pews_stainedglass.jpg Sunday is the appointed day for adding new entries to my series, Then Sings My Soul: The Hymns of My Youth. This week it’s a hymn written in 1901 by Presbyterian minister Cleland McAfee. McAfee was born in Ashley, Missouri in 1866 and eventually became a pastor at Park College. To inject a bit of creativity McAfee would compose a hymn for his church choir each quarter, typically around the themes for his sermons. Over time, his congregation came to anticipate the hymns as much as the sermons.

Tragedy struck. Within a 24-hour period, diphtheria claimed his brother Harold’s two daughters. McAfee and his congregation offered what support they could to the bereaved parents. In the wake of this event, McAfee began thinking about the hymn he would write for the following Sunday. As his mind turned over the themes at hand, he said to himself, “We can find peace and comfort if we stay near to the heart of God.” With inspiration from Psalm 4:8, soon the words began to flow and he composed the hymn “Near to the Heart of God.” It was sung at the girls’ funeral as well as at the communion service the next Sunday.

I recall this hymn from my youth as well, of course… but though it is often used at funerals it doesn’t have that association for me. The lyrics certainly help create an environment of assuring comfort in God. Having discovered the background to the hymn, it fits even more naturally into the context of bereavement or of difficult challenges of all kinds. Still, I wouldn’t restrict the hymn to those contexts, as its message is one that bears mention even in the best of times.

Near to the Heart of God

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

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