THIS is a very popular hymn, but for many decades after it was written it was fairly obscure. It was not until it was taken up by the Billy Graham Crusades that it achieved worldwide fame.
The lyrics were by Frances ‘Fanny’ Crosby (1820-1915). She was an extraordinarily prolific hymn writer, with about 9,000 to her name. In fact music publishers were so concerned that so many hymns were by the same writer that they assigned her dozens of pseudonyms. I found a list and they include: Mrs. A. E. Andrews, James L. Black, Henrietta E. Blair, Charles Bruce, Robert Bruce, Leah Carlton, Eleanor Craddock, Lyman G. Cuyler, Ella Dare, Mrs. Ellen Douglass, Lizzie Edwards, Miss Grace Elliot, Grace J. Frances, Victoria Frances, Jennie Garnett, Frank Gould, Frances Hope, Annie L. James, Martha J. Lankton, Grace Lindsey, Maud Marion, Sallie Martin, Wilson Meade, Alice Monteith, Martha C. Oliver, Mrs. N. D. Plume, Kate Smiley, Sallie Smith, J. L. Sterling, John Sterling, Anna C. Storey, Ida Scott Taylor, Mary R. Tilden, Mrs. J. B. Thresher, Hope Tryaway, Grace Trueman and Carrie M. Wilson.
Crosby also wrote more than 1,000 poemsand had four books of poetry published, as well as two best-selling autobiographies. Additionally, she wrote popular, political and patriotic songs and at least five cantatas on biblical and patriotic themes.
Her output is all the more amazing considering that she was blind, possibly as the result of incorrect treatment of an eye infection six weeks after her birth in village of Brewster, about 50 miles north of New York City.
Her first composition came when she was eight, and in later years she said it had been the motto of her life:
‘O what a happy soul am I!
Although I cannot see,
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.’
At the age of 15 she was given a scholarship to the New York Institution for the Blind. As well as the usual academic subjects she learned to sew and knit, yet did not master Braille. After she graduated she became a teacher of English grammar, rhetoric and American history at the institution.
During this time she learned to play the guitar, the piano and the organ, and became a noted harpist. She was the first woman to speak before the Senate, on the subject of the education of the blind, and later before a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives. She became a friend to several presidents and stayed in the White House several times.
Her capacity for work was incredible and she would often write six or seven hymns a day. Her poems and hymns were composed entirely in her head and she worked on as many as twelve at once before dictating them to an amanuensis, as Crosby herself could write little more than her name.
While at the NYIB, Crosby met Alexander van Alstyne Jr, known as ‘Van’.He also was blind and, like her, first a student then a teacher at the institution. They married in 1858, when Crosby was 38. According to the NYIB’s rules, she had to give up her job.
The next year the couple had a daughter whom they named Frances. She died soon after birth. Crosby never spoke publicly about being a mother, except to say in her oral biography towards the end of her life: ‘God gave us a tender babe and soon the angels came down and took our infant up to God and His throne.’
After a few years the couple separated and mostly lived apart, but they remained in contact and even ministered together. Crosby was described as having a ‘horror of wealth’ and often refused payment for her work. If she was paid (often receiving only a dollar or two per hymn or poem) she gave it away at once, and lived in considerable poverty.
She died at Bridgeport, Connecticut, at the age of 94. At her request, her small tombstone in the town’s cememtery carried the words: ‘Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could; Fanny J Crosby’. A more elaborate stone was put in place later.
She wrote To God Be the Glory in about 1872, with a tune by her long-time collaborator William Howard Doane, who was a wealthy American industrialist as well as composer. These are the words:
1 To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life gate that we may go in.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thro’ Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he has done!
2 O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To ev’ry believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives. [Refrain]
3 Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see. [Refrain]
It was first published in 1875 in Lowry and Doane’s song collection Brightest and Best but failed to achieve wide recognition and was included in very few hymnals. In 1954 Cliff Barrows, song leader for Billy Graham, was handed a copy with the suggestion that it be added to the song book for the London Crusade. From then on he used it regularly, which led it to become popular round the world.
It was sung at Billy Graham’s funeral in 2018:
I found this lovely old recording of Billy Pollard on the piano:
Here is a modern, upbeat version by Tommy Walker.
I love this one by Rodney Jantzi:
Finally, a spine-tingling performance of an arrangement by Daniel Solberg at Mountainbrook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.