At the Lord's Supper we often begin with the hymn Rise my soul, behold 'tis Jesus. Perhaps before we break the bread we will sing quietly (and the tune Deep Harmony matches the words beautifully):
Jesus, Thy dying love I own,
A love unfathomed and unknown!
All other love can measured be,
But not Thy dying love to me.
These hymns and more than thirty others, came from the pen of Joseph Denham Smith.
Another of his which we enjoy singing is:
God's almighty arms are round me, Peace, peace is mine! (BHB 57; HLL 373);
and another longer one is:
Rise up and hasten!
My soul, haste along!
And speed on the journey
With hope and with song;
Home, home is nearing,
'Tis coming into view;
A little more of toiling,
And then to earth adieu
with its stirring chorus which ends:
The morn of heaven is dawning;
We're near the break of day (BHB 241; HLL 430).
Most readers will also know and appreciate the following, all part of our goodly heritage of song from this nineteenth century author:
My God I have found (BHB 157)
Yes, we part, but not for ever (HLL 516)
Jesus Christ is passing by (HLL 712)
Just as Thou art, how wondrous fair,
Lord Jesus, all Thy members are;
A life divine to them is given,
A long inheritance in heaven (BHB 118; HLL 71)
J Denham Smith was born on 11th July, 1817 in Romsey, Hampshire. Little information exists about his early years, but we know that his mother was a widow, a devoted Christian, and her prayers for his early conversion were answered. He was sixteen years old when he preached his first gospel message, and many were thrilled by his presentation of Christ as the Saviour of sinners.
Not many years after this he became deeply interested in the spiritual needs of Ireland and went to study at the Dublin Theological Institute. From there he entered the ministry of the Congregational Church in 1840, commencing his public preaching and pastoring at Newry in 1841. In 1849 he moved to Kingston, near Dublin where he was used to begin the Congregational Church in Northumberland Avenue.
He became a key figure in the great spiritual revival which moved many parts of Ireland in 1859-60. He travelled from Kingstown to see the tremendous wave of blessing which had touched Belfast, Ballymena and other northern towns, and his heart was moved by the Spirit of God. Returning with fresh zeal in his preaching he saw salvation come to thousands of souls in the later months of 1859. Gospel efforts spread far beyond that town, even to include services held on board ships which sailed between Kingstown and Holyhead, and many were brought to Christ on these short voyages.
The city of Dublin itself was greatly moved, and Denham Smith decided to concentrate his efforts there. With the help of a Dublin solicitor called William Fry, the Metropolitan Hall in Lower Abbey Street was acquired as a meeting place. It is said that thousands of people flocked to it in the morning and stayed on till late at night until they found peace in believing. It was reported that in one year over 1,000 souls from all sections of society had been saved, many of whom went on to serve the Lord at home and abroad.
All this greatly touched Denham Smith's soul, so that he felt that he could not best serve God within a denomination. He resigned from the Congregational Church at Kingstown to become a servant of God with a larger ministry to others. In consultation with his friends, it was decided to erect a suitable hall in Dublin to become a permanent centre for gospel efforts. A site near Merrion Square was obtained, and a building planned and begun in 1862 with a capacity for 2,500 people. Merrion Hall was opened that year, and continued as a meeting place for an assembly in Dublin for well over a century.
Denham Smith became widely known for his eloquence, power of imagery, choice of language, and above all the simplicity by which he preached the gospel or expounded the Scriptures. He visited Paris and Geneva, where he addressed crowded meetings. He then spent some time in London. Meetings were held in Freemasons' Hall, St James's Hall, Sadler's Wells Theatre and Upper Clapton. He finally settled in that city, and ministered regularly in St George's Hall and Clapton Hall.
He published several tracts, pamphlets and small books throughout his life. In his earlier years he had penned The Gospel in Hosea, The Brides of Scripture, Green Pastures, Thoughts on the Tabernacle, all of them full of good spiritual teaching. He is best known now, however, for his hymns. Most of them were written during his busy and fruitful ministry in Dublin. Several of the hymns which were sung during that time are included in his book Times of Refreshing Illustrated in the Present Revival of Religion, 1860. He also published Seven Hymns for the Present Time, circa 1870-6. In his Hymns for General and Special Use, there are thirty-six of his own, most of them on gospel themes.
In the spring of 1886 Denham Smith's health gave way. Persistent attacks of indigestion weakened him and caused much anxiety to his friends. On 5th March, 1889 he passed away quietly in the presence of his wife and family at Marylebone, London, and was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, West Hampstead. His wife Sarah (Gilbart) survived him until she too went to be with the Lord at the age of 86 on 17th February, 1909.
Joseph Denham Smith's godly character pervades his hymns, as we would expect. This is seen clearly in the following lesser known one, which, if desired, can be sung to the tune of Abide with me, or Finlandia is better (repeating last two lines of each verse).
Abide in Thee, in that deep love of Thine,
My Jesus, Lord, Thou Lamb of God divine;
Down, closely down, as living branch with tree,
I would abide, my Lord, my Christ, in Thee.
Abide in Thee, my Saviour, God, I know
How love of Thine, so vast, in me may flow;
My empty vessel running o'er with joy,
Now overflows to Thee without alloy.
Abide in Thee, nor doubt, nor self, nor sin
Can e'er prevail with Thy blest life within;
Joined to Thyself, communing deep, my soul
Knows naught besides its motions to control.
Abide in Thee, 'tis thus alone I know
The secrets of Thy mind e'en while below;
All joy and peace, and knowledge of Thy Word,
All power and fruit, and service for the Lord.
1. BHB = Believers Hymn Book; HLL = Hymns of Light and Love.
2. Much of this article was gleaned from: Chief Men Among the Brethren: H Pickering; and Hymns and their Writers, Vol 1: J Strahan.