This hymn was written by two sisters. Sarah Flower Adams wrote the words and her sister, Eliza Flower, wrote the music. Together they wrote a number of hymns, but this is the only one still in common use today.
Sarah (the author of the words) enjoyed a successful career on the stage playing Lady MacBeth in Shakespearean drama, but retired from the stage due to health problems. Not long thereafter, her sister, Eliza, came down with tuberculosis. Sarah, determined to nurse her, came down with the disease as well, and both died at a relatively young age.
However, this hymn acknowledges the possibility of suffering but refuses to allow it to have the last word. It says:
“E’en though it be a cross
that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be,
nearer my God to Thee.”
The message of the hymn is that every experience, good or bad, can draw us nearer to God, who gives us comfort and strength.
—Bearing a cross brings us nearer to God.
—Darkness brings us nearer to God.
—Angels bring us nearer to God.
—And grief brings us nearer to God.
The things that the hymn mentions (a cross, darkness, grief) tend to be difficulties. Sometimes when life is good we tend to forget that we need God. It is the difficult times that reinforce our deep need for God’s grace—that do, indeed, bring us nearer to God.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan