Last Sunday morning we sang “More Love to Thee,” written by Elizabeth Prentiss, because it blended perfectly with the theme of our text. Loss and sorrow often give birth to hymns, and that is true of that hymn we sang. A native of Maine, Elizabeth was described as a bright-eyed, little woman, with a sharp sense of humor, who cared more to shine in her own household than in the wider circle of society.
For much of her life, however, she lived almost as an invalid, her body often wracked with pain. It was during these times that she had to refocus her understanding of her own value and worth from doing to being: “I see now that to live for God, whether one is allowed ability to be actively useful or not, is a great thing, and that it is a wonderful mercy to be allowed even to suffer, if thereby one can glorify Him.”
“More Love to Thee” emerged out of personal tragedy. During the 1850s, she lost a child and then another. Through her grief she wrote, “Empty hands, a worn-out, exhausted body, and unutterable longings to flee from a world that has so many sharp experiences.”
Inspired by Sarah Adams’ hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” Prentiss began to write her own hymn in an almost identical metrical pattern. She had been reflecting on Jacob’s struggles in Genesis 28 and found Adams’ hymn on this same theme to be of comfort. In the Genesis narrative of Jacob’s experience at Bethel, Jacob was a traveler who, finding a stone for a pillow one night, had a dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder. Following his dream he builds an altar at Beth-El (God’s house) out of the stone on which he had slept and anointed it with oil.
Prentiss wrote her song in one sitting but did not show it to anyone for 13 years. The poem was published in leaflet form in 1869 and the hymn was first published in 1870.
The line in verse two which has challenged me all week is this: Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest; Now Thee alone I seek, give what is best. Isn’t that the human experience? We put peace and joy high on our most-desired list, and we will do anything for rest. But only when a deep love for Jesus takes hold of our lives are we able to say that however He answers, we are ready to receive it. Anything. Jesus, give me what is best, no matter what that “best” might be. No. Matter. What.
Can you say that with complete integrity? Elizabeth Prentiss learned to say it. Have you?