This hymn was written by Emily Elliot in 1864 and was first printed to teach the children in her father’s church about Jesus’ birth. She spent most of her life ministering in Sunday Schools and rescue missions. She was editor of the “Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor.” In 1880, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” was published in a collection of forty-eight of her poems and hymns titled “Under the Pillow,” a small hymnbook, especially for hospitals, infirmaries, and homes where there was sickness. Emily was greatly influenced by her aunt, Charlotte Elliot, who was an invalid most of her life and wrote the words of “Just As I Am.”
The song begins with the story of Jesus’ birth. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7). This is a suitable hymn for Christmas, but it’s much more than that. The first two stanzas contrast the glory of Christ’s heavenly home to the humility of His earthly birth. The third stanza briefly describes how the Saviour lived on earth. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).
The fourth stanza tells how Christ died. He came with salvation’s plan to set His people free, but He was met with mocking and was crucified at Calvary. The refrain for each of these four stanzas gives a personal childlike response: “there is room in my heart for thee!” The final stanza and refrain anticipate Christ’s Second Coming, and there is the assurance of Christ’s victory!
The irregular poetic meter of the text made it difficult to find a suitable tune, but one of Britain’s skilled organists, Timothy R. Matthews, was able to provide an excellent one. He named the tune “Margaret” and published it in 1876 in “Children’s Hymns and Tunes.” This easy-to-sing hymn that includes the Nativity and points to the Second Coming can be sung any time of the year. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:10-12).
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