Out of the Depths: Hymns Born of Sorrow

Countless hymns through the ages were composed as the outpouring of broken hearts. These humble souls found that the comfort found in Jesus was a supply ample enough to share. These Christians knew they were not promised carefree days sparkling with endless sunshine. They knew instead that Christ would never leave them. His grace would be sufficient. His love would be endless. His mercy unceasing. His power exceedingly more abundant. The following stories are but snapshots; brief glimpses at moments in time where God’s comfort in sorrow for one heart became more – the triumphant song of the redeemed.

Master the Tempest is Raging!
Mary Ann Baker was no stranger to deep sorrow. Her childhood home was forever altered when both parents succumbed to tuberculosis – a horrific, highly contagious, and (at that time) almost incurable disease. Sometime later, her brother too fell ill, and died while thousands of miles from home. Of this dark season Mary testified, “Although we mourned not as those without hope, and although I had believed on Christ in early childhood and had always desired to give the Master a consecrated and obedient life, I became wickedly rebellious at this dispensation of divine providence. I said in my heart that God did not care for me or mine. But the Master’s own voice stilled the tempest in my unsanctified heart, and brought it to the calm of a deeper faith and a more perfect trust.”

Shortly following this trying period Mary was asked to write hymns based on some Sunday School themes. Dwelling on “Christ Stilling the Tempest,” she thought of her brother's death and the crisis of faith that followed. After reflection, the beautiful words and melody of "Master, the Tempest is Raging" flowed from her pen as she testified about the security possessed by we who sail not alone.

Master, the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o’er shadowed with blackness, No shelter or help is nigh;
“Carest thou not that we perish?” How canst thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threat’ning, A grave in the angry deep?
The winds and the waves shall obey my will, Peace, be still
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea, Or devils or men, or whatever it be,
No waters can swallow the ship where lies The Master of ocean, and earth and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey my will, Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey my will, Peace, peace, be still!

‘Tis So Sweet to Trust In Jesus
The joyful tune and contented lyrics of this familiar hymn might lead you to assume it was written in a time of great happiness, but the opposite is true. Louisa M. Stead was born in 1850 in England, and emigrated to America as a young adult. Settling in Cincinnati, Ohio, she married Mr. Stead, and together they had a daughter, Lily. When Lily was four, the little family travelled for vacation to Long Island Sound in New York. While enjoying a picnic together, Mr. Stead saw a boy struggling vainly to remain afloat, and immediately rushed to his aid. Though he attempted the heroic, his wife and daughter could only watch from the shore as both sank beneath the waves. Heartbroken yet trusting on, Louisa penned these lines in the days that followed. Shortly thereafter the young widow and her daughter travelled to South Africa to serve as missionaries. Here Louisa married Mr. Wodehouse, and here (excepting their temporary return due to ill health) they remained.

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, Just to take him at his word;
Just to rest upon his promise; Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust him; How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er.
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus! O for grace to trust him more.

It Is Well With My Soul
“It Is Well With My Soul” is possibly the most beloved hymn known to the Christian faith. The combination of deep peace in great sorrow (known only to the believer) is expressed beautifully and sincerely in the timeless lines.
The Spafford family suffered several great losses in a short period of time, first losing a son to illness, then most of their possessions in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Desperately needing a change, the Spaffords booked passage to England on the Ville De Havre in November of 1873. At the last moment, Mr. Spafford was required to stay in Chicago to handle business. Sending his wife Anna and four daughters ahead and promising to follow soon, they separated. One week into the journey the Ville de Havre collided with another ship, sinking in just 12 minutes. Anna was helpless to save her children. Arriving in Europe, she sent a telegram to her husband, “Saved alone, what shall I do…” Spafford sailed immediately to join her, and while passing over the shipwreck that claimed the lives of his daughters, he penned the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.” His seldom-seen 6th verse ends the song in victory as he fixed his eyes on Jesus’ imminent return.

But Lord, ‘tis for thee, for thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope! blessed rest of my soul!
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.



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