Book Review: The Stories Behind the Hymns, by James McClelland
Belfast: Ambassador Productions, 1983.
Covenant Library section: Music
The way some hymns came to be written is truly amazing. Did you know that one hymn was written on a dare between two sisters? Another was inspired by a summer thunderstorm. One very famous children’s hymn was taken from a novel that has since been forgotten.
Some triumphant hymns are born of tragedy: a man whose fiancee turned him down because he was going blind; one writer struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies; others were bedridden or faced persecution and loss. What can we say of the Scottish hymn-writer who twice (years apart) was to marry, but in both cases his bride-to-be died the day before the wedding? He ended up a lonely bachelor in Ontario, Canada, where he wrote some comforting verses for his ailing mother back in Scotland. The verses got into the local paper. A copy of the paper was used to wrap a parcel that was sent to New York, the recipient saw the verses on the newspaper wrapping, sent it to a publisher, and as they say, “the rest is history.”
These hymn-writers were men and women, young and old, wood-carvers and theologians and housewives and dairy farmers. God enabled them to distill their faith and Christian walk into verse to encourage and inspire all who would come after them. In this short book, McClelland has written anecdotes about how 33 well-known hymns came to be written. It’s an easy read that will certainly deepen your appreciation of worship singing.