I WILL SING THE WONDROUS STORY
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Matthew 10:29 (CEV)
I still remember the first time I heard Pastor Dave say from the pulpit: You are a beloved child of God; beautiful to behold! My heart leapt and I felt so close to God, knowing once again how much I was loved.
The following Sunday during our visit to the assisted living home, I spontaneously decided to teach the residents what I had learned the week before. Asking them to repeat the phrase slowly in increments, we moved through it slowly with them repeating after me:
I am – I am
A beloved – A beloved
Child of God – Child of God
Beautiful – Beautiful
To behold – To behold
After each phrase was introduced, a new smile would emerge in the room. This became a mantra for us; reciting it most Sundays. Soon it was like second nature, just as singing the Lord’s Prayer together or Jesus Loves Me. The smiles were bright, the joy was evident, as each person accepted and basked in the love of God together.
Of course, it is impossible for these human brains to comprehend the depth of God’s love, but the Bible continually assures us that it is true by painting pictures that we can understand; one of them comes in the scripture for today. Another reference makes it very clear: Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:26.
The Lord of Creation is an animal lover. He made them, saved them during the flood, and often used them in the Bible. Remember Balaam’s donkey? Peter’s rooster? Jonah’s whale? Elijah’s ravens? The Lord expressed concern for the cattle of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11), and Jesus said that the heavenly Father notes the flight and fall of the smallest sparrow (Matthew 10:29). There’s even a special Bible verse in the Bible for pet owners – Proverbs 12:10, “A wise man cares for the needs of his animal” (NIV).
What does that have to do with singing this hymn?
Dr. Francis Rowley, a dentist’s son and star student, was born during the summer of 1854, in Hilton, New York. As a young man, he felt God’s call into the ministry, and he was ordained in 1878. He pastored churches in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois.
Dr. Rowley later said, “We were having revival at the First Baptist Church at North Adams, Massachusetts, in 1886, the third year of my pastorate there, which was one of the richest and most blessed experiences of my entire ministry. I was assisted by a young Swiss musician named Peter Bilhorn who suggested I write a hymn for which he would compose the music. The following night this hymn [“I Will Sing the Wondrous Story”] came to me without any particular effort on my part.”
In 1910, Rowley left the pastorate and became president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He served in that position until the age of ninety-one, when he was made chairman of the board. Under his tenure, the first motorized horse ambulance was purchased and the Angell Memorial Animal Hospital opened in Boston. Rowley was also instrumental in drafting a resolution that led to the first national “Be Kind to Animals Week.” In 1917, he helped establish a permanent animal shelter designed to care for retired police horses, and in 1918, he led the formation of the Jack London Club to enlist young people in the protection of animals. In 1922, the first Christmas Dinner for Horses was conducted, and in 1929, the Springfield Animal Hospital was opened, later renamed the Rowley Memorial Animal Hospital.
The Rowley School of Humanities at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia is also named for this hymnist whose watchword was: “Sing of your Redeemer –and be kind to His creatures!
St. Mark’s Church – Maida Vale, London
Westminster Central Hall Choir/The Epworth Singers
Grace, Peace and Joy to you as you listen!