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More Love to Thee - Elizabeth Prentiss

Elizabeth Payson Prentiss was born in Portland, Maine, on October 26th, 1818, and died in Dorset, Vermont, on August 13th, 1878. Elizabeth was a prominent author, with her writings including the semi-autobiographical book “Stepping Heavenward” and the beloved consecration hymn, “More Love to Thee.”

Her father, Edward Payson, was a pastor, a great Bible teacher, and a loving father to his six children. His high degree of spiritual devotion and his jovial but holy demeanor greatly influenced young Elizabeth. Though he died of tuberculosis when she was not quite nine, in later life she credited his example as the foundation of her solid Christian character. In 1831 when Elizabeth was 12, the Payson family moved to New York for a short time, and here she called upon the Lord Jesus for salvation and joined the membership of Bleeker Street Presbyterian Church.


     Elizabeth’s prolific writing career began at 16 when in 1834, she began contributing poems and stories to Youth’s Companion, a popular New England periodical. As time went on, she began to be known as an able author of children’s books, and some of her books for an older audience have maintained popularity, even to the present day. Though she continued to gain notoriety throughout her life, she did not set great store by fame. 

Elizabeth began a girl’s school in her home in 1838 at age 25, and took charge of a Sabbath school class largely made up of the same children she taught throughout the week. She was well-loved by her students for her loving and light ways. In 1840 she moved to Richmond, VA, to be the department head of a girl’s school. In 1845, she returned to Portland, MA, and married Dr. George Prentiss, who had just been ordained pastor of South Trinitarian Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The young couple settled in Bedford and had several years of great happiness.

A few years later, George Prentiss became pastor of Mercer St. Presbyterian Church in NYC, and the family relocated. Here Elizabeth became friends with Susan and Anna Warner, both famous authors of children’s books, and Anna, author of the song “Jesus Loves Me.” Elizabeth spent some of summer 1853 at their home on Constitution Island across from West Point as they each worked on books for children.

Elizabeth was exceedingly happy in her married life and was a loving but firm mother. By 1852 two children were born into their union. Deep sorrow touched the Prentiss home that year as Elizabeth watched in horror as her four-year-old son, Eddie, died. She was expecting her third child at the time of Eddie’s final illness, and the hope bound up in this new little life helped keep her going as she mourned her son. A baby girl was born sometime later, only to die of a horrible illness a month later. Bereaved of two of her three children in less than five months, Elizabeth was heartbroken. After putting flowers on her children’s graves, she said, “Our home is broken up, our lives wrecked, our hopes shattered, our dreams dissolved. I don’t think I can stand living for another moment.” Her husband comforted, “In times like these, God loves us all the more.”

Following this period of great sorrow, Elizabeth and George had three more healthy children. Though Elizabeth never had good health, she cared for her family and continued writing. “More Love to Thee”  was written in 1856 after their daughter Minnie was quite ill. “More Love” began as a prayer, the verses hastily scrawled in pencil, and the fourth verse left unfinished till much later. As one who had suffered great sorrows and lived with ill health, she often wrote about acceptance in suffering and joy regardless of circumstance.

In one of her last letters before her death, Elizabeth wrote: “Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls.” The words of Elizabeth Prentiss have consoled many souls, and countless believers have laid their hurts at the foot of the cross after meditating on the profoundly simple words of “More love to thee, O Christ.”

In a letter to a friend, she wrote, “I see now that to live for God, whether one is allowed ability to be actively useful or not, is a great thing, and that it is a wonderful mercy to be allowed even to suffer, if thereby one can glorify Him.”

In 1873, she wrote:
“To love Christ more is the deepest need, the constant cry of my soul. Down in the bowling alley, and out in the woods, and on my bed, and out driving, when I am happy and busy, and when I am sad and idle, the whisper keeps going up for more love, more love, more love!”


More love to thee, O Christ,  More love to thee!
Hear thou the prayer I make, On bended knee:
This is my earnest plea – More love, O Christ, to thee,
More love to thee, More love to thee!

Once earthly joy I craved, Sought peace and rest,
Now thee alone I seek, Give what is best:
This all my prayer shall be – More love, O Christ, to thee,
More love to thee, More love to thee!

Let sorrow do its work, Send grief and pain,
Sweet are thy messengers, Sweet their refrain,
When they can sing with me – More love, O Christ to thee,
More love to thee, More love to thee!

Then shall my latest breath Whisper thy praise,
This be the parting cry My heart shall raise:
This still its prayer shall be - More love, O Christ, to thee,
More love to thee, More love to thee!

 

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1 comment

  • THAT is humility and faith expressed in song. How beautiful. May I walk that way.

    Connie

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