Born JUNE 28, 1851
Eliza Hewitt was one of a handful of Christian women who, regardless of and because of physical suffering, wrote lyrics to some of our outstanding hymns. Among those servants of God were Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871) who wrote “Just As I Am,” Lydia Baxter (1809-1874) who penned “Take the Name of Jesus with You,” and Francis Havergal (1836-1878) who authored “Take My Life and Let it Be.”
CLASSROOM UPS AND DOWNS
Eliza’s story began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She grew up in the Presbyterian church. She attended the Girl’s Normal School. During the Civil War her family lived only about 140 miles from the action at Gettysburg. A few years later, Eliza graduated from school at the top of her class.
Her love for learning and for children led her to become a schoolteacher. For a few years at least, all went well. Then the incident happened. While disciplining a male student, he became angry and picked up his slate board. He swung it at his teacher, striking her hard across the back. The doctor put Eliza in a cast. It limited all physical activity for the next six months.
DAYS OF SUNSHINE
The day the doctor removed her cast, he told Eliza to take a short walk. After being confined throughout the winter in her room, immobilized in a body cast, each step she took that spring day filled her heart with gratefulness to God. When she returned home, Eliza put her thoughts into a poem.
The words of her poem, “Sunshine in My Soul,” point to Jesus as the source for her joy. Not only for momentary happiness but for the eternal perspective. The fourth stanza includes, “For blessings which He gives me now, for joys ‘laid up’ above.” A fellow Pennsylvanian, Gospel music tunesmith, John Sweney, added fitting upbeat music to Eliza’s words. He published the song in a hymnal in 1887.
Eliza had painful relapses, but she continued writing. John and others kept adding music to her poems. Here are three other hymns that grew out of Eliza’s life of pain and prayer. They are hymns that have spoken to Christians around the world.
“MORE ABOUT JESUS” -1887 (music by John R. Sweney)Eliza’s back never completely recovered. She had to quit teaching school. There were more periods of bed confinement. Her suffering drew her closer to God; she plunged into studying the Bible. Expressing the greatest desire of her heart, Eliza wrote a poem titled “More About Jesus,” which Mr. Sweney also put to music.
The devotional lyrics mirror the desire of every Christian who wants to draw closer to the Savior. It states, “More about Jesus would I know, More of His grace to others show, More of His saving fullness see, More of His love who died for me.”
“MY FAITH HAS FOUND A RESTING PLACE” -1891 (music by William Kirkpatrick)
William Kirkpatrick was also in the music publishing business. One of Eliza’s poems to which he added a tune decreed the basis for her assurance of salvation. In “My Faith Has Found A Resting Place,” she points to Jesus as the answer to her temporary physical condition as well as her permanent spiritual need. The final stanza says, “My Great Physician heals the sick– The lost He came to save; For me His precious blood He shed– For me His life He gave.”
Like John Sweney, Mr. Kirkpatrick had written music for Fanny Crosby songs. Eliza met the blind songwriter one day at the Kirkpatrick home. The two women became good friends. You can read Eliza’s tribute to Fanny (in the “hymntime” link below) that she wrote in 1905, the year Fanny turned eighty-five.
“WHEN WE ALL GET TO HEAVEN” -1898 (music by Emily Wilson)
A few hymns stand out as anthems about Heaven. Eliza took the words of one of them with her one summer to the annual Christian conference at Ocean Grove in New Jersey. She showed her poem to a friend, Emily Wilson, who was a musician. Emily added the tune that, with Eliza’s words, is the song, “When We All Get to Heaven.” It lives on today in various denominational hymnals.
Eliza’s scriptural inspirations for the song are many. The first verse concludes with words right out of the opening of John chapter fourteen: “in the mansions bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.” The second verse is a reminder of Revelation 2:4, that in Heaven all sorrow, pain, and death are vanquished. Eliza’s phrase is, “Not (even) a shadow, not (even) a sigh.” In verse four, Eliza wraps it up by referring to two physical aspects of Heaven taken from Revelation 21:21: “Soon the pearly gates will open, We shall tread the streets of gold.”
HER PROLIFIC PEN
Along with poems-turned-hymns, Eliza wrote children’s poems and Sunday school literature. She eventually regained enough strength to serve as a weekly Sunday school teacher. Eliza lived to age sixty-nine, having never married. She died April 24, 1920.
LET ME KNOW: How has Eliza’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Peterson, William J. and Ardyth Peterson. The Complete Book of Hymns. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 2006.
- Morgan, Robert. Then Sings My Soul. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2003.
Osbeck, Kennethh. 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1985.
Learn more about Eliza’s life from the following resources————-
Eliza’s hymns on YouTube-
Search by title for renditions of the four songs on today’s post.
Also available on YouTube are her songs “Stepping in the Light” and “Will there Be Any Stars in My Crown?”
- For a fuller listing of songs Eliza wrote and her poem about Fanny Crosby, visit http://www.hymntime.com/tch/bio/h/e/w/hewitt_ees.htm/.
- For similar Lights4God stories: click hymn writer on the category cloud to the right to also read the stories of Fanny Crosby, Ira Stanphill and Elisha Hoffman.