its composition:

“One day, as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks. Suddenly, I became filled with the sense of the nearness to the Master, and I began to wonder how anyone could ever live without Him, either in joy or pain. Then the words were ushered into my mind, and these thoughts took full possession of me.”

Annie, a member of a Baptist church in Brooklyn, was encouraged by her pastor, Robert Lowry, to write hymns. Lowry added the words of the refrain and composed the tune. “I Need Thee Every Hour” was sung at the National Convention of Sunday Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio, the same year it was written, and is one of 400 hymns by Hawks. Lowry amassed one of the finest musical libraries in the country and, in collaboration with W. H. Doane, published over 12 books of gospel song, of which Pure Gold sold 1 million copies.

by William Watford (1772–1854)

William Watford was born in Bath, England, in 1772. Even when he was five years old, he wanted to be a clergyman. He trained as an Anglican minister but later joined the Congregational Church and was ordained in 1800, though he later repudiated his ordination and, before his illness, tutored in the classics (Latin, Greek, and Hebrew).

Written in 1842, this hymn reflects his personal struggles with failing eyesight and the death of his 17-year-old daughter in an accident when it speaks of “in seasons of distress and grief,” being called from “a world of care,” and “making all my wants and wishes known.” The final stanza anticipates the day when we will no longer need to pray, when from “Mount Pisgah’s lofty height” we will view our eternal home.

William Bradbury composed the music for Watford’s words in 1859. He was born in York, Maine, to parents who were musical. By the age of 14, Bradbury was playing a variety of instruments. He studied music methods in England and Germany, organized music conventions in the United States, manufactured pianos in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and published 60 songbooks.