HYMN 81 Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
Norwegian: Jesus, hold meg ved ditt Kors
Icelandic: Jesus halt mær við tín Kross
Faroe Islands: Jesus, halt mær við tín kross
Text: Fanny Crosby (1820-1915). Tune: William H. Doane (1832-1915)
1. Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain,
Free to all—a healing stream,
Flows from Calv’ry’s mountain.
R/In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever;
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
2. Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the Bright and Morning Star
Sheds its beams around me.
3. Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
4. Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I see my Savior’s face,
Leave his presence never.
When I was growing up, we used The Concordia Hymnal: A Hymnal for Church, School and Home (1932). It was our Sunday morning and evening hymnal. It had been prepared by a group of pastors and musicians out of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELC) and the Lutheran Free Church, including F. Melius Christiansen. The Bible verse from Ephesians 5:19 was on the frontispiece: “Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your hearts to the Lord.”
It was intended to break down the old convention that hymns were for Sunday morning and spiritual songs for the evening and less formal services. Thus it included a substantial number of formal hymns, beginning as most Lutheran hymnals had up to that point with the hymn "All Glory Be to God on High," the Gloria from Luther’s German hymn mass. It also included gospel songs like this one. "Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross." Previously, hymns like Crosby's were to be used, if at all, only for Sunday evenings. This hymnal broke that rule. Oddly enough, the hymnal remained in use through the last century, I think because it sufficed for both kinds of worship.
Our denomination was low church. Someone even asked my dad if being low church meant a low ceiling like we had in our first unit sanctuary.
That embarrassed me a bit when I got to be of an age, especially after I started playing at St. Paul's Episcopal church choir school in Salem. I knew enough to know that Fanny Crosby would probably not appear in their hymnal, nor in the high church United Lutheran Church (ULCA) hymnal, the Common Service Book and Hymnal 1918. "Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior" would, surprisingly, be included in the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal 1958.
My piano and organ teacher, a true English eccentric, Miss Ruth Bedford, the organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal, (See Hymn 57: All Things Bright and Beautiful) thought that every piano student, especially a pastor’s daughter, should learn to play hymns. She asked to see our hymnal and I showed her the Concordia. She paged through it. I waited. She looked up and said, “Ah! Chorally conceived. Good.” And then we started.
Later I would realize that the harmonies in the Concordia were more complicated than those in the other gospel song books we used which were repetitious and conventional--simple. The Concordia had more complicated non-repetitious harmonies with interesting voices. It was designed for local congregational choirs to use for their Sunday anthems and for congregations to learn to sing parts that were more difficult than the ordinary harmonies. F. Melius loathed the easy harmonies of most hymns and urged congregations to sing these more complicated harmonies. They would grow musically by doing so. He wanted the congregation to sound like a choir.
Like many, I have had my high church phase. I read Gregory Dix’ The Shape of the Liturgy and learned a lot from his romantic defense of the liturgy of the early church. But hymns like this one were too deeply impressed on me for me to reject them.
When I started collecting jazz albums, along with classical, I discovered Don Shirley and his album Gospel. His simple, clean rendition of the hymn gave it back to me.
Now one can find the hymn everywhere. It is even considered traditional. As always happens, what was scorned by the last generation is taken into the next hymnal without regard for the prejudices of the past. The words are simple, as is the tune. Easy for any congregation.
An important lesson. Jesus once thanked God (Matthew 11:25) that the truth of his message was "hidden from the wise, and revealed to little children." To become simple in order to hear the word of God is a hard thing for an intellectual. One must lose one’s sophisticated prejudices and face the fact they might be keeping you from the Lord. "Help me walk from day to day/With its shadow o'er me!"
Of all the thousands of hymns Fanny Crosby wrote, this is the next most popular after "Blessed Assurance." According to a website, it has appeared in over 590 hymnals so far. Crosby's good friend, William Howard Doane, had written the melody without a text. When she heard it she knelt down and prayed and came up with this text. Fanny used her married name, Mrs. Francis J. van Alstyne when it was published in 1869.
Blind from birth, Fanny enrolled in the New York Institute for the Blind when she was fifteen. She stayed there as a student and then a teacher until 1858. She began teaching English grammar, Rhetoric and American History in 1847. In 1858 she married Alexander van Alstyne, another student and teacher there. Upon marrying, they left the school and established their own home. They had a daughter, but she died in infancy. While the couple remained amicable until his death, they did not live together much after this.
Doane was born into wealth and went on to make a great deal of money as an inventor and manufacturer of wood working tools. As the writer of over 2,000 hymn tunes which he also published, he became extremely wealthy and used his money to endow Denison University and Moody Bible Institute with buildings and large sums of money.
LINKS Don Shirley
English/Hastings College Choir
Icelandic/Betesda, Ebenezer and Siloa
Faroe Islands/Bethesda Choir