PODCAST: Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior (History Behind the Hymns #7 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #7

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Psalm 61:1-2 which reads: “Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from James B. Torrance. He said: “Man is never more truly man than when he worships God.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Charles Spurgeon. He said: “You may fear that the Lord has passed you by, but it is not so: he who counts the stars, and calls them by their names, is in no danger of forgetting his own children. He knows your case as thoroughly as if you were the only creature he ever made, or the only saint he ever loved. Approach him and be at peace.”

Our hymn for today is “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior” by Fanny J. Crosby. It reads:

Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief;
Kneeling there in deep contrition,
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me;
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heaven but Thee?

Savior, Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

Fanny Jane Crosby “set the standard for the ‘successful’ writing of gospel hymns,” according to UM Hymnal editor Carlton R. Young. She was the author of over 8,500 gospel songs.

Blind at six weeks of age, Crosby began composing texts at age 6. She began her study at age 12 at the New York School for the Blind, a school she later served as a teacher. A friend of several presidents, Crosby became one of the most important advocates for the cause of the blind in the United States, addressing a session of Congress on the topic.

Her texts were set to the compositions of some of the most prominent gospel composers of the day including William Bradbury, William Doane, Robert Lowry and Ira Sankey. Crosby composed under a number of pen names. She married blind musician Alexander Van Alstyne, and British hymnals insist on using her married name, Frances Van Alstyne.

“Pass me not” first appeared in Songs of Devotion for Christian Associations (1870), a collection compiled by William H. Doane. The late hymnologist William J. Reynolds discovered that the inspiration for this hymn was the result of a visit to a prison by the poet during spring 1868. He notes: “After she had spoken and some of her hymns had been sung, she heard one of the prisoners cry out in a pleading voice, ‘Good Lord, do not pass me by’; Following Doane’s suggestion, she wrote a hymn that evening incorporating the line, “Pass me not, O gentle Savior.”

The hymn gained international recognition when introduced by Dwight L. Moody and Ira D. Sankey during their London revivals. According to Dr. Young, “This is Crosby’s first hymn to win worldwide acclaim.”

The text would seem to have a biblical basis on the blind beggars’ plea to Christ: “And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David”.

“The hymn has been rightly criticized for its faulty exegesis,” says Dr. Young. “It is contrary to the scriptural account to suggest that Jesus Christ, God’s universal gift of salvation, could, should, would—and in this instance did—pass anyone by. These complaints were exacerbated, not diminished, when the poet changed the refrain from ‘while on others thou art smiling’ to ‘while on others thou art calling.’”

Crosby, a lifelong Methodist, demonstrates in other hymns that she is aware that God’s grace is given to all. Note, for example, Crosby’s hymn, “To God be the glory” where the author concludes the first stanza with: “[Christ] yielded his life an atonement for sin,/and opened the life gate that all may go in.” The universality of the Gospel was at the core of her faith and songs.

Gospel songs are not known for theological subtlety, and on occasion, skirt the edges of heresy to make a personal point. It is likely that the plea of the prisoner in Manhattan conflated with the passage of Scripture, distorting the nuance of the biblical message. Indeed, many suffering souls have been passed.

Putting herself in the place of the suffering and disregarded, Crosby understood that some had been so rejected that it took faith to realize that Christ is the one who would never pass anyone by. His actions in so many cases bore witness that he cared for those forgotten by others including women, Samaritans and lepers, to name a few, who were deemed to be outcasts in their day.

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by Robert Robinson.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.