Today I introduce to you a new series of posts—History of the Hymn. I am excited to be able to explore with you the remarkable stories behind some of our most beloved songs. So many of them have such incredible stories that deserve to be told—after all it is history. I think that The Timeless Anchor can be seen working and moving in history through the writing of these hymns.
He Keeps Me Singing has a sort of special meaning to me, because it was one of my Papaw’s favorite songs. It has an even more spectacular meaning to me though, after having learned what the history behind it is.
Luther Bridgers was a preacher who lived in Kentucky with his wife and three young sons. They were a lively, young family kept busy with ministry and church services.
In 1910, Luther and his family took a trip to visit his wife’s parents in a town called Harrodsburg. The time together was filled with laughter and joy as the families reunited once again. The children squealed and played with one another and the adults talked late into the night. They fell into their beds exhausted and prepared to sleep soundly all night long. It had been a good time of reunion and the rest of their stay in Harrodsburg was anticipated to be the same.
No-one is quite sure how it happened or even when it began, but in the early morning hours tragedy shattered the tranquil happiness. A man in one of the neighboring houses, who was unable to sleep that night, looked out the window of his house. A terrible sight met his gaze—flames licking at the sky from the home of Mrs. Bridgers’ parents. He ran out into the night, calling in alarm that their home was on fire. By this time, the house was engulfed in violent flames. Mrs. Bridgers’ parents and Luther were aroused by the calls of the neighbor and stumbled out of the house.
In the chaos of the fire, Luther looked around him for his wife and children. It didn’t take him long to realize that they hadn’t made it out yet. He pushed forward to go back in and find them, but was restrained by those who had gathered. He watched in horror as the house collapsed in an inferno of flames. His wife and sons never made it out of the house. Nothing was left of the house by the time the flames had been extinguished. All that was left was the shattered pieces of Luther Bridgers’ heart. At the young age of twenty-six, he had lost his entire family.
In the weeks that followed, Luther wrestled to find comfort amid so much sorrow and loss. How could he find a way to keep going when he had watched his family be burned alive? He didn’t understand how God would allow such an event to happen when he and his family had been serving Christ. The questions haunted him. During this time, Luther remembered that God would indeed give “songs in the night.” He clung to the promise that God would never leave him or forsake him.
Through the brokenness of his heart and the floods of sorrow that overwhelmed him, Luther penned the words of the song, He Keeps Me Singing.
Perhaps the verse that portrays with the most potent reality Luther’s trust that God was with him and would keep him singing, is verse four:
What a powerful reminder that Jesus—The Timeless Anchor— is the one who keeps us singing, even when the rivers of sorrow flood over our souls.
What is your thoughts on the history of this hymn? Did you know that it was through great sorrow that this hymn was written? Let me know in the comments!
A. M. Watson