PODCAST: Spirit of the Living God (History Behind the Hymns #17 with Daniel Whyte III)

Welcome to the History Behind the Hymns podcast. This is episode #17

I am your host, Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International. I am one of many Christians who still loves the old hymns of the faith even more than many modern Christian songs. For the past 33 years, my wife and children and I have sung the old hymns during our family devotion time. Over the years we have used an Independent Baptist hymn book, a National Baptist hymn book, and a Southern Baptist hymn book to sing the old hymns of the faith. And we have sung the old hymns of the faith with traditional Methodist churches online. The old hymns of the faith have been a tremendous source of blessing and encouragement to my heart down through the years. The purpose of this podcast is to encourage you to dust off your old hymn book and experience the power and blessing of well-written hymns based upon sound doctrine for the glory of God that will strengthen your faith.

The History Behind the Hymns passage of Scripture is Zechariah 4:6 which reads: “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

The History Behind the Hymns quote for today is from Martin Luther. He said: “The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

The quote in connection to today’s hymn is from Aiden Wilson Tozer. He said: “It is time for us to seek again the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Man’s lordship has cost us too much.”

Our hymn for today is “Spirit of the Living God” by Daniel Iverson. It reads:

Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me
Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me

Make me, melt me
Mold me, fill me
Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me

Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me
Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me

Make me, melt me
Mold me, fill me
Spirit of the living God
Fall fresh on me

Now here is the history behind the hymn, “Spirit of the Living God”. According to Umcdiscipleship.org:

This is one of the most long-lasting and widely used choruses in Christian worship. Every aspect of the song embodies a simple sincerity.

The melody encompasses only five notes, with every pitch in its place. The harmonies can be played by a very modestly skilled pianist, and three of the four lines repeat the same nine words. Yet for many, the straightforward petitions of this song draw the singer into an attitude of prayer.

The late hymnologist William J. Reynolds provided background on the song’s creation:

“During January and February of 1926, the George T. Stephans Evangelistic Party conducted a citywide revival in the tabernacle in Orlando, Fla. Daniel Iverson, a Presbyterian minister from Lumberton, N.C., spent several days in Orlando visiting with the Stephans team. The day he arrived, he was greatly impressed by a message on the Holy Spirit given by Dr. Barron, a physician from Columbia, S.C.

“Later that day Iverson went to the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, sat down at the piano, and wrote this song. Miss Birdie Loes, the pianist for the Stephans team, wrote it out on manuscript paper. E. Powell Lee, the team song leader, was immediately impressed and taught it to the people that evening in the tabernacle, and used it throughout the campaign.”

Daniel Iverson (1890-1977) was a native of Brunswick, Ga. He received his education at the University of Georgia in Athens, the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and the University of South Carolina. As a Presbyterian minister, Iverson served churches in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In 1927 he organized the Shenandoah Presbyterian Church in Miami, Fla., remaining with this congregation until his retirement in 1951.

While the inspiration for the hymn is not known for certain, it is likely that Iverson knew a hymn by Adelaide Pollard, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” based on Jeremiah 18:6: “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel”.

The first stanza of Pollard’s hymn uses similar language (“Mold me and make me”). The final stanza also contains a petition to the Spirit (“Fill with thy Spirit”). Pollard’s hymn was written about 25 years before Iverson’s 1926 composition. Both use a similar musical idiom.

The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that the authorship of “Spirit of the Living God” was lost for a time because the song could so easily be taught without music or even printed words. It first appeared in Revival Songs in a slightly revised version that was published without the author’s permission, according to Dr. Young.

Southern Baptist gospel song composer B.B. McKinney made slight alterations and published it again in his Songs of Victory. The altered version was solidified when it was published in the Baptist Hymnal without the composer’s name. E. Powell Lee, the song leader for the Stephans evangelistic team, brought Iverson’s name to light and his name was restored to the song in later printings of the Baptist Hymnal in the 1960s.

In a 2007 blog post, retired Presbyterian pastor John McCrea described his childhood in Iverson’s congregation: “I was there then, age 4, with my family. We lived a block from the church’s first building, an old rustic dance hall.

“Daniel’s youngest son, Bill Iverson, recently called together many old-timers to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the church . . . now occupied by a Hispanic congregation dedicated to carrying on the same message and mission.”

Undoubtedly, the Spanish-language translation of Iverson’s hymn lives on in this congregation.

In our next episode we will look at the history behind the hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” by Civilla Martin.

Let’s Pray —

Dear friend, this hymn honors God and the Lord Jesus Christ, if you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you want to get to know Him today here’s how.

First, accept the fact that you are a sinner, and that you have broken God’s law. The Bible says in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death…”

Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: Also, the Bible states in Revelation 21:8: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

Now this is bad news, but here’s the good news. Jesus Christ said in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Just believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for your sins, was buried, and rose from the dead by the power of God for you so that you can live eternally with Him. Pray and ask Him to come into your heart today, and He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Pray and ask Him to come into your heart and He will.

May God bless you and keep you until we meet again.