Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Even Me

Praise for the Lord #133

Words: Elizabeth Codner, 1860
Music: William B. Bradbury, EVEN  ME, 1862

Here is one of the rare instances when an author tells us the exact circumstances that occasioned the writing of a hymn, so I will let her speak for herself. Mrs. Codner addressed the question in her 1880 book, Among the Brambles.

Many a time have I been asked to give some account of the origin of the hymn which has become one of the most precious links of my life with God's work and with God's children. It was simply this.
A party of young friends, over whom I was watching with anxious hope, attended a meeting in which details were given of the beginning of revival in Ireland. They came back greatly impressed. My fear was lest they should be satisfied to let their own fleece remain dry, and I pressed upon them the privilege and responsibility of getting a share in the outpoured blessing. On the Sunday following, not being well enough to go out, I had a time of quiet communion. These children were still on my heart, and I longed to press upon them an earnest individual appeal. Without effort words seemed given to me, and they took the form of the hymn which I then wrote--
"Lord I hear of showers of blessing."
I had no thought of sending it beyond the limits of my own circle, but, passing it on to one and another, it became a word of power, and I then published it as a leaflet (Codner, 221-222).
John Julian's entry on this hymn in his Dictionary of Hymnology cites a personal letter from Mrs. Codner stating that this hymn was written in the summer of 1860 (690). The 1858 date sometimes given in hymnals (as in Praise for the Lord) might have come from a statement by Edwin F. Hatfield in The Poets of the Church, where he connects "Even me" with the Methodist revival in Ireland beginning around that year. Hatfield, however, only suggests the events of 1858 as an inspiration for the hymn (146). Codner goes on to tell of several incidents connected with the hymn, including correspondence from strangers from around the world who wished to thank her for the blessing the hymn had been to them (Codner 222ff.). The popularity of this hymn is evident from the 702 instances recorded at; and though most of these are concentrated around the turn of the last century, it is still present in several modern hymnals.

This hymn was written in seven stanzas, only three of which are given in Praise for the Lord. The full text is given by Mrs. Codner in her book Among the Brambles, page 220. Looking at the 200+ page scans from various hymnals at, it seems that very few hymnal editors have left all seven stanzas intact, but no particular pattern of their omission appears. By 1900 it seems to have become more common to use the "Love of God" stanza in conclusion, and selection of just three or four stanzas was not uncommon.

"Even me" is one of those hymns that has become disconnected in popular use--at least for many who sing it--from its original doctrinal context. The fervent plea for the Lord's individual attention, heard especially in the middle stanza's "Pass me not" (which is clearly echoed in Fanny Crosby's 1868 hymn of that name), reflects the Wesleyan belief in seeking for a dramatic conversion experience. Codner's own statement places the origin of her text in the midst of news of the great Methodist revival in Ireland, and tells us that she was driven by her desire for the "young people" on her heart to find a similar experience. There is even another hymn by Codner, titled "Lord! To Thee my heart ascending," written as a post-conversion counterpart to "Even me" (Smith 112).

To the extent that "Even me" expresses this belief in desperate pleading for a conversion experience, I have the same issue with it that I have with Crosby's "Pass me not." One need only read Crosby's account of her own conversion experience at a revival meeting to understand what is meant:
Some of us went down every evening; and, on two occasions, I sought peace at the altar, but did not find the joy I craved, until one evening, November 20, 1850, it seemed to me that the light must indeed come then or never; and so I arose and went to the altar alone. After a prayer was offered, they began to sing the grand old consecration hymn, "Alas, and did my Saviour bleed, and did my Sovereign die?" And when they reached the third line of the fourth stanza, "Here Lord, I give myself away," my very soul was flooded with a celestial light (96).
I say this in all kindness, and questioning no one's sincerity: The gospel invitation preached by Jesus and His disciples never required a believing, penitent, and obedient seeker of salvation to "come back later." The first instance of mass conversion to Christianity, in fact, tells a very different story. After Peter's sermon on Pentecost, many of those who heard were seeking salvation:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37)
They had heard the gospel, believed it, and realized their sinful condition. Peter's answer was quick and to the point:
And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself" (Acts 2:38-39).
Not a one of them was told to wait for an experience; in fact Paul pressed the urgency of the moment:
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls (Acts 2:40-41).
Again, I say in all kindness, not one of "those who received his word" was left wanting after that invitation; not one left in tears and terror at his soul's condition, praying for salvation at some future date. It is the same story throughout the book of Acts; if anyone had to hear the invitation more than once, it was because they were not fully convinced of the gospel and convicted of their sins in the first place. (For example, the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17:32 who told Paul, "We will hear you again on this matter." They were interested but not yet persuaded.) Some point to the case of Paul, who spent three days in prayer and fasting after his encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:9-11). Was he seeking salvation? Certainly. But how did he receive it? In Acts 22:16 Paul recounted the words of the invitation expressed to him by the preacher Ananias in Damascus: "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on His name." Once Paul had heard the same gospel invitation given at Pentecost, there was no need to wait in prayer any longer!

Of course hymns are poetry, and sometimes subject to more than one interpretation. "Come, come ye saints" was written about the Mormon exodus to Utah, and "Faith of our fathers" referred to the Tractarians' desire to return to Catholicism, but they have been reinterpreted in more general terms by those who do not share those specific beliefs and backgrounds. "Even me" can be read in this more generic sense as well. The essential thought of "pass me not"--a seeming fear that the Lord will overlook us--can be compared to the poetic exaggeration used by David: "How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1). David knew God cannot forget, and we know that God will not overlook any of His children; but in the realization of our desperate need for Him, we might speak in such pleading terms. This is the standpoint from which I find benefit in the hymn, and I will discuss it from that point of view.

Stanza 1:
Lord I hear of showers of blessing
Thou art scattering full and free,
Showers the thirsty land refreshing:
Let Thy mercy fall on me.
Even me, even me,
Let Thy mercy fall on me.

The phrase "showers of blessing" comes from Ezekiel 34:26b: "And I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing." The prophecy in this chapter encouraged the Jewish exiles to look forward to a great restoration, when they would be led by "one shepherd, My servant David" (v. 23). To an agricultural society in a land with such low and infrequent rainfall, and yet simultaneously subject to flash flooding when rain did come, there was a special sweetness to the idea of a period of good soaking showers. It was a time of new growth, and of nourishment of the existing plants. Here in the sun-soaked plains of Texas, and back home in Oklahoma, we feel much the same way. I admit that I have cheered aloud for a promising-looking thundercloud, hoping for something to break the 100-degree heat.

The phrase "showers of blessing" was already used to describe times of spiritual revival well before Codner's hymn. James Caughey's account of his revival work in the East Midlands was titled Showers of Blessings from Clouds of Mercy (Boston, 1857). And Codner's hymn was not the last to use this trope, as witnessed by Daniel W. Whittle's 1883 gospel song "There shall be showers of blessing." In this context, there is probably a reference here not only to Ezekiel's word-picture, but also to Peter's statement in Acts 3:19, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."

There is a sense in which God's mercy is extended to all people--"He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). But to those with whom He has entered a covenant relationship there is a special mercy. Multiple times in the Hebrew Law the Father states that He is "showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6, 34:7, Deuteronomy 5:10). This was a mercy that He "swore to [their] fathers" (Deuteronomy 7:12, 13:17), and resides not in the faithfulness of the people, but in the faithfulness of God himself. It is chesed, that "loving-kindness" or "steadfast love" that runs like a scarlet thread throughout the Hebrew Testament and is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the physical world we deal with droughts by tapping reservoirs, and to some extent God has put reservoirs of mercy among us. There are fellow Christians whose experiences of God's mercy overflow into the lives of others and refresh them. There are also the beauties God has placed around us in nature, and in those things in life that are true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely (Philippians 4:8). But these are not the source of mercy itself, and just as the physical reservoirs of water must be replenished from the rains, we need that mercy that comes from God himself. He is the "Father of Mercies" (2 Corinthians 1:3), both the originator of mercy and the One who excels all others in this quality. There is mercy enough for every sinner, if they will seek it according to God's will. And for the Christian, there is mercy always at hand for the asking: "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Stanza 2:
Pass me not, O gracious Savior,
Let me live and cling to Thee;
I am longing for Thy favor:
Whilst Thou'rt calling, O call me.
Even me, even me,
Whilst Thou'rt calling, O call me.

The phrase "pass me not," addressed to Christ, was also in some currency in devotional literature even before Mrs. Codner's hymn. In the original version of Caroline Smith's "Tarry with me," the first stanza ends with the lines, "Tarry with me!--Tarry with me! / Pass me not unheeded by!" Though this is an American hymn, it was published in 1852 and might have been known to Codner. And as mentioned before, the opening line of this stanza (and of two other middle stanzas from Codner's original, not given here) is tellingly similar to Fanny Crosby's 1868 hymn "Pass me not, O gentle Savior."

It is possible that this phrase originated in Genesis 18:3, when Abraham encountered the three strangers; in his desire to show hospitality, Abraham said to the apparent leader of the three angels (or was it the Lord himself?), "O Lord, if I have found favor in Your sight, do not pass by your servant." Of course the circumstances were entirely different; we do not have any indication that Abraham sought anything from them at that point. But the phrasing is so elegant, and so well suited to our own circumstances, that perhaps it inspired this line. This expression also calls to mind some occasions when the gospel writers recorded the words of those who sought physical healing from Jesus, such as the blind men mentioned in Matthew 9:27 and 20:30, who "when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'"

We need not fear that Jesus will pass by anyone who seeks Him in obedience, or that He will fail to call anyone who is listening for His voice. In fact He has already called each one of us: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). But taken metaphorically, the meaning of this stanza is not far off from David's words in Psalm 63:8, "My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me." Our need for God's grace and mercy is such that we fear to think what we would do without it; like David we say, "My soul thirsts for You; my flesh faints for You, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1b).

Do we have that kind of "longing for His favor?" It is easy for it to slip away, and much harder to bring it back; there is no autopilot for the Christian walk. In the same Psalm under discussion, in the very first verse, David says, "Early will I seek you." Making sure we have that close relationship with God is not something to be put off. Seek Him early in your life; or if it is too late for that, seek Him as soon as possible! Seek Him early each day, and seek Him often throughout the day. Put a priority on that relationship as if it were the most important appointment of the day--because it is.

Stanza 3:
Love of God, so pure and changeless,
Blood of Christ, so rich, so free,
Grace of God, so strong and boundless,
Magnify them all in me.
Even me, even me,
Magnify them all in me.

Though this was not placed last in Codner's original text, most of the hymnals I have checked on use this as the closing stanza. It summarizes the overall theme of longing for spiritual growth by comparing our present state to the all-sufficiency of God's character and works. This is an uncomfortable but necessary exercise; when God said over and over again, "Be you therefore holy, for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44, etc., 1 Peter 1:15-16), it was not to frustrate us but to keep us honest. If we are satisfied with measuring ourselves against the character of other flawed, sinful human beings, we will always be able to find someone who makes us seem fairly saintly by comparison.

Yet when we see the character of God expressed in human flesh as Jesus the Son of Man, we are quickly made to realize that, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6). We must change our own "clothing" of righteousness for that provided through Jesus: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). Only then are we able to "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Paul expressed this again in Philippians 3:8-11,
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
This final stanza chooses to address three of the signature qualities of our God--His steadfast love, the cost He was willing to pay for our redemption, and the abundance of His grace. The love of God is "pure" because it is unmixed with self-interest. Even the purest earthly love we know is not completely selfless; the love of parent for child is mixed with the healthy desire for the continuity of a family. But God loves us without needing us, simply because it is His nature to love (1 John 4:8). Agape love is a higher and nobler goal even than familial love (cf. John 21). The love of God is "changeless" because it is rooted in Himself, and not in the objects of His love.

The "blood of Christ, so rich, so free" reminds us of just how much God was willing to sacrifice to save us. It is "rich" enough to "save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him" (Hebrews 7:25), whether the most heinous criminal, or just garden-variety sinners such as you and me. It is an account that will never run out, as long as sinners come to Him in obedience, and while there still is time. The "grace of God, so strong and boundless" has been "lavished upon us" (Ephesians 1:8), not given sparingly; it is described as "immeasurable riches" (Ephesians 2:7). "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people" (Titus 2:11), and though sadly not all will accept it, God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

Mrs. Codner concludes, "Magnify them all in me!" We can strive to make our love for others more like God's love--rooted in a godly character, not in circumstances or self-interest. We can make ourselves "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1) by serving Christ and His purpose in this world, reflecting the selfless offering He made of His blood. And we can show God's grace to others through a loving and forgiving spirit. We are never more than pale reflections of any quality of Christ that we try to imitate, just as moonlight is only a weak reflection of the full light of the sun. But moonlight is better than no light at all, and any reflection of the character of Christ in our lives makes the world a better place and gives Him glory. "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8).

About the music:

William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) was one of the most prolific tune-writers in gospel music of the 19th century, and in my opinion was the most important pioneer of the "new" gospel style that flourished alongside the great revival campaigns of the post-Civil War era. Coinciding with this era of highly organized revivalism and mission work was the spread of the Sunday School and other programs for youth, an area of work that was closest to Bradbury's heart. As a student of Lowell Mason, with later composition studies in Europe, Bradbury had the technical capability of writing in the classical style, but chose instead to write in a deliberately popular and folk-like style that was easily taken up by the masses.

Bradbury's setting of "Even me" first appeared in his 1862 Sunday School collection Golden Shower. Though most of the contents have fallen by the wayside over the years, this songbook also premiered two other well-known musical settings that are still widely known today. Bradbury's talent for writing children's songs is evident from a hymn setting that has become perhaps the most universal of all Sunday School songs: "Jesus loves me." His facility with the folk genre was seen in yet another famous tune from the same volume, "My latest sun is sinking fast (O come, angel band)." Given its popularity with folk and country singers, it is surprising to learn that this was the work of a classically-trained composer.

"Even me" is a good representative of Bradbury's ability to write simple, appealing tunes that sing well. The melody is good enough to stand on its own; with the addition of the parallel harmony part in the tenor, it makes a good duet; and with all four parts present its harmonies are satisfying whether sung by four voices or four thousand. Other songwriters attempted to set this text later, but none seem to have gained much traction. In the U.K. and the Commonwealth countries, however, it is sung to the lovely Welsh tune GROESWEN.


Codner, Elizabeth. Among the Brambles, and Other Lessons of Life. London: James Nisbet, 1880.

Crosby, Fanny.

Hatfield, Edwin F. The Poets of the Church. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph, 1884.

Julian, John. A Dictionary of Hymnology. New York: Scribner, 1892.

Smith, Eva Munson. Woman in Sacred Song. Boston: D. Lothrop, 1885.

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