|Elizabeth Clephane was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1830 and lived most of her life in the village of Melrose. Her father was the county sheriff. She was a woman acquainted with grief, but never let that stop her. Her parents both died while she was young, and she was never very healthy herself. Nevertheless, she was one of those cheerful people who brighten every corner—perhaps because she focused on what she could do for others rather than sitting and feeling sorry for herself. Her friends called her “Sunbeam”—a nickname that may have inspired the lines in this hymn that say:
“I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face.”
Elizabeth loved poetry and wrote several hymns. The other one with which you might be familiar is “The Ninety and Nine,” a hymn inspired by Jesus’ parable about a shepherd who had a hundred sheep, but left the ninety-nine to search for the one that was lost—a parable about God’s love (Matthew 18:12-14).
In her hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus,” Elizabeth alluded to a passage in Isaiah that speaks of “the shade of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:1-2). In her hymn, she speaks of:
“The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land,
A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat
And the burden of the day.”
Perhaps one reason that this hymn has enjoyed such popularity is that we know what it means to live in a weary land. We feel the need of a mighty rock to shelter us from the heat. Elizabeth says that, for her, Jesus’ cross is that resting place. For her, Jesus’ cross is her home within the wilderness, her rest upon the way.
Ira Sankey was the song leader for Dwight L. Moody. Sankey discovered this song and popularized it by using it in Moody’s great evangelistic meetings. It has now blessed people around the world for a century and a half.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan