By Lauren Stoner
A familiar hymn we often sing as a joyous song is “He Keeps Me Singing” written by Luther B. Bridgers. But some would be surprised when informed that this hymn wasn’t always sung as a joyous proclamation of the melody Christ gives us in our hearts. This hymn was actually not intended to be a happy reminder, but rather as a soft comfort.
Luther B. Bridgers
This is a popular and familiar hymn here at Bible Baptist, and this song is sung with energy, joy, and power. I can recall faces smiling and voices trilling throughout the congregation as we declare the lyrics.
There’s within my heart a melody.
Jesus whispers sweet and low:
“Fear not, I am with thee; peace be still,”
In all of life’s ebb and flow.
Many of us sing this song in church with joy and thrill. “There’s within my heart a melody!” However, while we think of these lyrics as a exuberant proclamation from the writer, Luther Bridgers, these words are actually a quiet, sorrowful reminder during a painful time in his life.
All my life was wrecked by sin and strife;
Discord filled my heart with pain.
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
Stirred the slumbering chords again.
Seventeen year old Luther Bridgers succumbed to God’s call and began preaching while enrolled in college at Asbury College, Kentucky. Years passed and Bridgers married his wife Sallie Veatch and God blessed the young couple with three sons. As the story is told, in 1910, while Bridgers was a young and energetic twenty-six, he left his family with his in-laws while he was away preaching. That night, a neighbor woke to the terrifying scene of a burning home.
The neighbor bolted across the way to help, but it was too late. The in-laws had escaped but Mrs. Bridgers and the young boys did not make it out alive. Sources say poor Luther heard of his family’s death by phone, but an account by Dr. Alfred B. Smith claims Luther was actually at the scene.
Dr. Alfred B. Smith
Dr. Smith said when Bridgers couldn’t find his wife and children, he tried to run inside the burning house to find them, but was held back by neighbors who knew it was too late.
Can you imagine this horrible scene? This is what my mind envisions…
John Doe, the next door neighbor, wakes to the distinct smell of smoke. Rolling over and peering out the window, he is shocked to see bright orange and yellow flames illuminating the night. Pulling on his coat and shoes, he races across the yard to his neighbors.
“Veatches! Wake up! The house is on fire!”
Mr. and Mrs. Veatch stumble out of the house, their faces smudged by the toxic flames. Mr. Veatch’s shirt had even caught fire and the flames ate away at his clothing. While Mr. Veatch slaps out the flames on his shirt, Mr. Doe tries in vain to extinguish the fire. Luther comes flying out next, heaving and coughing. He falls into the grass and gulps in the cold night air.
“Sallie? Where’s Sallie?!”
“She’s not here,” Mr. Veatch turns panicked eyes to the fully engulfed house.
“No! Sallie!” Luther scrambles to his feet and tries to rush back into the house.
“No, son!” Mr. Veatch grasps his arm and holds him back.
Luther twists and kicks and nearly frees himself until John Doe helps Mr. Veatch restrain him.
“It’s too late now,” John Doe says quietly. “I’m sorry, Luther.”
“No! Sallie! Boys!” Luther falls to his knees and watches the house collapse into a burnt, charred heap.
Tho’ sometimes He leads thro’ waters deep,
Trials fall across my way,
Tho’ sometimes the path seems rough and steep,
See His footprints all the way.
I can’t imagine the pain young Bridgers faced that night. He could’ve turned his back on God. He could’ve said God would never allow such a tragedy to befall him and Luther could’ve stopped preaching and writing music right there. It wasn’t an easy road as some say Luther faced terrible depression and even suicidal thoughts. However, in 1910 this hymn was born from Luther’s pain and agony.
Some sources disagree and say that this hymn was written at least a year before this tragedy took place. Regardless of when or how this event took place, the point is, despite the horrific circumstances, Luther Bridgers decided to keep singing as he went. He found that Jesus is the One who fills all our longings. No doubt he desperately longed for his beloved wife and his precious boys. Nothing could fill that void in his life except Jesus. In the final verse of his hymn, Luther looks ahead to when he will dwell in heaven with the sweetest name, Jesus, and be reunited with his family again.
Soon He’s coming back to welcome me
Far beyond the starry sky.
I shall wing my flight to worlds unknown;
I shall reign with Him on high.
Luther remarried four years later to Aline Winburn and together they had one son. Luther pastored in churches in Georgia and North Carolina as well as traveled overseas to Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Russia when World War I ended. Next time you sing this precious hymn, will you remember that even when your life is “wrecked with sin and strife” and when “trials fall across [your] way” will you decide to “keep singing as [you] go”?
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.
All unmarked images from freeimages.com.