The reports of the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” [as the Titanic sank] were enthusiastically received. The gist of the song is that whatever hardships befall us, they can only serve to bring us closer to God. In terms of the Titanic disaster, the image was of people being dragged to the depths of the sea and yet, paradoxically, scaling the heights of heaven. It was based in part on the story of Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10-22), in which he sees “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” It may have been a particular favorite at the Bethel Chapel in Colne [where the band leader became a Christian] because Jacob marked the spot where he had the dream with a stone “and he called the name of that place Bethel.”
It was the best-loved hymn of Hartley and had been introduced to the Bethel Chapel by his father, Albion Hartley, when he was choirmaster. Ellwand Moody, Hartley’s friend [and fellow ship musician], told the Leeds Mercury in April 1912: “I remember one day I asked him what he would do if he were ever on a sinking ship and he replied, ‘I don’t think I would do better than play “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”
It was also the favorite hymn of many in New York. President McKinley supposedly used the words as a form of prayer as he lay dying after being shot by the anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York, in September 1901.
Read it all.
Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:06 am
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