Nearer My God To Thee

One of my favorite hymns is Nearer, My God, to Thee. It has a simple but beautiful melody and powerful lyrics. It conveys the longing of being with Heavenly Father again; it conveys the longing of home. There is the desire to be close to God, regardless the cost – even if it takes our own cross to get us there (which it often does in our own way).

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

Though 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!

There let the way appear steps unto heav’n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me 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’ll 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, upwards I fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Much of the hymn refers to an experience the patriarch of old – Jacob – had on a journey toward Haran. I’ll quote at length from the Bible (Genesis 28:10-22) and insert italicized commentary as appropriate.

10 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran [a major city that was possibly located in modern day Turkey].

11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.

12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it [this is a metaphorical representation of the connection and pathway between heaven and earth. In Acts 1:9-11 we read of Christ's ascension in to heaven after His 40 day ministry to His apostles; there are several other similar instances in the scriptures: 3 Nephi 11:5-8; Joseph Smith-History 1:16-17].

13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed [this is the Abrahamic covenant, a topic for a different time];

14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not [Jacob saw God in his dream vision and when he awoke, felt the sanctity of the place].

17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven [Jacob feared because he realized he had been in the presence of God - a wonderful but sometimes fearful thought as well, particularly because of our sins. The place where Jacob slept because the house of God - a temple. Temples literally are the houses of God and the gates of heaven. Through temples can we pass into the presence of God].

18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it [This is a particularly interesting verse. Jacob took his stony pillow and made it into a pillar - an altar. He poured oil, probably consecrated olive oil upon the top of it to consecrate it and sanctify it unto God].

19 And he called the name of that place Beth-el: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first [Beth-el literally means God's house or house of God. Beth is house and el is God {Elohim would be the title and the plural}].

20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on [this can be viewed as earthly bread and raiment but can also be viewed as the bread and raiment {temple clothes} given in our Father's kingdom],

21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:

22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house [he dedicated the site as a temple]: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee [this is a reference to Jacob's paying tithing].

That is the primary scriptural source for the lyrics to Nearer, My God, to Thee.

Here is a recent recording of the most known tune (called Bethany) used with the lyrics. This is Steven Sharp Nelson playing the cello (9 parts). The video was filmed and produced by The Piano Guys.

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