Saturday, January 31, 2015

Living By Faith -- James Wells and Robert Emmett Winsett

One of these names and his biography are virtually anonymous, and while the other is more well known, his temperament made him more or less an introvert. Did they know one another…perhaps? They certainly shared something theologically and musically, as they both contributed some thoughts about “Living By Faith” in the early 20th Century. James Wells wrote three-quarters of the song’s message, one of how to live terrestrially, and Robert Emmett Winsett added a verse to coax us to look beyond this earth, to see the end (perhaps not unlike how Michelangelo did in The Last Judgment, shown here).   As people, Wells and Winsett may have been in the shadows, but what this tandem says is not hidden, revealing that they identified with what I and every other person face – how to manage a life filled with challenge and a certain conclusion.

James Wells is about all that is known of the primary composer of “Living…”. I’ll have to be satisfied with just his name, the only facet of him that saves him from complete anonymity.  Or is there more that we can know? On the other hand, Winsett’s name is accompanied by well-known details that show this Tennessee native had a music education, wrote up to 1,000 songs in his lifetime, operated music publishing enterprises, and contributed the fourth verse to “Living by Faith” in 1918 when he was 42 and probably living with his first wife and family in Arkansas. Yet, it’s said that Winsett kept to himself somewhat, socially outgoing mostly at church singing events. The bookish Winsett enjoyed solitude in the woods with God, or in his study. We know nothing of the circumstances of how four verses came into being from the hands and thoughts of Wells and Winsett, yet their words are windows through which I can dimly peer. Wells’ words suggest he was a confident believer, yet not one with rose-colored glasses. Tempests, storm clouds, rain, shadows, overcast skies, and evils…these were conditions in Wells’ three verses that indicate he knew them well, yet he treats them as asides, nuisances to the main storyline – God overcomes. The middle-aged Winsett consummates the thoughts begun by Wells with the rapture…a believer’s buoyancy here on earth will be rewarded when He comes and takes home the saved. So we have one fellow (Wells) who was examining how to manage the temporal, or rather how to vault over it, through it, or around it. The other fellow (Winsett) had his mind’s eye on the finish line, a character trait he probably nurtured through countless hours in the woods or in his study with the Savior. Which way works best?

“Living By Faith” shows it was Wells and Winsett who decided that both ways they emphasize could inhabit the same life. I must decide which verses of “Living…” resonate most loudly for me from day-to-day. There are times when I do feel I’ve met a challenge successfully, and I let out a little cheer for His Providence. Thank you, James Wells. Other things linger, however, and gnaw at my conscience or my physical well-being.  I respond by glimpsing the pinprick of light at the far end, a steady presence that seems to be growing. Thank Robert Emmett Winsett for this vision-reminder. It may be that the urgent (today) or the important (certain future) call out at the same time…whaddya think?    

See here for biographic information on one of song’s composers:
See only very scant information on primary composer here:

See all four verses of the hymn here:


gospelsinger97 said...

Thank you for your research and comments about this song. I thought this was written in 1932. I will update my info. May the Lord bless you as you continue to Blog!

Unknown said...

Thanks for this information. Very inspiring .