Helen H. Lemmel wrote both the words and music for “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” after receiving a gospel tract from a friend in 1918. The words in the tract titled “Focused” made a great impression on her: “Turn your eyes upon Him, look full into His face, and you will find that the things of the earth will acquire a strange new dimness.” The words kept repeating over and over in her mind until a song began to form, first the refrain and then the stanzas. The hymn was published that same year in London. It became very popular when it was introduced at the Keswick Bible Conference in England four years later. It first appeared in America in 1924 in “Gospel Truth in Song No. 2.”
Helen was born in 1864 in Wardle, England, to a Wesleyan Methodist pastor. Her family moved to America when she was still a child. She traveled widely in America during the early 1900’s, giving many concerts of patriotic music and hymns in churches. She also taught vocal music at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
In addition to being a fine singer, she possessed outstanding literary talent and wrote an impressive number of poems and hymns. One of her hymnals was used for over a decade by Billy Sunday. She also directed and sang in a women's vocal ensemble that ministered in the evangelist’s meetings. Her Bible Story Book for children was also widely used.
She eventually developed an illness that caused her to go blind. When her husband deserted her, she learned to totally depend upon the Lord, daily living the reality of her hymn to “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Although blind, she continued to compose, and her friends wrote down the words and melodies. She was active until the Lord called her home in her late nineties.
Facing life today with its challenges, the Christian needs to keep “focused” on Christ as the center of daily life. The troubles of this world will become insignificant. This story also serves as a reminder that the tract ministry can be greatly used by God.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:2)
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!
Look full in his wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.
He passed, and we follow him there;
Over us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conq’rors we are!
Believe him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
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