Sunday, 18 October 2009

Before the Throne of God above

Hymns written by Ulster hymnwriters are part of our literary heritage and this morning at church we sang an Ulster hymn which has become very popular in recent years.

Before the Throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace,
One in Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased by His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Saviour and my God!

Before the Throne of God above was written by Charitie Lees Smith, who was born on 21 June 1841 and was the daughter of Rev George Sidney Smith. At the time he was minister of Colebrook parish church in the Church of Ireland parish of Aghalurcher and the family lived in Ardunshin House, near Brookeborough, county Fermanagh.

The hymn was written in 1863, just four years after the 1859 Ulster revival, and it was originally entitled The Advocate.

In 1867 Charitie’s father moved to a parish in Tyrone and the family lived at Tattyreagh, Omagh. Meanwhile Charitie continued to write Christian verse and in 1867 she published a volume entitled Within the Veil. Her hymns appeared in Lyra Britannica and in Bishop J C Ryle’s Spiritual Songs, as well as other collections and leaflets.

Charitie married Arthur Bancroft, from Liverpool, in 1869 at a wedding ceremony in Edinburgh. Records of her life are rather scarce but it seems that she was widowed twice and she died in Oakland, California, on 20 June 1923. During her lifetime she composed several hundred hymns and several of them remain in common use but the best known is Before the Throne of God above.

A few years ago an American named Vikki Cook produced a new tune for the hymn and this has resulted in its new popularity. Many of those who hear it think that it is a new hymn but the words are almost 150 years old and the author was an Ulster hymnwriter.

Charitie Lees Smith is just one of our Ulster hymnwriters and there are many more who were either born in Ulster or were part of the Ulster diaspora.  They are a neglected part of our literary heritage and deserve to be recognised, studied and valued.

1 comment:

  1. A lovely hymn Nelson. I had always thought it was a modern one and as such one of the very few modern hymns I like. I can now safely continue to regard the vast majority of modern hymns as useless. I presume this is because the poor modern hymns have not yet been forgotten about unlike the poor older ones.