HYMN 113 Near to the Heart of God
Isaiah 41:13; Matthew 11:28-30
Text: Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944) Tune: Cleland Boyd McAfee (1866-1944)
1. 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.
R/ O Jesus, blest Redeemer, Sent from the heart of God; Hold us, who wait before Thee, Near to the heart of God.
2. 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. R/
3. There is a place of full release, Near to the heart of God; A place where all is joy and peace, Near to the heart of God.
Anxiety is troubling many people today. Not just about the virus, but about the state of the world. We are maybe learning an old lesson: there is nothing on earth that will give us peace and rest, ultimately. We have been fortunate that our medical experts have been able to fight diseases that have plagued human beings since the beginning; we have come to believe, maybe, that no illness should be fatal. Or there should be nothing to be anxious about. And yet anxiety is, and has been, one of the major conditions of our time.
The author of this hymn, Cleland McAfee, wrote it to comfort his family when two of his young nieces died of diphtheria, at the time one of the greatest scourges for children.The vaccine against it, developed in the 1920s, has saved millions. At that time the quarantine laws were strict. Public health officials would put the sign on a house and no one was allowed to remove it or exit or enter without permission from a public health officer under penalty of law. It is said that McAfee and his friends stood outside the house and sang this song to those inside.
I can never hear this hymn or sing it without thinking of that scene. We don’t know what those inside thought of the song or the promises within it. Did it comfort them in the midst of their awful tragedy? I don't know. It is easy for unbeliever to scoff and say, oh, yes. Where is God? It is a constant question of unbelievers and believers. But millions still find comfort in this hymn.
Just now I am reading my mother’s daily diary from 1936-1938 when she was in her late teens. (She kept such a diary from 1935-1999!) The scientists who have studied the great influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 have noted that people who were in utero from the summer of 1918 to winter 1919 seem to have experienced more anxiety and nervous issues than normal. My mother was in utero at the time. She seems to be proof of that theory.
Her diaries express both her joys and her anxieties which, during the Depression on the farm, were not without reason. How many bushels of corn or wheat her father harvested in August meant how well they would live during the year. In the summer of 1937, when she was eighteen, she wrote many times of her great anxiety about the threshing. The year before, 1936, had been so bad, given the drought and heat, (most of the heat records are still standing from that year) her father hadn't even taken out the binder. (It bound the wheat in shocks so it could be threshed.) Her fears and anxieties about the weather--rain while the shocks were drying could be disastrous--grew into the summer: would there be enough so she could go to college? She had stayed home for a year to keep house for her widowed father and sister. Now she wanted to go to Augsburg.
Threshing crews came north following the harvest, going from farm to farm, working for several days. Then they moved to the next farm. Rain threatened their work so there was much prayer about weather. Still they had good times. The women would cook huge meals, baked chicken, fresh corn, gravy and mashed potatoes, with pies, cakes and desserts in the heat. Off in the field, one could see the golden chaff rising into the blue sky.
Nearly every day Mother says how tired she is and of her time with the Lord, reading his word and praying. She would end the diary entry rejoicing that she could cast all her cares upon him, knowing he cared for her. 1 Peter 5:7. It wasn’t a message she remembered vaguely from months before; she went to it every day. Her struggles were constant. But that daily contact brought her immense strength and peace, even good humor. Even in the hardest times, she records times of great merriment as they baked bread, canned meats, fruits, and vegetables, and cleaned the house, enjoying all the good things she had: faith, family, and friends. She was always grateful for those blessings. She knew well the truth of this hymn: the place of comfort and joy and peace is Jesus. Almost every night she gave thanks for all the good things that came from her heavenly Father. There she found rest for her soul. Near to the heart of God.
The hymn text and tune come from McAfee. Born in Missouri to a father who founded Park College in Parkville, Missouri, he went to Union Theological Seminary and returned to the college to teach philosophy, and serve as choir director, pastor and dean. He left in 1901 to become pastor of First Presbyterian of the Lafayette Avenue Church of Brooklyn. Later, he taught at McCormick Theological seminary from 1912-1930.
He is thought to have been the theologian who developed the acronym TULIP to state the five tenets of Calvinist theology that seminary students still learn. He also was a leader in the movement believing the King James Version of the Bible to be the greatest English literary classic of all time. He was moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States for some time.
The hymn has achieved great popularity over time. Once again the many versions of it on Youtube have attracted millions of listeners.
Kaoma Chende Gospel
Greg Howlett/Piano and instrumental