Safe in the Arms of JesusMarch 17, 2011
Not very long ago I was asked what was my favourite hymn, and on other such occasions I paused in case I’d had a change of mind. The pause, however, was short as it has so impressed me since Sunday School days. Yes it is “Safe in the Arms of Jesus”, one of Mrs Frances Jane Van Alstyne’s great hymns. She is also well known by her maiden name of Fanny Crosby.
To say she was versatile and hard-working is a great understatement. She was blinded at only six weeks old when a warm poultice was wrongly applied to her eyes. Eventually educated at a specialist school for the blind, she married a musician who was also unsighted. As a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York she became interested in hymn writing, after some success with producing a variety of popular –usually sentimental- songs.
Such though, was the demand for hymns in the middle of nineteenth century America, as well as in the UK , that a New York firm worked with her to produce three hymns a week every year for a given period and she managed to honour the contract without difficulty.
As well as serving the more main stream churches she wrote further hymns for more evangelistic collections, including Ira Sankey of Moody and Sankey fame.
The hymn was in our Church Hymnary-Revised Edition (1929) along with two others by the same writer. “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” was next dropped by CH3 but we were given another inspired and inspiring hymn in the form of “To God be the Glory” (Hy374)
By the time CH4 was introduced, “To God be the Glory” was accompanied by “Blessed Assurance” and I often wonder why it took so long for these two hymns to be introduced in Kirks.
However, “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” (707 in the Revised Church Hymnary as I still remember from Sunday School and Bible Class days of yesteryear remains my favourite.)
On returning home from National service in 1956 I spent two short spells at a camp for underprivileged children and young folk. After evening prayers popular hymns were chosen by the children, and invariably that hymn was requested and sung without great skill but with great gusto and feeling! I too was smitten by it, particularly the final verse and chorus.
But in what particular circumstances was it written? Mrs Astyne was in a room in her New York home one day when a very musical acquaintance called with a fine nameless tune he had composed and requested suitable words. He played the melody to her on a small organ and her immediate reaction was – “that tune says, safe in the arms of Jesus”. She slipped through to another room for barely half an hour, appeared with these fine words and that hymn and the tune “Refuge” combined to produce what I would deem a masterpiece.
V3 Jesus, my heart’s dear refuge,
Jesus has died for me;
Firm on the rock of Ages
Ever my trust will be.
Here let me wait with patience
Wait till the night is o’er
Wait till I see the morning
Break on the golden shore.
Safe in the arms of Jesus
Safe on his gentle breast
There by his love o’ershaded
Sweetly my soul shall rest.