Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. (James 4:8 KJV)

This well-loved hymn was written by a talented and charming English woman, Sarah R. Adams (1805–1848) who lived only 43 years. In spite of her delicate health, Sarah Flower Adams had an active and productive life. After a successful career on the London stage as Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth, she began to write and became widely known for her literary accomplishments. The cross mentioned in the first stanza of her hymn text may have been the physical handicaps that limited her many ambitions.

Sarah’s sister Eliza was gifted musically and often composed melodies for her sister’s poems. Together they contributed 13 texts and 62 new tunes for a hymnal that was being compiled by their pastor. One day the Rev. William J. Fox asked for a new hymn to accompany his sermon on the story of Jacob and Esau. Sarah spent much time studying Genesis 28:10–22 and within a short time completed all of the stanzas of “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Since that day in 1840, this hymn has had an unusual history of ministering spiritual comfort to hurting people everywhere.

These lines picturing Jacob sleeping on a stone, dreaming of angels, and naming the place Bethel, meaning “the house of God,” seem to reflect the common yearning—especially in times of deep need—to experience God’s nearness and presence in a very real way.

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer to Thee!
E’en tho 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!

Tho 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!

Then with my waking thoughts,
bright with Thy praise,
out of my stony griefs.
Bethel I raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer my God, to Thee,
nearer to Thee!

Or if on joyful wing,
cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot,
upward I fly,
till all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer, my God, to Thee,
nearer to Thee!

Osbeck, K. W. (1990). Amazing grace : 366 inspiring hymn stories for daily devotions (247). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.