On board old sailing ships there were seamen whose job it was to measure the distance to the ocean floor as they drew toward shore. Their task was to “sound the depths.” Samuel Trevor Francis (1834-1925) explored another ocean. He sent out his measure, and then announced, “unfathomable.”
Of Thee, then, and Thy love I sing, Mine swallowed up in Thine, Mine the poor, cold, and feeble thing, Thine deathless, deep, divine.
To sing Francis’ hymns is a known antidote for the trite and shallow.
His long friend and co-laborer, F. B. Meyer, paid this tribute: “The Poet is a maker, according to the old Greek thought. He constructs, but he does more; he unveils those divine thoughts or ideas which underlie the system of things in which our life is cast. It is impossible for the most of us to see these visions, hear those words, or catch those divine harmonies. We are too dull and preoccupied, but the poet’s ear is quick, his heart alert. Mr. Trevor Francis has seen and heard more than most of us, and has clothed his conceptions in language of considerable elevation and power, but some of the themes he handles are transcendent in their meaning, and mortal thoughts and tongue stagger beneath the weight of glory.”
Oh, the Deep Deep Love of Jesus is Francis’ most widely circulated hymn, which he lived long enough to hear sung by congregations around the world, sometimes in different languages. This hymn is in most hymnbooks (the good ones) and his hymn, I Am Waiting for the Dawning ought to be.
Samuel Trevor Francis was born in Cheshunt, Herts, in England. Like young Timothy, Trevor benefited from a godly mother and grandmother, who understood the benefits of early child training. The Bible was their textbook used to teach him to read.
One of his earliest memories is of stepping into his mother’s bedroom with his older brother, where they knelt beside her, and listened to her pleading that her sons would “grow up to be God-fearing men.”
As a child of five or six, Trevor lived with his grandmother and aunt at Cheshunt. They poured in Bible truth in the way that the servants at the wedding in Cana filled the water pots. But it would be more than a decade before God would turn the water to wine. He attended religious services regularly and, with his father and older brother, sang the grand old hymns in the choir of Hull Parish. But he was not born again.
On the threshold of adulthood, his father arranged a career for Trevor. For twelve months he was in an apprenticeship program with a medical doctor in Camberwell, but everything changed when his father died. He dropped out of the arrangement. In poor health, the teenager went to stay with his uncle in Hull. There Trevor met a chemist named Mr. Akester who was leading young people’s Bible studies. One day Akester asked “if he would like to see a man buried alive.” It turned out to be a baptism, with the eccentric Andrew Jukes officiating. Jukes was the author of The Law of the Offerings, Types in Genesis, and A Comparison of the Four Gospels. Something of a prodigy, Jukes had a sad weakness for speculative interpretations. But despite Jukes’ future blunders and heresies, the assembly was at that time in a healthy state. There in Hull he had his first brush with an assembly of believers who met in Scriptural simplicity. Unencumbered by ritual, he heard clear gospel preaching.
Soon after, the nineteen-year-old was returning to London: “On my way home from work I had to cross Hungerford Bridge to the south of the Thames. It was a winter’s night of wind and rain, and in the loneliness of that walk I cried to God to have mercy upon me. Staying for a moment to look at the dark waters flowing under the bridge, the temptation was whispered to me, ‘Make an end of all this misery.’ I drew back from the evil thought, and suddenly a message was borne into my very soul, ‘You do believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?’ I at once answered, ‘I do believe, and I put my whole trust in Him as my Saviour.’ Instantly there came this reply. ‘Then you are saved,’ and with a thrill of joy I ran across the bridge, burst through the turnstile and pursued my way home, repeating the words again and again, ‘Then I am saved; then I am saved.'”
After this great change, Trevor seemed perpetually thrilled. He wrote,
I thought I was saved by my working,
My goodness, my praying, my tears;
I labored with wearisome effort
To conquer my sins and my fears–
Until I at last saw the Saviour,
And knew it was only His blood
That could bring me, a vile, wretched sinner,
Near, near to a heart-searching God.
In search of a church home, he tracked down the source of a pamphlet, and discovered a congregation in Kennington, in the south of London, which was similar to the congregation he had seen in Hull. There he attended a number of months before he was received into fellowship. If the meeting was overly strict, it was also overly privileged. It was the home assembly of several remarkable saints. Dr. Edward Cronin was in fellowship there. He had been in the nucleus of the Dublin assembly in the winter of 1827-28 with Francis Hutchinson, Darby and J. G. Bellett. Surely none of these young men had realized the reverberations in the church of God that would result from their inconspicuous beginnings. Only four years later, in 1832, Cronin went to Baghdad to assist Anthony Norris Groves in evangelistic work. There he lost his sister and wife to disease, and was once left for dead after being stoned out of a village.
William Joseph Lowe also fellowshipped in Kennington. Lowe was about four years younger than Francis. Also raised in a believing home, he was converted in childhood, and Francis would have known him and his family. Lowe was a scholar in the classical languages. Ancient and modern together, he was familiar with ten or eleven tongues. In later years he traveled across Europe and aided Darby in his extensive translation work. Darby remarked that Lowe was the best taught young man he knew. After Darby’s death he labored extensively with Thomas Neatby and William Kelly.
The weighty input these men gave to the Kennington assembly was like the ballast in the boat. The zealous young Francis began to develop. In open-air preaching, especially during the Revival of 1859-1860 his giftedness in the gospel became obvious. He was also a worker in the city missions.
Later, when Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey conducted their London campaign in 1873-1874, men like F. B. Meyer and S. Trevor Francis were willing helpers. Ira Sankey enlisted Francis’ help directing the singing at several evangelistic meetings. In one accord with Moody’s fervor, Francis’ poems show an energetic, aggressive faith.
Arise! ye warriors of the cross,
The Master’s word obeying,
Gird on the sword, count all things loss,
Go forth without delaying;
Still forward, ’tis our Lord’s command,
He will forsake us never;
His mighty hand none can withstand,
And He is with us ever.
During this active career, he authored Eternal Love, Oh Mighty Sea; Hark! A Gentle Stranger Knocketh; Call the Weary Home; Let Me Sing You a Song of Heaven; Jesus, We Remember Thee; Home of Light and Glory; Forward, Christian, Forward; Revive Us, Lord Jesus; Oh, For the Meeting in the Radiant Air; Safe to Land; No Shadows Darken, and many more, some of which are found in the Believers’ Hymn Book and Hymns of Light and Love.
One disappointment is that none of his hymns are in the Little Flock hymnbook. Francis felt strongly that “those poems that are hymn-like will not be altered to suit the whims or theology of hymnbook compilers.” He said that he did not write his hymns “in the interests of any party or school of thought, but for all who ‘love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth.'” Francis was taken aback by the many daring editorial feats that he witnessed in the compilation of the Little Flock, and so he remarked, “I am just as inspired as Darby is.” By so saying, he meant that if his hymns did need editing, he preferred to do it himself. I think this was regrettable. Even the best authors can benefit from a good editor. Remember that it was ungodly Pilate who said, “What I have written, I have written.”
After a partial loss of sight, the doctor encouraged Francis to take a sea voyage, which became a world tour. The beloved poet sailed to Canada, Australia, Palestine, Egypt, and, accompanied by R. C. Morgan, the first editor of The Christian magazine, to parts of North Africa. It was the testimony of those who knew him that during all his seventy-three years in the Christian pathway, he was a consistent, fruitful witness in Britain and all other lands he visited.
In December of 1925, at the advanced age of 92, he entered into the perfection of the joys he had previously only tasted.
No pain, no grief, no sorrow,
For night hath changed to day;
In God’s eternal morrow
All tears are wiped away.
Material for this article taken from:
Jack Strahan, Hymns and their Writers, Gospel Tract Publ.
Hy. Pickering, Chief Men Among the Brethren, Loizeaux.
S. Trevor Francis, O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus and Other Selected Poems, Pickering and Inglis.