Saturday, November 5, 2016
Take the Name of Jesus with You -- Lydia Baxter
It was a time when she felt like giving away some advice, as she lay sick in bed in the New York City area. (Check out the picture here of NYC that the composer may have seen in the mid-1800s on one of her better days.) That might be the best way to describe in one sentence what motivated 61-year old Lydia Baxter to recommend a course of action to those she knew. “Take the Name of Jesus with You”, she said in 1870, just a few years before she went to be with Him. That adds some poignancy to what she wrote, knowing that she may have been sensing the mortality she clung to was near its conclusion. How might she have felt, given that her life had been a long struggle? Was this a gasp of pain that she uttered, a fight that drew others to her side to commiserate with her? Or, was it wisdom from a deep well that few others could access themselves, drawing their curiosity?
From all accounts, it appears that Lydia Baxter had grown accustomed to her physical shortcomings by the time she’d lived three-score years in the New York area. She was used to being flat on her back, a sickly body confining her to a life largely prostrate. But her attitude about this state of affairs was not typical, and perhaps that was what most attracted others to her. Cheerfulness was Lydia’s calling card, or perhaps more accurately what others who called upon her could depend on discovering when they greeted her. Had she discovered some sort of happiness potion? If she was ever so asked directly, she might have answered ‘yes, the potion’s name is Jesus’. Baxter was well-known as a seeker of names, especially Biblical ones that bore some special meaning in the message to God’s people. You think maybe she might have researched her namesake’s impact on others, and responded as that 1st Century Philippian woman did when met by Paul (Acts 16:13-15) – with generosity and thankfulness? The 19th Century Lydia certainly knew many other names and their significance, but one moniker outranked all the others in her mind. That she wrote four verses about this name to capture what was deep inside her tells us she had not just thrown down gaily what she felt, however. No, it’s said that Lydia often told others that His name was what kept her spirits up when her condition would have otherwise made her dejected. The four verses she composed tell us she had used His name in various ways to gird her spirit. He’s much more than a one-trick God, she implies. This God is worth my endurance, worth my tolerance of bedsores, worth it for me to tediously stare at the same scenery from my bed for many days, over a stretch of 60 years. From Lydia’s vantage point, you think she was casually throwing around Jesus’ name?
No, just read her words, and one can see Lydia used his name for many powerful reasons. Like anyone whose own body has become the enemy, Lydia used His name when she needed sympathy (v.1) to soothe her misery. But, she got so much more, as well. She warded off wrongdoing (v.2), experienced enthusiasm (v.3), and worshipped in expectation of the next life (v.4). This multifaceted God was more than a hand-holder for Lydia when she felt pathetic. He imputed to her energy, and it showed to the many who visited her. They got something from her when they sat next to her bed. It—or rather, He--was just something she was letting flow through herself to anyone else who bothered to take notice. Have you taken notice of Him, lately?
See more information on the song story in these sources: The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen, Tyndale House Publishers, 2006; Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1990; and 101 More Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985.