Song Stories

'Nearer My God to Thee' — A reminder of God's promise

By Lucy Adams | Jan 10, 2017
Photo by: Thinkstock The story of Jacob and Esau inspired the song 'Nearer My God To Thee,' specifically the part when Jacob falls asleep on a stone and God appears to him in a dream.

Families often get into arguments. In Genesis, Chapter 27 and 28, we read the story of two brothers, Esau and Jacob. They lied and cheated to their father, Isaac. Jacob ran away from home in fear. But God spoke in a dream that night to Jacob.

The composer of “Nearer My God To Thee” was inspired by this story of conflict within a family and God's plan for love and forgiveness. Her poem retells the story of Jacob’s dream.

Genesis 28:11–12: “So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it...”

Sarah Flowers Adams, born in 1805 in Harlow, England, wrote the poem in 1840 that forms the basis of the hymn. Her writing abilities were joined with the musical talents of her sister, Eliza. Together they wrote several hymns, but this is the only one that has endured for all of these years.

Sarah's talent and Christian character endeared her to many in London where she and her husband, John, lived.  When she died of a sudden illness at a very young age in 1849, this hymn continued to be a beautiful tribute to her life.

“Nearer My God to Thee” became very popular in America. One of the saddest, but most familiar, times was when over a 1,000 people sang this on board the ocean liner Titanic as it was sinking on April 14, 1912.

"Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee. / Even though it be a cross, that raiseth me. / Still, all my song shall be, Nearer, my God to thee. / Nearer, my God, to thee. Nearer to thee. //  Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, / Darkness be over me, my rest a stone; / Yet in my dreams I'd be nearer, my God, to thee, / Nearer, etc."

Another time of grief in was in 1901 when an assassin shot President William McKinley. From the lips of the dying president, these words were repeated as his assurance and strength of a loving God. It was also sung at his memorial service.

Through the many years I have sung in church choirs, this hymn has been a blessing to share. But it became more special the year that Sarah Adams was born into our family. She was not in England but in Mississippi. It was not in the 1800s but in 2003.

Our sweet Sarah, who loves to sing, came to us in April, and is a loving Christian young woman. She was born the same month as my birthday.

Hymns of the Christian faith are part of the glory of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. We know that he echoes through the ages, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

Let us claim this loving promise as we face new challenges in our lives.