It’s hard to believe, since this hymn has been sung for so many years, and one almost doesn’t need the words in front of the eyes to sing it, but Fanny Crosby’s hymn “To God Be the Glory” was not well-known in American churches for the first 80 years after it was written. What? Hard to believe, huh, especially since it’s listed as one of her most popular, according to Wikipedia. She wrote this song in probably 1872, but the first English-speakers to adopt and sing it widely were British Christians. Perhaps it was because she was so prolific – consequently, many hymnbook publishers were uncomfortable with Crosby’s songs being so prevalent and actually avoided some of her creations. What was it in 1872 that made Crosby compose this tune? The short answer is ‘we don’t know’, but Crosby was renowned for her positive, eternity-inspired outlook on life, despite being blind. And, Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody were heading for England for an evangelism campaign. Their trip and Crosby’s talent combined, and as the historian says, ‘now, you know the rest of the story’.
I submit that maybe there’s more to discover, and I plan to ask her this in heaven! Did Fanny know about other news events of the time? Would they have affected her, as today’s news stories affect us? Fanny Crosby was a New Yorker, so in 1872 she might have heard about the Great Epizootic epidemic, a mosquito-borne virus outbreak that killed a large portion of the nation’s horses, especially in urban areas. Besides felling the horses, the disease virtually incapacitated cities, which heavily depended on horse-power for basic services. Historians indicate it so damaged the American economy that it helped precipitate the Panic of 1873, a depression that lasted for six years. Yellowstone National Park, a great creative wonder of God’s hand, was established that year (see the picture of Yellowstone River above). On the other hand, the Credit Mobilier scandal, a scheme by railroad men to defraud the government and the general public, was evidence of evil’s endurance in the world. The federal government granted amnesty to 150,000 Civil War combatants, allowing them to vote once again – an act of grace. Conversely, the U.S. government sued our British cousins - - no grace given here -- for damages, claiming that they had covertly assisted the Confederates (including with a warship named the Alabama) during the Civil War. Finally, 1872 also saw Ulysses Grant re-elected president, and one could speculate that Crosby might have known the Grants, since she played one of her songs,"Safe in the Arms of Jesus" at his funeral 13 years later. So Fanny might have heard plenty that was a reminder of God and His power and grace, but also lots that probably made her yearn for the afterlife, too.
It’s really interesting to step into the time machine, and wonder what was going through Fanny Crosby’s mind in 1872. And, thank God American relations with our British friends didn’t ride on the Alabama claims court case! Ira Sankey and Dwight Moody, with one of Fanny Crosby’s songs, helped promote a different relationship the following year. Eighty years later, Billy Graham re-discovered Fanny’s song during his own campaign in Britain, and brought it back to the U.S., where it had started several generations before. It makes me wonder if there are more of her songs that many of us have never sung. Probably so, right? Discovering something new about someone who’s so amazing already is like taking a sip from an ocean of fresh water…there’s just no way on earth I’ll ever be able to completely appreciate her talent. And, the same goes for God. Ah, something more to look forward to in heaven.
Information on Fanny Crosby’s story obtained from “Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotion”, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990, and from “The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2006.
See also the following websites: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Crosby