I admit it’s been a slow year. I’ve not posted as frequently the past few months as I’d planned. However, here’s an idea for these spaces of weeks-at-a-time between lights4god biographies: revisit a few of your favorite posts or discover some you haven’t yet read.

300 years in 4 years

I’ve tried to highlight some of the best Christian lives of the 1700s-1900s. By birth year my posts have spanned from Jonathan Edwards (1703) to Andrae Crouch (1942).  There are 77 stalwart Christians altogether. If you were to read one biographical post per week, there are enough missionaries and evangelists, authors and hymn writers, business leaders and other social change agents to inspire you once a week for a year and a half.

Quick reference database

Here are four suggestions for quickly knowing who’s here and how to sort through the biographies.

  • Birthdate Timeline. The “Pages” link is your access to the timeline. All 77 biographies are listed in chronological order by century. You’ll find exactly whose story is available and when each was born in relation to all the others. Interesting fact: some of the great Christian leaders were born in the same year (two in 1838, only two days apart) Four of the spiritual influences were born in a single year—1912.
  • Category Cloud. The category cloud on the right side of every post lists areas of ministry each Christian leader represents.  The word “author” is largest because 32 of the men and women wrote books. Some, like C. S. Lewis and Catherine Marshall, were known as authors. Others, like John Newton and David Wilkerson, are identified primarily for other avenues of ministry. There are a dozen categories in the cloud.
  • Specialty posts. You can find posts covering more than one person at a time via the search box near the top, right hand side of every page. I believe you’ll be inspired by “40 Favorite Quotes” (taken from 23 individuals). Other searchable theme posts include “Bible-Translating Missionaries,” “8 Wonderful Salvation Stories”  (Parts I & II), “Lights for God in World War II,” “Five Missionaries Who Served China,” and “The British Invasion of Christian Faith.”
  • Keep searching. Try dates, countries, and various topics as key words. You’ll get a list of posts if you type “prayer” or “baptism” in the search bar. A number of the men and women I’ve included taught Sunday School or worked for the Salvation Army. Go ahead, experiment with the search bar.

I hope you’ll do some exploring. Let the 77 people who were outstanding lights for God inspire you more thoroughly today.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


Born JULY 1, 1942

Andrae Crouch. Image: Sparrow Records (2003)

Andrae Crouch. Image: Sparrow Records (2003)

A young Andrae Crouch had strong romantic feelings for a female who sang in his group. During three days of ministry at a church in California, he purchased an engagement ring.

To his surprise, the young lady didn’t show up the first and second nights of services. On the third evening, she appeared, overflowing with joy. She announced that a man she loved had proposed to her.

It wasn’t Andrae.

Someone had beat him to it. Recovering from that experience led Andrae to write the song, “Through it All.”

Here’s Andrae singing “Through it All”:

Andrae Crouch left this life on January 8, 2015. By then, he’d learned to trust God through plenty. As a child, he’d stuttered and was dyslexic. God helped him overcome those limitations. As an adult, Andrae’s devotion to creating scripture-based, Christian music with a contemporary sound earned him four Dove Awards, seven Grammy Awards, and the title “the father of modern gospel music.”

Andrae Took the Message Seriously

Andrae’s father, Benjamin Crouch, made a deal with God. The Los Angeles street preacher was asked to fill in at a Church an hour from where they lived. He prayed, “If you will give Andrae the gift of playing the piano, I will be a full-time minister.”

Image by Wendy Darling.

Image by Wendy Darling.

During a service three weeks later, Andrae’s father asked his 11-year-old son to come to the piano. Andrae sat on the piano bench and listened to the congregation sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” He searched for the right notes. He began to play. For the next sixty-one years Andrae praised God with piano music.

When Andrae was fourteen, he attended a Memorial Day cookout. To the young teen’s horror, some of the guests, including church choir members, were not acting in ways he believed honored Jesus Christ. It made Andrae cry.

That episode also strengthened Andrae’s own personal commitment. He sat at a piano in the house and told God he’d love to write Christian songs. He noticed a different backyard sight that inspired him. He saw someone pouring a red sauce onto the meat on the grill. It reminded him of Jesus’ blood. Sitting at the piano, he wrote the song “The Blood Will Never Lose it’s Power.”

Blood dropThe first verse celebrates with the lyrics, “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary, the blood that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.”

Here’s Andrae Crouch and the Disciples singing “The Blood Will Never Lose it’s Power”:

Andrae Took the Message Around the World

In 1965, Andrae formed a gospel music group called the Disciples. His twin sister, Sandra, joined the group in 1970.  The Disciples released their first album, Take the Message Everywhere, in 1971 on Light Records.

Andrae Crouch and the Disciples: Keep On Singing. Image by Light Records.

Andrae Crouch and the Disciples: Keep On Singing. Image by Light Records.

Their second album, Keep On Singing, included the song “My Tribute.” Andrae wrote it in response to a phone call from a former Teen Challenge student he’d helped when he worked a few months for that ministry. The young man suggested Andrae read John chapter 17. Andrae awoke the next day singing a phrase from that chapter: “To God be the glory.” He wrote the rest of the single-verse song and its chorus within a ten minute period. Elvis Presley chose another song from that album, “I’ve Got Confidence,” for his 1972 album He Touched Me.

That same year, Andrae Crouch and the Disciples were among the Christian singers featured at Explo ’72, hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ. Thereafter, they frequently appeared at Jesus festivals.

Andrae began a solo career while continuing to tour with the Disciples. Together, they appeared at Carnegie Hall and toured around the world. During that time, some of Andrae’s songs began appearing in hymnals.

A Grammy Award.  [Photo by Dave Gomez.]

A Grammy Award.
[Photo by Dave Gomez.]

Lives were being touched. The awards began coming in 1975. The first was a Grammy Award for the song “Take Me Back.” Andrae’s first Grammy Award for a solo album was  in 1979 for “I’ll be Thinking of You.” He entered the 1980s with a full-time solo career.

Along with four other Grammy Awards, Andrae received four Dove Awards between 1980 and 1994. In 1997, Tribute: The Songs of Andrae Crouch, recorded by leading Christian singers of that decade, won a Grammy Award. The Gospel Music Association inducted Andrae into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998.

Andrae Took the Message Beyond the Church

God opened doors for Andrae that hadn’t opened for other Christians. In 1972, the Disciples were invited  to sing on Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. In 1980, he appeared as a musical guest on the TV show Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters.

Non-believers in the music and film community contacted Andrae. He wrote music for the 1985 motion picture, The Color Purple, for which he received an Oscar nomination. In 1986, Andrae wrote the theme for the T.V. show, Amen. He was tapped for his expertise on, among other musical projects, Michael Jackson’s 1987 social conscience song, Man in the Mirror. His choral arrangements appear in the 1994 animated film, The Lion King.

Some of Andrae’s longtime fans saw his secular efforts as a compromise rather than as a positive witness. But he didn’t turn to writing songs that betrayed his convictions. The messages of the songs he sang always maintained strong Biblical themes.

The last ten years of Andrae’s life, he and his twin sister, Sandra, assumed dual pastorship of the New Christ Memorial Church of God in Pacoima, California. It’s the church their father had founded and pastored until his death.

Here’s a list of Andrae’s best-loved songs not already linked to Youtube.

  LET ME KNOW:  How has Andrae’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


Posted in Hymn writer | Leave a comment


(Some outstanding Christian leaders who’ve made a difference in helping the helpless)

Compassion ministries have always been a hallmark of Christianity. Jesus told His initial followers to feed the hungry, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and visit those who were imprisoned and those who were ill (Matthew 25:34-40). Successive generations of Christians have built upon the foundation of our Lord’s words and His example of selfless service.

This post highlights five stories of ministry leaders who championed individual causes for the needy. They became voices for the abolishment of the slave trade, for prison reform, for rescuing drug addicts, and for providing for the poor. There was a day in each of their lives when they crossed a line of no return in their commitment to compassion.


Human beings taken against their will.          [PD-1923]

Human beings taken against their will.

William had a privileged upbringing, after which he pursued politics and, at age 21, won a seat in
Parliament. Following his spiritual conversion he visited former slave trader turned Christian pastor, John Newton. Mr. Newton helped the young politician see his position as a role God could use.

Further prayer led William to establish a mission statement for his life. He followed that course, committed to using his status for causes that honored Jesus Christ. While crusading for improvements in society, William gave a quarter of his yearly income to the causes he espoused.

His greatest campaign was a lifelong fight to abolish England’s slave trade. Annually, William proposed anti-slavery bills to Parliament. His hard-fought, decades-long battle ended in the passing of the Emancipation Act a week before his death.

Read more about William’s Christian compassion for society’s needs at

ELIZABETH FRY (1780-1845)

West view of Newgate Prison by George Shepherd-         1784-18621.

West view of Newgate Prison by George Shepherd-

Prisoners didn’t always have rights. The day Elizabeth Fry–who often visited England’s slums to lend Christian aid–stopped at Newgate Prison, she was appalled. The squalid conditions, especially for women prisoners, needed changed.

What drove Elizabeth? Right after her conversion at age 17, she exchanged her bright, fancy clothes for simpler tones and fashion. She forsook her pursuits of pleasure to reach out to the less fortunate.

Elizabeth enlisted a team of Christian women to help her at Newgate. While a volunteer read the Bible to prisoners, Elizabeth taught them social skills, including knitting and sewing. Elizabeth’s acts of service transformed the women. Prison officials took note. They initiated further improvements. Other countries invited Elizabeth to address the need for prison reform within their borders.

You can learn more about Elizabeth’s Christian service at

WILLIAM & CATHERINE BOOTH (1829-1912) (1829-1890)

Image courtesy of Salvation Army USA.

Image courtesy of Salvation Army USA.

Unlike William Wilberforce, William Booth was born into poverty. He eventually met Catherine Mumford and they married in 1855. Ten years later, the Booths moved to East London to serve the poor. Together, they raised up an army of Christians who compassionately reached the needy.

They initially met resistance both outside and inside the church. But they prayed and persisted. With a Biblical military theme, William and Catherine’s work made great advances.

The Salvation Army combined preaching changed lives through Jesus Christ and meeting people’s practical needs. They opened soup kitchens and hostels. They provided job skill training and campaigned against social ills like teenage prostitution. Their vision which has grown to meet other social needs thrives today.

To read a fuller account of the Salvation Army, visit


In the late 1950s, a story in Life magazine about gang violence moved a young pastor to travel to New York. What David Wilkerson saw and experienced there gripped his heart. Prayer led him to resign his church and move to The Big City. He began a ministry to the young men and women controlled by drug addiction. David opened a center in Brooklyn under the title Teen Challenge.

Successes led to churches wanting to support the work. Centers opened in other states. In the early 1970s, the headquarters moved to Texas. Then, during a ministry visit to New York in 1986, David saw the need to return to relocate to New York. He opened Times Square Church in Manhattan, reaching out to those on the street and discipling converts.

David didn’t feel compelled to go to New York just because of a magazine article. It was during one of his prayer times he’d set aside to call on God for guidance. His real turning point was when he instituted those times of prayer in place of time he felt he’d been wasting sitting in front of the television.

Find further details about David Wilkerson and Teen Challenge here:

MILLARD FULLER (1935-2009)

Habitat for Humanity at Fremont Fair 2207.           Photo by Jmabel.

Habitat for Humanity at Fremont Fair 2207.
Photo by Jmabel.

Millard experienced the thrill of becoming a millionaire by age 30. But his wealth meant nothing  when his wife, Linda, threatened to leave him. Millard returned to faith and they reconciled. When he told Linda he thought they should give their wealth away, she agreed.

In 1976, they started a ministry to provide affordable housing that they called Habitat for Humanity. The organization set a goal: Build one million homes for the needy. It met that goal in 2005. After leading Habitat for Humanity for 29 years, Millard resigned to form a new ministry. He headed the Fuller Center for Housing until his death in 2009.

Millard learned that life is not about gaining wealth, that an important part of a Jesus-minded life includes using the resources God gives you to represent Jesus to those in need.

To learn more about Millard’s life and ministry philosophy, connect here:


Posted in Social change agent, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Born MARCH 31, 1874

Thoro Harris. [PD-1923]

Thoro Harris. [PD-1923]

He wrote hundreds of Christian songs. He published hundreds of other songs he didn’t write. Thoro Harris was one of the most prolific African-American hymn writers of the early 2oth century. Since the 1930s his compositions have been consistently selected for publication in hymnals of various denominations.

Thoro was born in Washington D.C. to a father who was a black doctor and a mother who was white. He attended col­lege in Bat­tle Creek, Mi­chi­gan. Afterwards, Thoro moved to Bos­ton, Mass­a­chusetts where, in 1902, he produced the first of many hymnals. Since not many episodes from his life are available, this post will give more attention to the content of some of Thoro’s most enduring songs.


The first song below represents Thoro’s most repeated theme: our relationship with Jesus. The second one is an outstanding example of his recurring theme of Jesus’ second coming. For variations on those and other themes, check the links I’ve provided.


For a person hearing this song for the first time, the final verse introduces the way into the life that Jesus said He came to give “more abundantly” (John 10:10): “Come to Him believing, Hearken to His call; All from Him receiving, Yield to Him your all; Jesus will accept you When to Him you flee; He will grant His blessing more abundantly.”

The first verse asks the listener very directly if they’re actually living the abundant life. It tells how to be certain as a believer to live life to the fullest. It says, “Are you trusting Jesus, All along the way? Does He grow more precious To your heart each day? Are you His disciple? Test His Word and see, He will give the Spirit more abundantly.”


Queen Liliuokalani [PD-1923]

Queen Liliuokalani [PD-1923]

For this song Thoro borrowed the Hawaiian tune “Aloha Oe,” written by Queen Liliuokalani. The Pacific island flavor especially helps the chorus that’s coupled with Jesus’ words (Mark 13:33-15) to remind us of our destination to a land that surpasses anything here on earth: “He’s coming soon, He’s coming soon; With joy we welcome His returning; It may be morn, it may be night or noon— We know He’s coming soon.”

The final verse echoes I Thessalonians 4:18: “This hope we cherish not in vain, But we comfort one another by this word.”


Other hymn writers have penned lyrics to songs for children. Not many have three that have survived as strongly as the following songs by Thoro.


There are two versions of this song. The first, written shortly before 1900, includes lyrics by C. H. Woolston and a tune by George F. Root. That version begins with the words “Jesus calls the children dear.” Its chorus is today’s most familiar one: “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Red, and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”


Thoro must have felt inspired to write his own version. He and C. H. Woolston are both credited in hymnals in which the songs begins with the line “In the lands beyond the sea Countless million children be.” The chorus also differs by stating “Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world. Little ones are His delight, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”


The chorus concludes with, “Close by His side, I will abide. I love Him better every day.” I’ve always heard it sung by spelling out the last word of each line in the chorus, so that the entire chorus says, “I love Him better every d-a-y. I love Him better every d-a-y.  Close by His s-i-d-e, I will a-b-i-d-e. I love Him better every d-a-y. ” Thoro wrote the verses and Major Sydney Cox of the Salvation Army added the refrain.

“GRUMBLERS” (1929)

This third song from the 1920s bearing Thoro’s name addresses, in a very disarming way, a topic that got the children of Israel into trouble.

Verse one says, “In country town or city, Some people can be found, Who spend their lives in grumbling at everything around. Oh yes, they always grumble, No matter what you say, For these are chronic grumblers, And they grumble night and day.”

The chorus follows with “Oh, they grumble on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday Grumble on
Thursday too Grumble on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Grumble the whole week through.” The remaining verses describe where people grumble, to whom, and about what.


"Gospel Quintet Songs" by Thoro Harris

“Gospel Quintet Songs” by Thoro Harris

A Christian musician named Peter Bilhorn invited Thoro to Chi­ca­go, Il­li­nois. In the windy city, Thoro took a job as an editor at the Glad Tidings Publishing Company, promoting the songs of many other hymn writers through the songbooks he edited. One of his collaborations was adding music to L. B. Tolbert’s words for “Hide Thou Me.”

“HIDE THOU ME” (1926)

The song’s slow, moving tempo sounds more like African-American songs of the 1920s and 1930s, like those of Thomas  Dorsey and others.

Thoro’s music fits the lyrics. Vrese one: “Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my life in vain. I’m tempted then to murmur, and of my lot complain; But when I think of Jesus, and all He’s done for me, Then I cry, O Rock of Ages, hide Thou me.”

From the early 1930s until his death in 1955, Thoro lived in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He became known for his friendliness and for serving as a church organist. He eventually purchased and operated a boarding house known as the Piedmont House. Here’s his most well-known song from that period.


This hymn has survived with strength beyond any of Thoro’s other songs. The chorus boldly proclaims “All that thrills my soul is Jesus; He is more than life to me. And the fairest of ten thousand, In my blessed Lord I see.”

The verses mention reasons for living a Christ-centered life. Key phrases are “Who can cheer the heart like Jesus, By His presence all divine?,” “Love of Christ so freely given, Grace of God beyond degree,” and “Ev’ry need His hand supplying.”

Thoro passed away in Eureka Springs on March 27, 1955 at age 80.

LET ME KNOW:  How has Thoro’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
Links to sources used for this article—————————————————————-

Thoro’s songs on Youtube- (Be aware that YouTube sometimes features different songs with the same title. Here are pages that give you the songs mentioned in this article.)


Posted in Hymn writer | Leave a comment


Born MARCH 3, 1870

Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

For more than 100 years, Lettie Cowman has encouraged millions of people needing God’s help. As a missionary with her husband Charles, she spread the gospel in the Orient. Later as a widow and best selling-devotional author, Lettie inspired readers around the world. Her book Streams in the Desert (1925) continues to sell extremely well.


She was born Lettie Burd, in the town of Afton, Iowa. In 1889, she and telegraph operator Charles Cowman married in the town of Afton. They eventually moved to Chicago. There, they both developed a personal faith in Jesus Christ and grew as believers.

Moody Bible Institute [PD-USA]

Moody Bible Institute

In 1894, Charles and Lettie attended a missions convention at the Moody Church in Chicago. The keynote speaker, A. B. Simpson (founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church), gave a strong appeal for new missionaries. The Cowmans stood as a couple willing to serve God on a foreign field. Charles enrolled in classes at Moody Bible Institute.

Following their training, the young couple arrived in Japan in February of 1901. They teamed with Japanese minister Juji Nakada to open a mission where they held nightly services and they started a Bible institute. When Ernest Kilbourne, a fellow telegraph operator from Chicago, arrived from the United States, he and the Cowmans formed the Oriental Missionary Society. Their greatest work may have been the Every Creature Crusade, which from 1912-1918, placed a written presentation of the gospel into every one of Japan’s 10,320,000 households.


Charles and Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

Charles and Lettie Cowman

 Lettie watched her husband give all he had to reach souls in their mission field. Holding ten years of nightly services, overseeing the Bible institute, and contacting every home in Japan, plus leading preaching tours into Korea and China, took its toll on Charles’ health. He suffered physical exhaustion. His doctor described his condition as “worn out.”

So Charles could regain his health, he and Lettie returned to the United States. In California, Charles had a heart attack, then his condition faltered further. Lettie attended to her husband for the next six years. She also read voraciously. Culling their library, she collected book excerpts and poems to read aloud to Charles. That helped him endure his physical pain and to find strength in his emotional and spiritual battles.

However, after a long struggle, Charles died in September of 1924.


Streams in the Desert

After Charles’ death, Lettie personalized the words of the Apostle Paul, who spoke of comforting others with the comfort God has given us          (I Corinthians 1:4). She titled her compilation of poems and quotes from Christian authors like Andrew Murray, Charles Finney, George Mueller, and Charles Spurgeon Streams in the Desert. It touched a need in enough readers that a second printing soon followed.

Here are a couple of Letties’ own comments from her hope-inspiring devotional.

“The answer to our prayer may be coming, although we may not discern its approach. A seed that is underground during winter, although hidden and seemingly dead and lost, is nevertheless taking root for a later spring and harvest.”  (Streams in the Desert)

Referring to Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat during the storm while the disciples feared, she said, “Our boat may be tossed by the waves while he continues to sleep, but He will awake before it sinks.” (Streams in the Desert)

For 90 years now Streams in the Desert has never been out of print. It has sold over six million copies in multiple languages.


Lettie then penned a biography of her husband— Charles Cowman: Missionary Warrior (1928). She later wrote a second devotional titled Springs in the Valley. Lettie wrote all of her books as Mrs. Charles Cowman.

Here are two quotes from Lettie from Springs in the Valley.

“We are safer with Him in the dark than without Him in the sunshine.” (Springs in the Valley)

“The hour is desperately dark; your flame is needed.” (Springs in the Valley)

In 1928, the year Charles’ biography was published, Lettie assumed the leadership of the Oriental Missions Society (now One Mission Society). She gladly traveled to other continents speaking on behalf of the organization. Lettie would remain at the helm of OMS until 1949. She died on April 17, 1960. It was Easter Sunday.


LET ME KNOW: How has Lettie’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Cowman, Lettie. Charles E. Cowman: Missionary Warrior. Los Angeles, CA.: Oriental Missionary Society-1928.
  • Cowman, Lettie. Springs in the Valley.
  • Cowman, Lettie. Streams in the Desert.
  • Petersen, William and Randy Petersen. 100 Christian Books That Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2000.
  • Reese, Edward, editor. Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies.
  • Sa
  • Sanders, Fred. “Today is Lettie Cowman’s Birthday (1870)”, In The Scriptorium, March 3, 2009,



Posted in Author, Missionary | Leave a comment


ALFRED ACKLEY        Born January 21, 1887

“Why are you shouting so early in the morning?”

1930's radio. Image by Joe Haupt.

1930’s radio. Image by Joe Haupt.

Alfred’s wife asked him a fair question. What had  angered him that Easter morning was a radio preacher. Alfred had heard the man say, “You know folks, it really doesn’t make any difference to me if Christ is risen or not.”

Hearing a fellow minister blatantly misrepresent the centerpiece of the Christian faith caused Rev. Alfred Ackley to shout at the radio: “It’s a lie!”

That experience came a few days after an incident following a sermon Alfred had preached. A Jewish student had asked him, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Alfred had answered, “He lives! I tell you, He is not dead, but lives here and now!” He had gone on to say, “I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.”

Hymn-Writing Brothers

Alfred Henry Ackley was born in Spring Hill, Pennsylvania, in 1887. He loved music, as did his older brother, Bentley, who was 15 years his senior. Both went on to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London, England.

While Bentley devoted his life to playing and writing music, Alfred entered the preaching ministry. He attended Westminster Theological Seminary. In 1914, he was ordained into the Presbyterian Church. By then, Bentley was serving as pianist for Billy Sunday’s evangelist crusades.

Hymnal [PD-USA]

Hymnal [PD-USA]

Both brothers were prolific in contributing to gospel hymnody. Bentley is credited with adding music to at least 3,000 songs. Alfred wrote the words to over 1,000 hymns. Decades after their deaths, it’s Alfred’s gut-felt response to the young Jewish man and the liberal radio preacher that is most remembered today.

He Lives Or We Die

Alfred dedicated his life to preaching the gospel message. He pastored churches in Pennsylvania and California. Alfred believed and proclaimed the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

That Easter day that Alfred shouted at the radio became a red-letter day for him to proclaim the faith. At church that day in both morning and evening services, Alfred expounded on the power of Jesus’ victory over the grave. That evening, he sat down and wrote a song declaring its certainty.

The hymn, “He Lives” has survived while Alfred’s thousand other songs are not as well-remembered. For the rest of his life, Alfred preached the message of salvation through Jesus’ vicarious death and resurrection. He passed away in Wittier, California, in 1960.

Why “He Lives” Lives on

Jesus' empty tomb. Photo by upyernoz.

Jesus’ empty tomb. Photo by upyernoz.

Since 1933, when “He Lives” first appeared in a hymnal, no one has doubted Alfred’s belief that it’s true. The hymn restates what Alfred told the Jewish student: “I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.”

He begins with his own experience. In the first two verses, Alfred speaks eight times in the first person, using, “I see,” I hear,” I need,” “I know.” Verse one concludes with “Just the time I need Him, He’s always near.”

Alfred adds evidences he can see in the lives of others. Tapping into biblical themes that reverberate throughout scripture, he says, “I see His hand of mercy” and “In all the world around me, I see His loving care.”

Whenever Christians the world over sing “He Lives,” they testify that Alfred’s personal declarations are their own. The chorus concludes with worshipers rejoicing as they  sing, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.”


LET ME KNOW:  How has Alfred’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Osbeck, Kenneth. 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1985.
  • Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.
  • Petersen, William J. and Ardyth Petersen. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.



JULIA JOHNSTON       Born January 21, 1849

Julia Johnston understood two important things. She understood God’s faithfulness to the humans He created, which she wrote about. She also understood how she could faithfully serve God. Her service took the form of using her leadership skills and desire to write to draw others closer to the Heavenly Father.

Will It Play in Peoria?

First Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois.           [PD-1923]

First Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois.

In 1855, the year Julia turned six, her family moved from her birth-state of Ohio to Peoria, Illinois. Her father became the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. Julia would live in Peoria the rest of her life.

After she gained a personal faith, Julia started teaching Sunday school. She eventually became the director of the church’s Sunday school department. She retained that leadership position for 40-plus years. Along the way, Julia took to writing Sunday school curriculum for primary age children for the David C. Cook Publishing Company.

Julia became enthused about missions. She rose to the role of President of the Presbyterian Missionary Society of Peoria. She served that post for 20 years. She wrote a book titled, Fifty Missionary Heroes Every Boy and Girl Should Know which was published in 1913.

Describing God’s Grace

Julia had a passion to explain God’s grace to children and to promote His grace to adults. Her lyrics in the hymn “Grace Greater than Our Sin” (with music by Daniel Towner) were first sung in 1911. The song contrasts our desperate need and God’s great provision.

Daniel Towner.       [PD-1923]

Daniel Towner.

Verse two begins, “Sin and despair like the sea waves cold, Threaten the soul with infinite loss.” After mentioning sin’s high price, Julia describes guilt from sin verse three: “Dark is the stain that we cannot hide.” As bad as the bad news is, the good news is better. In verse one she says God offers “Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.” But how?

The first three (of four) verses connect our hope to Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for our sins. In verse one, Julia speaks of Calvary, “where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.” The second verse contrasts our sinful condition with  grace that “Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.” In verse three Julia asks if anything can wash away the stain of sin. She answers with “Look! there is flowing a crimson tide; Whiter than snow you may be today.”


Five years after the most well-known of Julia’s 500 hymns was published, her second best-known song appeared in hymnals. “He Ransomed Me” taps into the scriptural truth Jesus described (speaking in the second person) as His purpose for coming to earth: “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).

Again Julia establishes every person’s slavery to sin with the phrases “sin and misery,” “sin and sadness,” and “sin and woe.” But His love for mankind caused Jesus to come “from glory just to rescue.” The chorus praises our Savior for being able to “take a poor lost sinner, Lift him from the miry clay and set him free.”

The ransomed sinner known as Julia Johnston continued her prolific writing and strong Christian influence until March 6, 1919. She died in Peoria and was buried in the family plot in Springdale Cemetery.


LET ME KNOW:  How has Julia’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Morgan, Robert J. Then Sings My Soul. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.
  • Petersen, William J. and Ardyth Petersen. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.

Julia’s book Fifty Missionary Heroes Every Boy and Girl Should Know–

  • Six of the first ten missionary biographies on this page are from her book-
  • Find the complete text of the book here-



Posted in Hymn writer | 2 Comments


By the end of 2014, Lights-4-God had received almost twice as many views as in 2013.         I averaged a new post almost every other week (23). There were anniversary posts (listed below), theme posts (listed below) and biographies of Christian authors, missionaries, hymn writers, and ministry leaders (see the 5 most viewed below). Feel free to share the links to any of the L4G posts with others.  

The Top Post Viewed in 2014

noteIra Stanphill (1914-1993). Although the post originally appeared in 2012, the hymn writer had his best year in 2014. That’s due in large part to the 100th anniversary of Ira’s birthday on February 14. Leading up to that date, I invited viewers to vote for their favorite song he wrote, then posted the results. Another plus for Ira’s post was someone linking to it in the Wikipedia article about him.

Other Anniversary Posts

  • Bob Pierce’s 100th Birthday. I offer 6 facts about the man who started both World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse.
  • Catherine Marshall’s 100th Birthday. Here are 10 statements about the beloved Christian author.
  • Oswald Chamber’s 140th Birthday. Most people don’t know these 5 facts about the man who wrote My Utmost for His Highest.
  • 90 Years Ago: Eric Liddell Won Gold. I celebrate the Olympic athlete God rewarded for following his convictions with a description of his finish and a link to a video of Eric winning the actual race.

Top 5 New Posts in 2014

  1. Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1925). Learn about the man who wrote “Count Your Blessings” and the lyrics of 5 of his hymns we still sing today.
    Johnson Oatman Jr. [PD-1923]

    Johnson Oatman Jr. [PD-1923]

  2. William Cameron Townsend (1896-1982). The story of the man who founded Wycliffe Bible Translators.
  3. Ruth Bell Graham (1920-2007). She was much more than the wife of evangelist, Billy Graham. Here are the essential facts about Ruth.
  4. William Seymour (1870-1922). Find out how William started the Azusa Street Mission, his struggles, and the mission’s lasting results.
  5. Lew Wallace (1827-1905). Here’s the story of the Civil War general who wrote Ben Hur and how he came to write a Christian-themed tale that eventually won 11 Academy Awards.

Top 6 Theme Posts in 2014

  1. 40 Favorite Quotes. These are 40 usable quotes from L4G bios of 2012 and
    James Hudson Taylor in 1865. [PD-1923]

    James Hudson Taylor in 1865. [PD-1923]

    2013, including Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, and Billy Sunday.
  2. 5 Missionary Heroes Who Served China. The list begins with J. Hudson Taylor and concludes with Gladys Aylward.
  3. The British Invasion of the Christian Faith. Here’s a sampler of how the United Kingdom has contributed to America’s Christian faith.
  4. Lights for God in World War II. Introductions to 5 Christian leaders who served God during the war and what the 3 who survived did after the war.
  5. 8 Wonderful Salvation Stories  (pt. II). The second half of a list of eight unique conversion experiences of well-known Christian leaders.
  6. 8 Wonderful Salvation Stories (Pt. I). Here’s the first half of the list of quick descriptions of 8 unique salvation experiences.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment