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Beginning in the late 18th century and through the 19th century, revival movements among Methodists resulted in the writing of many of the loveliest hymns sung in American churches today. Here are the stories behind three of them.

“Rock of Ages” is a familiar “American” Methodist hymn that is actually British. Augustus M. Toplady, ordained in the Church of England in 1762, was converted during a Wesleyan barn meeting. In 1775, he published the lyrics to “Rock of Ages” in an article he wrote on the indebtedness of man to God. He calculated the number of sins a person who lived to 80 could possibly commit and came up with the figure 2,522,800,000 sins. Since there was no way a sinner could atone for such a great number of sins, the only recourse was salvation.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee
let the water and the blood
from thy wounded side which flowed
be of sin the double cure
save from wrath and make me pure

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands
could my zeal no respite know
could my tears forever flow
all for sin could not atone
thou must save, and thou alone

Sarah Flower Adams wrote another English Methodist hymn, “Nearer My God to Thee,” in 1840 for a hymnal compiled for her church, the Unitarian South Place Chapel in London. Adams was a literary type whose friends included the poet Robert Browning. She wrote “Nearer My God to Thee” based on the biblical account of Jacob’s dream in Genesis of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth with ascending and descending angels. Legend says the passengers of the sinking Titanic were singing the hymn as the ship sank in 1912.

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me
still all my song shall be
nearer, my God, to thee
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down
darkness be over me, my rest a stone
yet in my dreams I'd be
nearer, my God, to thee
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

There let the way appear, steps unto heaven
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

One American Methodist hymn is the immensely comforting “Softly and Tenderly,” written by Pennsylvania-born Will Thompson, who was raised in East Liverpool, Ohio. He attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. During a resurgence of camp meeting revivals in 1880, Thompson wrote “Softly and Tenderly.” The evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody said of the hymn that he would rather have written it than anything he’d accomplished in his lifetime.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See, on your portals He's waiting and watching
Watching for you and for me
Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies
Mercies for you and for me?
Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing
Passing from you and from me
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming
Coming for you and for me.
Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home

Oh! for the wonderful love He has promised
Promised for you and for me
Tho' we have sinned He has mercy and pardon
Pardon for you and for me
Come home, come home
Ye who are weary come home
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling
Calling O sinner come home