Lelia Naylor Morris, author of the hymn “Nearer, Still Nearer,” was born in Pennsville, Ohio, on April 15th, 1862, just before her father left to fight in the Civil War. Her father died when she was young, and her mother started a millinery shop in McConnelsville, Ohio, to provide for the family. Lelia helped her mother by learning to knit, crochet, sew, and mend, beginning a lifelong pattern of service to others. Young Lelia made wise use of her time by learning to play the organ in the little church nearby, not knowing how God would use that ability in later life. After some time of conviction, she called out to Jesus for salvation at age ten and began playing the organ for her church not long after.
In 1881 nineteen-year-old Lelia Naylor was married to Charles H. Morris. Together they settled in McConnelsville and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. They quickly became active and faithful members, serving in many capacities in their local body and traveling to serve at revivals and camp meetings in other cities. Their 48 years of marriage were marked by zeal to the Lord and service to others, and their home was open to many students as the Morris family shared their large collection of books.
Lelia’s hymn writing ability was unknown to her until age 30 when she rededicated her life to Christ. Though she was already faithfully serving, she realized that day that the Holy Spirit is not reserved only for pastors and teachers but freely given to every believer. She opened her heart to the Spirit’s leading and was transformed as she allowed him to reign in her life. Her newfound joy overflowed, and hymns and gospel songs streamed forth as she gave vent to the praise her heart was singing.
For the next 37 years she would continue to write, with many songs composed at the sewing machine or while doing her housework - jotted down in a little notebook kept for the purpose. She would later polish the work at the piano and tuck it away as the personal hymn of a quiet, content homemaker. When she ultimately shared her songs, she wrote as Mrs. Charles H. Morris, giving her husband’s name and putting her own in the shadows. She began to lose her vision in her early 50s but continued writing both words and music using a 28-foot blackboard built by her son. After less than a year she was fully blind, but her songwriting continued as she composed mentally, then memorized melody and lyrics to dictate to others later.At the time of her death at age sixty-seven, Lelia Morris had written more than a thousand hymn lyrics and many of the accompanying tunes. Among her most loved songs are "Nearer, Still Nearer," "Sweet Will of God," and "The Fight Is On." The quiet housewife serving her family and her God well away from the limelight has touched the hearts of thousands.
Nearer, still nearer, close to thy heart,
Fold me, O fold me close to thy breast,
Shelter me safe in that “haven of rest,”
Shelter me safe in that “haven of rest.”
Nearer, still nearer, nothing I bring,
Naught as an off’ring to Jesus my King;
Only my sinful, now contrite heart,
Grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart,
Grant me the cleansing thy blood doth impart.
Nearer, still nearer, Lord, to be thine
Sin, with its follies, I gladly resign;
All of its pleasures, pomp and its pride,
Give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified,
Give me but Jesus, my Lord crucified.
Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
Till all its struggles and trials are past;
Then through eternity, ever I’ll be
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to thee,
Nearer, my Saviour, still nearer to thee.
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