The Story Behind the Hymn: Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
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The hymns of the Christian church inspire us as we sing them in seasons of praise, prayer, and affirmation of major doctrines of the faith.
Stories behind the hymns draw us into the lives of the writers and composers, and leave us with solemn admiration and profound respect for their talent and faithful endurance. Because of my unabated interest in these stories I picked up a book recently; Robert J. Morgan’s ‘Then Sings My Soul: Book 2’ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004). Sure enough one of my favourite hymnists, Fanny Crosby is featured.
I love to preach on the theme of the cross of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the axis of salvation, the climax of the cosmic conflict between good and evil. So Fanny Crosby’s ‘Near the Cross’ is a favourite of mine.
Her writing career flowered at a school for the blind in New York where she received acclaim as a poet. Then on November 20, 1850 at Thirtieth Street Methodist Church she went forward to the altar and found Christ as her Saviour. The congregation was singing Isaac Watts’ great hymn about the cross:
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day
Morgan continues his narrative:
Shortly thereafter, Fanny turned her poetic skills to hymn writing, and many of her songs focused on the theme of the cross, such as “At the Cross, There’s Room”, “Blessed Cross”, “Room at the Cross”, “Save Me at the Cross”, and this one, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross”. It was composed after Cincinnati businessman William Doane gave her a melody he had written. Fanny, listening to it, felt it said, “Jesus keep me near the cross,” and she promptly wrote the words.
Jesus, keep me near the cross;
there a precious fountain,
free to all, a healing stream,
flows from Calvary's mountain.
In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
love and mercy found me;
there the bright and morning star
sheds its beams around me.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
bring its scenes before me;
help me walk from day to day
with its shadow o'er me.
Near the cross I'll watch and wait,
hoping, trusting ever,
till I reach the golden strand
just beyond the river.