Near to the Heart of God
by David Lemmons
It is an absolute truth that the sermon I preach on Sunday mornings has been preceded by your “sermons.” There are indeed several “sermons” that you may preach each Lord’s Day (some time in the future we may write about them), but for this article I wish to zero in on the “sermons” that you sing. From the omniscience of God Almighty He has placed within our worship assemblies the requirement that we TEACH and AD-MONISH one another (Colossians 3:16). We do this by means of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, preceded by letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly in all wisdom. We ought continually to chal-lenge ourselves with the thought that this is God’s will for us to sing in such a manner and for such a magnificent purpose. By our gathering together and following the instructions of the Lord, we have the blessed opportunity of stirring one another up toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). In addition, we can help visitors outside of Christ to develop a longing for what we have IN CHRIST. Understanding this, it is beyond me how it is possible for any Christian not to join in this worthy work with the greatest enthusiasm possible!
If we are not careful, we might tend to devalue or at least not value highly enough our involvement together in singing. There have been many attempts among our brethren to encourage greater appreciation for the singing part of our worship assemblies. Some of these involve looking more closely at the lyrics of the songs we sing. I have in my library an 851-page book which is the record of the 32nd MSOP Lectureship. The title of that book is: Lessons in Lyrics, a study of 59 songs we use in worship. Many of us are familiar with brother Tom Holland’s work in developing and participating in the “Diana Singing,” in Diana, TN. They have just finished the 40th year of that great twice-per-year gathering. Brother Waller was telling me recently about a very successful singing he helped to develop in Barnesville, when he preached there a few years ago. I receive in an Email, once per week, a rather detailed “Hymn Study,” produced by one of our anti-brethren. We are not left without encouragement to appreciate our worship in song!
For the past few weeks I have been reading from the book, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, written by K.W. Osbeck. Each day I have been reading one of these hymn stories. On Friday, I read about “Near to the Heart of God,” written by Cleland B. McAfee (1866-1944). It is #592 in our songbooks. It is hard for me to make a decision when it comes to selecting a FAVORITE hymn. Sometimes I think they all are my favorites, but this one is surely one worthy of “favoriting”!
As is the case with a great number of the songs in our songbooks, the man who wrote this song was not content just to wear the name Christian, but was identified as a Presbyterian. Nonetheless, he obviously had tremendous talent with words and produced a hymn for the ages in “Near to the Heart of God.” Let me quote from page 281 of the book mentioned earlier to give some back-ground for the writing of this song.
…Dr. McAfee was stunned to hear the shocking news that his two beloved nieces had just died from diphtheria. Turning to God and the Scriptures, McAfee soon felt the lines and the tune of this hymn flow from his grieving heart. On the day of the double funeral he stood outside the quarantined home of his brother Howard singing these words as he choked back the tears. The following Sunday the hymn was repeated by the choir of McAfee’s church. It soon be-came widely known …
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.
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.
Chorus: O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us who wait before Thee near to the heart of God.