FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Hymns That Encourage and Inspire

with Ace Collins | November 1, 2006
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Today on the broadcast, Dennis and Barbara Rainey join award-winning author Ace Collins to talk about the makings of some of America's best-loved inspirational hymns. Find out the legend behind the bugle solo, "Taps".

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Today on the broadcast, Dennis and Barbara Rainey join award-winning author Ace Collins to talk about the makings of some of America's best-loved inspirational hymns. Find out the legend behind the bugle solo, "Taps".

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ace Collins talks about the makings of some of America’s best-loved inspirational hymns.

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Hymns That Encourage and Inspire

With Ace Collins
November 01, 2006
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Bob: Evangelist Dwight L. Moody used to tell audiences, "Someday you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead.  Don't you believe a word of it.  At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now.  I shall have gone up higher and is all out of this old clay tenement to a house that is immortal, a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body." 

Horatio Spofford, a Chicago businessman may have heard Dwight L. Moody make a statement like that, and that may have been ringing in his ears when he penned the words to the great hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," after his four daughters had died at sea.  Here's Barbara Rainey.

Barbara: It's one of my very favorite hymns, and part of the reason I think I love it so much, again, it's not a hymn that I grew up singing in church as a child, but I learned the story when I was homeschooling our kids.  And when I heard that story, and I realized that he could continue to believe God after he'd lost all four of his daughters, I just thought, "Wow, if he can continue to believe God I can even more."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, November 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll hear some hymn stories today that will inspire you as well.  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  You know, when it gets to be Thanksgiving season, and it's the Sunday before Thanksgiving or maybe the Thanksgiving Eve service at church, if we don't sing "We Gather Together To Ask the Lord's Blessing," and "Come Ye Thankful People Come," then I just don't tithe that week.  I mean, that's how I feel about it.  Those are the national anthems of Thanksgiving as far as I'm concerned.

Barbara: I agree.

Bob: Do you?

Barbara: I do.

Bob: Those are great hymns, aren't they?

Barbara: Those are the top two for Thanksgiving.  They just are part of it.

Bob: And they didn't make it in Ace Collins' book, and I'm a little miffed about it and may not talk through the rest of the interview.  Well, no, I won't go that far.

Ace: Well, you have to realize that it's the editors that ultimately decide what make it.

Barbara: Well, it's not really your fault.

Ace: I remember when I wrote the first Christmas book.  I wrote 45 stories, and they picked 31.  So you tend to get edited because you write 40 you really like, and then they start deciding, "Well, we only have room for this one and this one and this one," and so …

Bob: Well, when it gets to Volume 2 make sure that they include, "We Gather Together" and "Come Ye Thankful People Come."

Ace:  I will do it.

Dennis: Well, the voice you're hearing is Ace Collins who wrote "Stories Behind the Hymns That Inspire America," one of more than 50 books he's written, and the other voice is that of my wife, Barbara, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Welcome back, sweetheart.

Barbara: Thank you.

Dennis: And we have a fifth voice, Bob.

Bob: I'm afraid we do.

Dennis: A special guest who has joined us all this week.

Bob: That would be a stretch – to call him a "special" guest.  Actually, he's a caller who demands equal airtime, and I think he's on the phone with us now.  He is Mr. Know-it-All.  Mr. Know-it-All, welcome back.

Mr. Know-it-All: Thanks, Bob, Dennis, Barbara, good to be here again – and Ace.

Bob: Well …

Ace: How are you, Mister?  That is his first name, right?

Bob: Mr. Know-it-All …

Mr. Know-it-All: That's right.

Bob: … appears on these programs because he has been challenging Mr. Collins for years on these books.  He says that these are not the actual stories behind these great songs and that, in fact, he knows the history better than Mr. Collins does, is that correct, Mr. Know-it-All?

Mr. Know-it-All: Well, Bob, who would I be to argue with you?

Bob: I don't know, you argue with just about everybody else.  Tell us, Mr. Know-it-All, if you would, what is your theory – and I stress the word "theory" – behind the writing of – oh, let's take "How Great Thou Art."

Mr. Know-it-All: "How Great Thou Art" – that's actually an educational song.

Bob: And educational song?

Mr. Know-it-All: It is.

Bob: Well, it does teach great theology.  Is that what you mean?

Mr. Know-it-All: Well, not exactly.  That song was actually written by a Kansas schoolteacher.

Bob: Oh, it was?

Mr. Know-it-All: Uh-huh, Miss Emma Primhagle, an early 20th century Kansas art teacher.  She's an art teacher.  She also invented, Bob, the metal-edged wooden ruler.

Bob: Yes, I know the ruler you're talking about.

Mr. Know-it-All: So she used that song, along with the ruler, to teach schoolchildren the importance of art – "How Great Thou, Art."

Bob: How great thou, Art.

Mr. Know-it-All: And the comma, over the years, you know, how that happens with punctuation, the comma got sort of dropped out, and then I think it was like a Presbyterian minister in Kansas turned it into sort of a hymn.

Bob: Oh, I see, but it was really a schoolteacher.  Have you heard that theory before, Ace?

Ace: No.

Bob: That's rather novel, isn't it?

Ace: It's novel.  I think the response was rather wooden.


Bob: Thank you, Mr. Know-it-All.

Mr. Know-it-All: Anytime.

Dennis: Don't leave your day job, either.

Bob: What's the true story behind that hymn, "How Great Thou Art?"

Ace: In 1880, a Swedish pastor named Carl Boberg was going through a wooded area in his home country and was caught in a thunderstorm and had to go into a barn to seek shelter, and the thunderstorm was one that was one of those awesome storms.  You know, we probably have all been involved in them.  I wish that my house had a porch that went all the way around so that I could sit out on the porch and watch thunderstorms, because I just love them.

 And this man saw the lightning and the thunder and all this, and he went back and wrote a poem that he turned into a song that is known as "How Great Thou Art."

Bob: "I hear the rolling thunder," that's where that's from.

Ace: Yeah, and so what you're hearing is actually what he saw that day.  It was printed in the late 1800s in a number of Swedish, Scandinavian and German hymnals, and in the midst of the days right before World War II, an English missionary to Eastern Europe found it and brought it back to England and added the last verses of that when he heard a couple of prisoners of war singing it and was so impressed that, you know, "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation," that verse was added later.

 He put it in a little tract-type form, a little leaf of papers, and handed it out.  Well, one of the people who got it, passed it on to George Beverly Shea, and actually it was passed onto Shea, I believe, in Canada.  And Shea was so impressed with it, he took it to Billy Graham, because he was working with Billy Graham Crusades at the time.  This is after World War II.  He said, "You know, I think we've got something here.  Let's try it out."

 They sang it and never had a song gotten the kind of response at a Billy Graham Crusade as that song did, and it really became their benchmark song.  Shea recorded it.  It sold millions of records.  Tennessee Ernie Ford recorded it, it sold more records.  Elvis Presley recorded it, it sold more records and won a Grammy.  This song, which is one of our newest songs, now seems like it's been there forever to most people, and I think, after "Amazing Grace," it's probably the most choral anthem in the world.  I don't know of anybody who doesn't love it and, probably, if you've been to church two or three times, no matter what denomination you are, this is a song you could at least sing the first verse and the chorus of.

Bob: And when you get to the last verse, if you don't get chills, you need to check your pulse, because "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart and I shall bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art."  I get chills just talking about it right here.

Ace: And one of the reasons this song really became so popular in the '50s, it was used as an anthem by Americans to show the difference in their spirituality and the lack of spirituality behind the Iron Curtain.  And so it became kind of an anthem at the time for people who were trying to delineate between America and the Communist powers.

Dennis: I'll never forget being in Chicago after 9/11 singing this next hymn I want to talk about, because it was a time of fear, it was a time of – well, we were reflecting upon having been attacked, and the place where we were meeting was right at the edge of O'Hare runway, and we had 10,000, 12,000 at one of our I Still Do arena events and, Bob, you remember, you could hear the airplanes going right overhead.

Bob: And it was in a time when hearing airplanes flying overhead brought back memories of what had happened just days before.

Dennis: I mean, it was only a couple of weeks before when we had been attacked.  And I remember standing, singing a hymn with Barbara.  It's a song that, well, you want sung at your funeral.

Barbara: It is, and it's one of my very favorite hymns, and it's "It Is Well With My Soul."  And part of the reason I think I love it so much, again, it's not a hymn that I grew up singing in church as a child, but I learned the story when I was homeschooling our kids, and we had some cassette tape story we listened to, or something that had stories of hymns on it, and I used to play it for my children.  And that was when I learned the story of how this hymn was written, who wrote it, and the circumstances in his life.  And when I heard that story, and I realized that he could continue to believe God after he'd lost all four of his daughters in that accident with the ship, I just thought, "Wow, if he can continue to believe God I can, too," and it was just so inspiring to know the story behind the hymn, that it made me love the hymn even more.

Ace: Well, Horatio Spofford, who wrote that song in Chicago, been born in 1828 in Chicago, and by the 1870s had risen to the point of being one of Chicago's most wealthy men.  He was a businessman who gave back as much as he received.  He started the YMCA in Chicago.  He was active in churches, he was one of the first supporters of Dwight L. Moody and his organization.  This was a guy who, when he wasn't working at work was working for God.  As a matter of fact, his family believed he did both too much because he didn't get to spend enough time with them.

 They finally convinced him in 1871 to go on a tour of Europe with them.  He got to New York, ready to take a ship, got a call that he needed to attend to some business matters.  They were all ready to be disappointed and go back to Chicago, and he said, "No, no, you all go ahead, I'll catch up."  Went back to Chicago, was working in Chicago, and got a telegram from his wife that told about a shipwreck and all four of his daughters were killed in that shipwreck.  They drowned.

 So he made reservations to go to Europe to pick up his wife and bring his daughters' bodies home, and on the ship going over the Atlantic, the captain showed him the spot where that ship had gone down and where his daughters had died.  He went back to his cabin and wrote a poem, "It Is Well With My Soul."

 Initially, it was just a poem.  He shared it with a few people.  Of course, he did not set it to music.  It was set to music by Philip Bliss, who was an incredible songwriter himself who later, ironically enough, would tragically die in a train crash himself.  He was a missionary.  And this song quickly got back to Chicago, was sung in Chicago and spread around.  It became his testimony.

 But it doesn't finish the story, because Horatio Spafford went back to Chicago, sold everything he had and took the money he made from that sale, went to the Holy Land and spent the rest of his life feeding refugees.  So he was really reaching out to the least of these and proving that he not only had the faith to write that song but the faith to live that song.

Dennis: For those listeners who have ever been on a ship in ocean and know that story, at night, standing on the edge of a ship looking into the depths of the ocean and reflecting back on the words of this great hymn – "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul."

 You know, I just think we forget the power of music to take our hearts during a time of brokenness, a time of despair, a time of sorrow and anguish and refocus, re-prioritize, bring perspective and understanding and, again, turn our hearts toward Him who loves us and who is in control because we aren't.

Bob: And when you know the story behind that song, and you sing it, it sings differently than before you know the story.  When you get to the second verse, "Though Satan should buffet, the trials should come, let this blessed assurance control that Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has" …

Barbara: …"Shed his own blood for my soul."

Bob: That's right, "It is well with my soul."

Dennis: And let's go ahead and finish it.

Barbara: Oh, the third one's my favorite.

Dennis: Go ahead and do it then.

Barbara: My sin of the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul."  I love it.

Bob: And then, of course, it ends with that picture of the return of Christ.

Dennis: "O Lord, face the day when the faith shall be sight" …

Bob: "The clouds be rolled back as a scroll, the [Barbara joins in] trumpet shall resound and the Lord [Dennis joins in] shall descent, even so it is well with my soul."                Amen.  Yeah, that's a great song.

Dennis: It is a great hymn.

Bob: Ace, I wanted to ask you about the song that we used to sing that always starts with that trumpet line, you know, "Da-dat-dat-dat-dat – God of our Fathers whose home I" –

Dennis: I'm glad you went to the melody, because I didn't recognize the trumpet.

Bob: Da-da-da-da-da-dat – they didn't do that in your church?

Barbara: Oh, yeah, I love it.

Ace: They must have used kazoos in your church, because that sounded more like kazoos to me.


Bob: Tell us about that song.

Dennis: That was a good one, Ace.

Bob: Yeah, thanks a lot.

Ace: The Reverend Daniel Crane Roberts of Brandon, Vermont, at the St. Thomas Episcopal Church on July 4, 1876 …

Bob: That's the 100th year anniversary.

Ace: The centennial.

Bob: Right.

Ace: Had been asked to organize the town's festivities for the Fourth of July and give the closing address.  He organized an incredible red, white, and blue celebration but, for the life of him, he could not come up with a message or a sermon to give to the community.  The only thing he could come up with was a poem.  The poem he came up with was "God of our Fathers." 

 Well, he decided that rather than saying it, he should sing it.  So he had to find some pre-written music to go with it.  He turned to the Prussian National Anthem.

Bob: Which is always played with kazoos, right?

Ace: Evidently.


 Somehow this deeply spiritual moment is going to be tarnished forever.

Bob: I'm sorry.

Ace: Anyway, they performed in that night on the Prussian National Anthem, and it was so well received, particularly the words.  Now, think of the words, "God of our Fathers, whose almighty hand, leads forth in beauty all the stormy band of shining worlds, and splendor through the skies, of grateful songs before Thy throne arise."  That was the first verse.

 The community loved it, it quickly spread to other communities, and they decided a few years later when celebrating the centennial of the Constitution to sing this song.  But they decided it was inappropriate to celebrate an American commemorative event on a national level with the Prussian National Anthem song, so they invented new music for it and therein comes the trumpet beginning we know today.

 Very well received, and because it was a hymn that was inspired by a very patriotic moment, much more than any other, it is one that we sing a great deal at Thanksgiving that probably is tied directly to country and to God.

Bob: Thanksgiving and then Fourth of July are the two times when I remember hearing that song sung, and it's just one of those, when you hear the trumpet blast, you kind of stand up straighter, and you sing a little louder, don't you?

Dennis: You really do.

Ace: If there's a song that's kind of the "Hallelujah Chorus" of patriotic songs, this may be it.

Dennis: Let's try to get one more real quick.  Let's go with a simple one – "Jesus Loves Me."

Ace: Ah, "Jesus Loves Me" – people do not understand the power of this song until you understand where it came from.  Now, the music was written by a man named Bradbury, who has written so many of our great, great hymns, and he was really the one who discovered it within the body of a bestselling novel.

 Now, the novel was written by a lady that we know today as Susan Warner.  Susan was a novelist whose father was an instructor at Westpoint.  She and her sisters taught Sunday school at Westpoint, and in writing a bestselling novel, "Say and Seal," she needed a poem for a man who was wise to say to a child who was dying – the child was scared, the child was frightened, and so she wrote the poem, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak, but He is strong.  Jesus loves me, He will stay close beside me all the way.  Thou hast died and bled for me, I will henceforth live for Thee."

 This little boy, therefore, had his way to heaven paved by these words of faith.  Bradbury, like millions of other Americans at the time, read the novel, was so overcome by the little part of the novel, that he set it to music and added the verse, "Yes, Jesus loves me; Yes, Jesus loves me; Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."

 During the Civil War it was said – and this is just a decade later – it was said that men from both side of the camps would sit down at night when they didn't fight, around the campfires, and you could hear both sides singing this song more than any other song during the Civil War.

 So picture this now – it was not originally a song where it was embraced by this country but rather a song of men fighting a Civil War, reminded every night in the midst of the bloody battles that even when man was being so inhumane to man that Jesus still loved them.

Dennis: You know, that's powerful, and these hymns that we've been celebrating here all this week are just a great reminder as we move toward the holidays beginning with Thanksgiving, which I think is America's finest holiday.  In fact, Bob, Barbara and I were in South Africa earlier this fall, and as we were interacting with some of the Afrikaans people who had had a chance to come to America and live here for a year, they actually remarked about our Thanksgiving holiday and said, "You know, as South Africans, we do not have a similar holiday that unites us as a nation." 

 And they went on to talk about how they were envious of us, as a country, that we had a day that we have marked on our calendar when families gather together to celebrate God's goodness for the past year, and I think sometimes as a nation, we forget the great spiritual heritage that we have, and it takes this holiday to really take us back and cause us to celebrate what God's done.

Bob: And, Barbara, you think of the Fourth of July as a national holiday where we declared our independence, it doesn't have the same spiritual root that Thanksgiving has, does it?

Barbara: It doesn't.  And it doesn't have the same ability to draw families together.  There is something about Thanksgiving that is profoundly a family time.  It's a time to celebrate family faith and freedom, and so for our family, when we gather together, we remember what God has done in our lives, and we share that with one another and celebrate that.

 And the Thanksgiving holiday in America is such a wonderful opportunity for us to do that; for us to be a grateful people and to express gratitude to God for what He has done.

Ace: And let's not forget, either, that Thanksgiving was founded in the midst of the Civil War.  That's when it was recognized as a holiday, and it was a time when families were separated.  It was a time when probably very few people were thankful for much of anything because there was such a tragic loss of life, and yet it is seemingly, in the times where we've lost the most – be it Civil War, be in 9/11, and other times – that we realize how blessed we have been to have what we have had.

Bob: And I think when you stop and rehearse the story of Thanksgiving, when you read through your book with your family and remember the hardship that led to the birth of this country, and then you reflect on your lives and say, "What do we have to be thankful for?"  The first thing you recognize is you haven't been through anything like these folks went through.

Barbara: That's right.

Bob: And so we can be thankful just that we have enjoyed comforts that these people never knew, and then anything you have been through begins to pale.

Barbara: That's right.

Bob: And you begin to realize what the Bible calls "light and momentary afflictions," we sometimes blow out of proportion.

Dennis: And, you know, it takes a combination of both written stories like Barbara has done in her book and also stories about hymns that have inspired us for – well, in some cases, as a nation, for decades.  And I just appreciate, Ace, your work on this book, "Stories Behind the Hymns that Inspire America."  I just appreciate your integrity to go after the details despite Mr. Know-it-All attempting to undermine your work.  You've really done …

Bob: … you've persevered.

Dennis: You have persevered.  Thanks for being on FamilyLife Today, and I hope you'll come back and see us again.

Ace: We will, and I think this holiday, when we count our blessings, really is a holiday that is a spiritual holiday that we all can embrace much more than anyone else as Americans.

Bob: Well, and to keep our focus in that direction, it helps to have a copy of your book, because I think, as you know, the stories behind some of those songs you sing, it helps you reflect on the God who inspired these hymns.  Or when you get a copy of Barbara's book, "Thanksgiving, A Time to Remember."  Once again, it inspires you to worship the God who was being worshiped by these settlers in the U.S. some 400 years ago.

 We've got copies of both of these books available in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Barbara's book is available both as an audio book, a dramatized audio book and as a hardback book, and both versions include a music CD with 16 mostly instrumental arrangements of hymns that you can just pop in and have playing in the background all through the Thanksgiving season.

 There's more information about all of these resources on our website,  Go to the home page, click the red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go," and that will take you right to the site where you can get more information about these resources, and we can get them out to you in time for Thanksgiving so that you can use them with your family to help celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday this year.

 Now, tomorrow we are going to continue to focus on thoughts about Thanksgiving.  We're going to be joined by a professor of history and a writer of historical fiction, Jack Cavanaugh and Dr. Ruth Tucker are going to join us, and we're going to hear about what life was like in pilgrim America, back almost 400 years ago.  I hope you can be with us as we share that tomorrow.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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