Sermon—“How Oft, Alas, This Wretched Heart”

Some of the points covered in this sermon:
• Highlighting the subject and theme of the hymn—the triumphant recovery of a rescued backslider
• Showing where the subject of backsliding fits within the framework of sovereign grace
• Explaining the distinction between the twofold nature of a regenerate sinner’s soul
• Explaining progressive sanctification and showing why it is a wrong doctrine
• Explaining the difference between progressive sanctification and growth in grace
• Outlining the five stanzas of the hymn, each of which may be viewed as a step forward in the recovery process of a rescued backslider
• Stanza 1—A Solemn Confession
• Stanza 2—A Gracious Invitation
• Stanza 3—A Mournful Petition
• Stanza 4—A Joyful Acclamation
• Stanza 5—A Compelled Resolution
• The backslider’s experience outlined in the hymn resembles the confession of David in Psalm 119:176

Sermon—“The Backslider’s Prayer”

Some of the points covered in this sermon:
• Comparing and contrasting the first and last stanzas of Psalm 119
• Highlighting the subject of the last stanza (verses 169-176)—The Backslider’s Prayer
• Underscoring the three main sections of the last stanza
• Unfolding the structure of the last stanza—a twofold statement on David’s petition for deliverance, and a single statement of his pledge to praise the Lord
• Aligning the backslider’s prayer with the framework of sovereign grace

Sermon—“Petition For Deliverance”

Some of the points covered in this sermon:
• Reviewing the main structure of Psalm 119:169-176
• Highlighting the main structure of Psalm 119:173-176—a twofold statement on a petition for help, and a twofold statement on a confession of hope
• Explaining the connection between the ‘hand’ and ‘judgments’ of the Lord helping His people
• Aligning this petition for deliverance with the framework of sovereign grace
• Explaining how the terms ‘precepts’, ‘law’ and ‘commandments’ refer to the gospel law under the authority of the gracious covenant, rather than the heart law under the authority of the covenant works, or the ten commandments under the authority of the Mosaic covenant

Sermon—“Seek Thy Servant”

Some of the points covered in this sermon:
• Highlighting the twofold confession and single petition of David in Psalm 119:176
• Explaining the first of two Calvinistic views of Regeneration—the sinful nature itself is regenerated, with a new principle of life implanted therein; from this view the doctrine of ‘Progressive Sanctification’ is derived, which brings the believer under the yoke of rules and regulations; it is characterized by legalism and pharisaism, as the believer attempts to live godly in Christ Jesus under the heart law
• Explaining the second of two Calvinistic views of Regeneration—the soul itself is regenerated, with a righteous nature imparted, entirely separate from the sinful nature; from this view the doctrine of ‘Growing in Grace’ is derived, which brings the believer under the yoke of Christ; it is characterized by liberty and freedom, as the believer endeavors to live godly in Christ Jesus under the gospel law
• Showing how Psalm 119:176 affirms the second of the two Calvinist views of Regeneration

Sermon—“My Rule Of Conduct”

Some of the points covered in this sermon:
• Providing a rudimentary sketch of the historic controversy over the rule of conduct for a believer’s life
• Siding with the basic conclusions of Agricola, Huntington and Gadsby—the gospel law is the rule of conduct for the believer’s life
• Explaining my view on why the gospel law is the rule of conduct for the believer’s life
• Every “law” is confined to the jurisdiction of a covenant—henceforth, the “law” which governs a person’s life is determined by the covenant under which he/she is subject
• The heart law is under the jurisdiction of the covenant of works, which is binding upon all unregenerate sinners
• The moral law (ten commandments) is under the jurisdiction of the Mosaic Covenant, which was binding upon the Jewish people as a nation (Moses, 1491 BC – Destruction Of Jerusalem, AD 70)
• The gospel law is under the jurisdiction of the covenant of grace, which is binding upon all regenerate sinners
• Conclusions: (1) The moral law (ten commandments) is binding upon no one today; (2) The heart law is binding upon the unregenerate; (3) The gospel law is binding upon the regenerate

1. John Gadsby, “Hymn-Writers & Compilers”

Steele (Anne) was born in 1716. She was the eldest daughter of Mr. William Steele, Baptist minister, Broughton, Hampshire, and was a member of her father’s church for 46 years. It is to be deeply regretted that no memoir of her, except one prefixed to the third volume of her poems, published after her death, is in existence; and this is hardly worth reading. Her hymns, however, contain the breathings of a living soul, and have been the means of cheering many a drooping heart, drawing out many a sympathetic tear, inspiring many a rapturous song, and calling forth many a prevailing prayer.* Even in early life she was exceedingly fond of poetry, but was ever very unwilling for her productions to be submitted to the public eye; and when at last she gave consent, she would not have her own name attached to the volumes, but published them under the signature of Theodosia, and appropriated the profit to charitable uses. As her life was, for the most part, a life of retirement, it furnishes but few incidents worth recording; but it is described as one of “unaffected humility, warm benevolence, sincere friendship, and genuine devotion.” She had a capacious mind enclosed in a very weak and languid body; and the death of her father, to whom she was attached by the strongest ties of affection and gratitude, gave such a shock to her tender frame that she never recovered it, though she survived him some years. She had consented to give her hand in marriage to a young man named Elscourt, and the day of the marriage was fixed; but her intended, while bathing in a river on the day preceding it, incautiously went out of his depth, and was drowned. For some years before her death, Miss S. was confined to her chamber, and long looked with sweet resignation for her dissolution; and when at last the happy moment arrived, she was full of peace and joy. Though her body was racked with pain, she uttered not a murmuring word. She took the most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and then, with these triumphant words upon her lips, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” closed ber eyes, and fell asleep in Jesus. She died in Nov., 1778. During her life she published two volumes of hymns and poems, and a third volume was published after her death. The following lines are inscribed upon her tombstone:

“Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue,
That sang on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she tunes a nobler song,
In more exalted, more harmonious lays.”

2. “A Dictionary Of Hymnology”

“Steele, Anne, b. In 1716, was the daughter of Mr. Wm. Steele, a timber merchant, and pastor, without salary, of the Baptist Church at Broughton, in Hampshire. At an early age she showed a taste for literature, and would often entertain her friends by her poetical compositions. But it was not until 1760 that she could be prevailed upon to publish. In that years two vols. Appeared under the title of Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, by Theodosia. After her death, which occurred in November, 1778, a new edition was published with an additional volume and a Preface by the Rev. Caleb Evans, of Bristol (Bristol, 1780). In the three vols are 144 hymns, 34 Psalms in verse, and about 30 short poems. They have been reprinted in one vol. By D. Sedgwick, 1863. Miss Steele’s hymns were first made available for congregational use in 1769, 62 of them being then introduced into the Bristol Bap. College of Ash & Evans, the letter T for “Theodosia” being affixed; 47 were also given in in Dr. Rippon’s Sel., 1787, and 26 in Dr. W. B. Collyer’s Coll., 1812. Among Baptist hymn-writers Miss Steele stands at the head, if we regard either the number of her hymns which have found a place in the hymnals of the last 120 years, of the frequency with which they have been sung. Although few of them can be placed in the first rank of lyrical compositions, they are almost uniformly simple in language, natural and pleasing in imagery, and full of genuine Christian feeling. Miss Steele may not inappropriately be compared with Miss F. R. Havergal, our “Theodosia” of the 19th century. In both there is the same evangelistic fervour, in both the same Intense personal devotion to the Lord Jesus. But whilst Miss Steele seems to think of Him moe frequently as he “bleeding, dying Lord”—dwelling on His suffering in their physical aspect—Miss Havergal oftener refers to His living help and sympathy, recognizes with gladness His present claims as “Master” and “King”, and anticipates almost with ecstasy His second coming. Looking at the whole of Miss Steele’s hymns, we find in them a wider range of thought than in Miss Havergal’s compositions. She treats of a greater variety of subjects. On the other hand, Miss Havergal, living in this age of missions and general philanthropy, has much more to say concerning Christian work and personal service for Christ and for humanity. Miss Steele suffered from delicacy of health and from a great sorrow, which befell her in the death of her betrothed under peculiarly painful circumstances. In other respects her life was uneventful, and occupied chiefly in the discharge of such domestic and social duties as usually fall to the lost of the eldest daughter of a village pastor. She was buried in Broughton churchyard. [W. R. S.]”

3. Henry Burrage, “Baptist Hymn Writers And Their Hymns”

More than one hundred of Miss Steele’s hymns are found in our modern compilations. Of no other Baptist hymn writer can this be said. Indeed, as Dr. Hatfield (“Poets of the Church,” p. 570) remarks, “No one of the gentler sex has so largely contributed to the familiar hymnology of the church as the modest and retiring, but gifted and godly, Anne Steele. She may well be styled the female ‘Poet of the Sanctuary.'” She was the eldest daughter of William Steele, a timber merchant, who for thirty years was a deacon and occasional preacher in the Baptist church at Broughton, and for a like period was the beloved pastor of the church, without salary. Born at Broughton in 1716, she became in early life a member of her father’s church. From childhood she was an invalid, and at times a great sufferer. When she was twenty-one years of age, the young man to whom she was engaged to be married was drowned while bathing, the day before the wedding was to take place. She could say with the Psalmist, “All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” Yet heart-broken, she did not yield to despair, but made herself a ministering spirit, devoting her life to deeds of love and mercy. Many of her hymns, written to lighten her own burdens, give beautiful expression to the sweetness of her Christian character, and the depth of her Christian experience. The death of her greatly venerated father, Sept. 10, 1769, is said to have hastened her own death, which occurred in November, 1778, at the age of sixty-one.

Anne Steele’s Residence

The closing scenes in Miss Steele’s life are thus described by Dr. Evans: “Having been confined to her chamber for some years, she had long waited with Christian dignity for the hour of her departure. And when the time came, she welcomed its arrival; and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. She took a most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and at length, the happy moment of her dismission arriving, she closed her eyes, and with these words upon her dying lips, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ gently fell asleep in Jesus.” She was buried in Broughton churchyard, and the following lines were inscribed upon her tomb:

“Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue,
That sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the angel’s song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.”

Miss Steele’s first publication appeared in 1760, in two volumes, under the title “Poems, on Subjects Chiefly Devotional,” by “Theodosia.” The following entry in her father’s diary, under date November 29, 1757, seems to have reference to this publication “This day Nanny sent part of her composition to London to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it, and bless it for the good of many…I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.” October, 1759, he wrote: “Her brother brought with him her poetry, not yet bound. I earnestly desire the blessing of God upon that work, that it may be made very useful.”

After her death these two volumes of her “Poems,” with a third prepared by herself, were published (1780), by Rev. Caleb Evans, d.d., of Bristol. It is said it was in a collection of hymns compiled by Dr. Evans and Dr. John Ash, published in 1769, that Miss Steele’s hymns were first made available for general use in religious worship.

4. Josiah Miller, “Our Hymns: Their Authors And Origin”

Miss Steele was the daughter of the Rev. Wm. Steele, a Baptist minister at Broughton, in Hampshire. The Steeles were for several generations possessed of good talents and means, which they devoted unreservedly to the cause of Christ. Anne was a member of the Church under her father s care, and a person eminent for her piety and useful Christian activity. She was the authoress of “Poems on subjects chiefly devotional,” in three vols. (1760), with the signature “Theodosia”; and a version of the Psalms. He hymns in the “New Congregational Hymn Book” are free from the defects which mar some others, good in their versification, pious in their spirit, and scriptural in their teaching, without any special excellencies or any manifestation of genius on the part of the writer. They are ten in number, 331, 482, 518, 560, 601, 612, 635, 646, 971, 994. Some of them are given with verses omitted.

“Almighty Maker of my frame.”—No. 482.

This is four verses of her Psalm 39, consisting of thirteen verses, and beginning—

“When I resolved to watch my thoughts.”

“Father, whatever of earthly bliss.”—No. 601

This is the last three verses of her hymn, bearing date 1760, on “Desiring Resignation and Thankfulness,” and beginning—

“When I survey life’s varies scene.”

Miss Steele was a great sufferer. A few hours before the time of her wedding, the object of her affections was drowned while bathing. She carried with her through life a weak and afflicted body, and she never recovered the shock of her father s death. He died September 10, 1769. But she bore all with resignation, and before her peaceful departure, uttered the triumphant words, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” She died in 1778, at the age of sixty-one.

5. Hezekiah Butterworth, “The Story Of The Hymns”

“The most unfortunate people are sometimes the most useful. Socrates purblind, Seneca withered, Milton blind, Collins and Cowper distressed with the fear of insanity, Dr. Johnson carrying with him physical and mental infirmity from youth to age, were among the world’s benefactors notwithstanding these obstacles to success. From a blighted youth and life-long misfortune have often sprung works of benevolence and sympathy, such as only could result from the discipline of trial.

“There is a secret in the ways of God,
With his own children, which none others know,
That sweetens all he does.”

In nearly every collection of hymns, and especially in collections used in Baptist churches, the name of “Mrs. Steele” is more frequently found than any other female writer. The address “Mrs.” is usually placed before her name, though the lady was never married. This usage is common, in England, with maiden ladies entitled to especial respect, and it has been retained by American compilers of devotional poetry and hymns.

She was the daughter of Rev. William Steele, an English Baptist minister in Hampshire. She united with the church under her father’s care, and was greatly beloved for her humility, piety, and Christian activities. She was a great sufferer, and from a life of severe discipline grew those sweet Christian graces which find ex- pression in her hymns.

“Father, whate’er of earthly bliss,
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at thy throne of grace,
Let this petition rise:”

“Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free,
The blessings of thy love impart,
And help me live to Thee.”

She met with an accident in childhood which made her an invalid for life. She was also engaged to be married to a gentleman whom she dearly loved, and the preparations were fully made for the wedding. At the very moment when she was expecting the bridegroom’s arrival, the guests being already in part assembled, a messenger came with the news that he had just been drowned. Her life, now doubly blighted, sought only consolation in the exercises of piety, charity, and the inspirations of her pen. Her father’s death deepened her sorrows in her helpless situation, and weaned her heart from the vanishing things of the world. But she bore her lot in her most shadowed hours with resignation, “looking unto Jesus.” Her exit was serene and happy. Wrinkled with sorrow and worn with age, she at last realized a full answer to the burden of her life-long prayer

“Let the sweet hope that thou art mine,
My life and death attend;
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.”

Shortly before her departure, she said:

“I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Her life was told in that hymn. “Earthly bliss”was denied her, but she had a “calm and thankful heart,” God’s “presence” shone through her “journey,” and crowned the “journey’s end.”

6. Edwin Long, “Illustrated History Of Hymns And Their Authors”

A name that will linger long in the memory of those who love to sing the songs of Zion, is that of Anne Steele.

She was born in 1716, and was the eldest daughter of Rev. William Steele, pastor of the Baptist Church at Broughton, England. She united herself with the church when fourteen years of age, and remained in connection with her father’s church till in her sixty second year she was transferred to the skies. When Rev. Henry Steele, her father’s uncle and predecessor, had charge of the church, he was so popular that the neighboring Episcopal minister reported to his Bishop that his parish was sadly invaded by the dissenter. “How can I best oppose him?” said he. “Go home and preach better than Henry Steele, and the people will return,” was the wise reply of Bishop Burnett.

She commenced writing poetry in early life, but withheld her name.

In her father’s diary, dated Nov. 29. 1757, is made this entry concerning the issue of her first production:

“This day, Nanny sent part of her composition to London, to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled, and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it and bless it for the good of many…I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.”

Any one who traces the influences that her hymns have already wielded for over a century can see a bountiful answer to this father’s prayer and solicitude.

Having consented, in early life, to be wedded to Mr. Elscourt, a young man of promise, the day of the wedding was fixed. But a short time before the appointed hour, he went down in the river to bathe, when getting beyond his depth, he was drowned.

Through an accident in her childhood, Miss Steele was made a sufferer, and an invalid all through life. In the retirement of her sick-chamber she was taught the lesson by experience—that she breathes out so sweetly in her hymn:—

“Give me a calm, a thankful heart,
From every murmur tree;
The blessings of Thy grace impart,
And make me live to Thee.”

The death of her father in 1769 was a great shock to her frail tenement, from which she never fully recovered. From this time, she was confined to her chamber, and “looked with sweet resignation to the time of her removal from earth, and when it happily arrived, she was, amidst great pain, full of peace and joy. She took the most affectionate leave of her friends who stood weeping around her, and uttering the triumphant words, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth,’ closed her eyes, and fell asleep in Jesus.” Thus she departed in 1778.

The one hundred and forty-four hymns, and thirty-four Psalms that issued from her pen, she lay upon the altar as an entire consecration to Him she so dearly loved, and would only permit them to be published with the understanding that all the profits should go to benevolent objects. It is supposed “that no woman, and but few men, ever wrote so many hymns that have been so generally acceptable in the church as did Miss Steele.”

One secret of the success of her hymns, no doubt, is the warmth of her heart-breakings after Him, of whom she beautifully says:—

“Jesus, my Lord, in Thy dear name unite,
All things my heart calls great or good or sweet;
Divinest springs of wonder and delight,
In Thee, Thou fairest often thousand, meet.”

7. John Holland, “The Psalmists Of Britain”

“There are few names of more certain occurrence in modern collections of Psalms and Hymns, than that of Mrs. Steele—but still fewer, there is reason to believe, of whom less has been known, even by the majority of those persons who have adopted her compositions. She was born in the year 1716, at the village of Broughton, near Stockbridge, Hants; at which place, her father, Mr. William Steele, was the Minister of a community of Baptists, who appear to have existed there so long as one hundred and fifty years ago. At an early age, Anne Steele manifested a pious disposition, and before she was nineteen, had become a member of the Church of which her father was pastor. To a fervour of devotion which increased with her years, she added a taste for sacred literature, which led her to compose a considerable number of pieces in prose and verse amongst the latter, those Versions of sundry Psalms,* and Hymns founded chiefly on passages of Scripture, by means of which her memory bas been preserved. These fruits of Christian patience and religious meditation, were given to the public in 17—in two volumes, under the title of “Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, by Theodosia.” Portions of these spiritual lyrics soon found their way into collections, while the diffidence of the authoress, veiled under an assumed name, left her comparatively unknown beyond the circle of her personal friends. Always of a delicate constitution, it appears that her habits were very recluse; and for many years preceding her death, she was confined to her chamber by bodily affliction, during which period her mind was engaged in the production of Essays, principally of a religious nature, in prose and verse. She died in her native village, on the 11th November, 1778, in the sixty-second year of her age, and was interred in the family vault atBroughton Churchyard. The following lines, which appear on her tomb, were written by Miss Mary Steele, the niece of the deceased:—

“Silent the lyre and dumb the tuneful tongue,
That sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the Angelic Song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.”

In 1780, a new edition of the Poems, comprising a third and posthumous volume of “Miscellanies,” was published by the celebrated Dr. Caleb Evans, the profits of which were to be given to the “Bristol Education Society,” by which was meant the Baptist College,” in that city, of which he was at that time President. To this volume, the Editor has prefixed a character of Miss—or, as she was more commonly called, Mrs. Steele, which I gladly copy in the note belong, the more so, as the Rev. Hugh Russel, who has resided for more than thirty years among the descendants of the family of Theodosia , and to whom I have been indebted for some of the foregoing particulars, assures me that, all he can learn concerning this excellent lady, has only been in corroboration of what her friend, Dr. Evans has said, with a scrupulous adherence to truth.

8. Nicholas Smith, “Songs From The Hearts Of Women”

One year before the death of Madame Guyon a child was born at Broughton, England, that was destined to become the most distinguished female writer of sacred song of the eighteenth century. She was the daughter of William Steele, a timber merchant and an unsalaried lay-pastor of the Broughton Baptist congregation for nearly sixty years. The poetic gift was quite early manifest in Miss Steele, but it was not till she was forty-four that she consented to the publication of her hymns, that they might be available for public use.

The sweetest and tenderest of all hymns have usually been born of sorrow. Anne Steele was a child of much sorrow, and hence the pathetic tone, the deep Christian feeling, and the quiet resignation that characterize so many of her compositions. By an accident that occurred in her childhood she sustained injuries from which she never fully recovered; and her life at twenty-one was darkened by a terrible affliction. Robert Elscourt, to whom she was betrothed, met sudden death by drowning only a few hours before the time set for the wedding ceremony. The tragic circumstance threw her many cherished hopes into shadow; but out of her painfull experience came numerous soul-songs which have taken strong hold on the affection of the churches.

Miss Steele’s hymns number one hundred and forty-four, all of which were published in two editions before her death, in November, 1778. The most familiar, and certainly the most beloved of her hymns, is that which American people almost always sing to the charming tune “Naomi”:

“Father, whate’er of earthly bliss,
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne, let this,
My humble prayer arise:

Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessings of Thy grace Impart,
And make me live to Thee:”

Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine,
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.”

This is from a poem of ten stanzas which begins with the line, “When I survey life’s varied scenes.” The abridgment was made by Augustus M. Toplady about the time he wrote “Rock of Ages”—in 1776—two years before his death. In this form the hymn is in general use in all English-speaking lands, and after a century and a quarter of service it has lost none of its charm.

There are few hymns in any church collection that tend to inspire more heart-felt praise to the Redeemer than the following:

“To our Redeemer’s glorious name,
Awake the sacred song;
Oh, may His love, immortal flame,
Tune every heart and tongue.

His love what mortal thought can reach,
What mortal tongue display?
Imagination’s utmost stretch,
In wonder dies away.

He left His radiant throne on high,
Left the bright realms of bliss,
And came to earth to bleed and die!
Was ever love like this?

Dear Lord, while we adoring pay,
Our humble thanks to Thee,
May every heart with rapture say,
“The Saviour died for me.

Oh, may the sweet, the blissful theme,
Fill every heart and tongue,
Till strangers love Thy charming name,
And join the sacred song.”

Another hymn by Miss Steele is taken from a poem of twelve stanzas on the Holy Scriptures. It is beautiful as to poetic form, and is widely popular both in America and Great Britain. I quote the five stanzas which are in common use:

“Father of mercies, in Thy word,
What endless glory shines!
Forever be Thy name adored,
For these celestial lines.

Here may the wretched sons of want,
Exhaustless riches find;
Riches above what earth can grant,
And lasting as the mind.

Here the Redeemer’s welcome voice,
Spreads heavenly peace around;
And life, and everlasting joys,
Attend the blissful sound.

Oh, may these heavenly pages be,
Our ever dear delight;
And still new beauties may we see,
And still increasing light.

Divine Instructor, gracious Lord,
Be Thou forever near;
Teach us to love Thy sacred word,
And view the Saviour there.”

The mother of Archdeacon Wilson of Manchester, England, taught him when a boy to memorize good hymns—a matter that is unfortunately much neglected in these days. The first of the three hundred he committed to memory was this noble hymn by Miss Steele:

“My God, my Father, blissful name!
Oh, may I call Thee mine?
May I with sweet assurance claim,
A portion so divine?

This only can my fears control,
And bid my sorrows fly.
What harm can ever reach my soul,
Beneath my Father’s eye?

Whatever Thy providence denies,
I calmly would resign,
For Thou art good and just and wise,
Oh, bend my will to Thine.

Whate’er Thy sacred will ordains,
Oh, give me strength to bear;
And let me know my Father reigns,
And trust His tender care.

Thy sovereign ways are all unknown,
To my weak, erring sight;
Yet let my soul adoring own,
That all Thy ways are right.

My God, my Father, be Thy name,
My solace and my stay.
Oh, wilt Thou seal my humble claim,
And drive my fears away?”

The Archdeacon highly commended this hymn by saying that more than all the others he carried in his memory, it entered into his bone and blood, “as the true philosophy of life and the wisest prayer.”

For a full century after her death Miss Steele filled a larger place in American and British hymnals than any other woman, and even in the more recent representative collections she is next to Charlotte Elliott and Frances Ridley Havergal.

9. “The Quiver: An Illustrated Magazine For Day And General Reading”, Volume 14

In the same year in which Augustus Toplady, the author of “Rock of Ages,” passed away to his reward and crown, another hymn-writer, not much inferior in rank, went to her eternal rest; in this case not in the beginning of life’s prime, but at the ripe age of sixty-one. We allude to Anne Steele, who departed this life Novemember 11, 1778. Anne Steele, others called “Theodosia,” was a daughter of William Steele, pastor of the Baptist Church in the village of Broughton, Hampshire, a branch of a family long distinguished for their integrity, Christian virtues, and benevolence.

William Steele has been described as “a man of primitive piety, the strictest integrity, and the most amiable simplicity of manners. The powers of his mind were vigorous, his ministerial abilities great, and peculiarly his own; but they were accompanied by the most unaffected humility.” It is added that “he was an uncommon instance of how much may be done by regularity and diligent improvement of time. Without infringing on the duties of his pastoral office, though he wrote his sermons at length, and did not use shorthand, he carried on an extensive business as a timber merchant, like his uncle; and as, by the blessing of Providence, he possessed a comfortable independence, his labors in the ministry were all gratuitous. He died September 10, 1769, when only a month less than eighty, having preached to one congregation sixty years, half the time occasionally as a deacon, and the remaining half as their pastor.”

The “uncle” referred to was Henry Steele, who held the pastoral office at Broughton forty years. He was in business also for some years as a contractor for the navy, and died in 1739, at the age of eighty-five, leaving considerable property to his relations, and giving the chapel, which he had erected, and a burying-ground and some cottages, as a legacy to the Church to which he had ministered.

Though less gifted than his nephew, who succeeded him, he must have had considerable pulpit ability of some kind, as it is said he was so followed in his native village that when the celebrated Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Sarum, held a visitation in that part of the diocese, the incumbent of Broughton complained that “one Henry Steele had set up preaching, and had drawn away all the people after him.” He asked the bishop what course he should take to subvert the influence of the Dissenting preacher. The reply of Burnet was characteristic of the man, and affords a good lesson for all such complainers. “Go home,” said he, “and preach better than Henry Steele, and the people will return.” The hymns and poems of Miss Steele were first published in three small volumes. Her humility, and her earnest desire to glorify God—sentiments which were largely shared by her beloved and revered father—shine out with very pleasing lustre in her poetic pieces, as well as in her letters and other papers. Her dutiful affection to her parents, especially to her “honored father,” presents a beautiful picture of a home sanctified by true piety, and adorned with the ornaments of intelligence, good taste, and those viruses which are implanted and fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

She had been baptised on a professions of her faith, and united in fellowship with her father’s Church, at the age of fifteen years, and thus a double tie bound her to her beloved parents, who was to her a bright example and a faithful guide as well as a father and a friend.

The father was not unmindful of the talents of his amiable daughter, and his wife, the second Mrs. Steele, shared his admiration; but they were anxious that any public expression as to her abilities should not injure her character. The poems having been published, the stepmother wrote in her diary, “I earnestly desire the blessing of God upon that work, that it may be very useful. I can admire the gifts that others are blessed with, and praise God for his distinguishing favors to our family. Mr. W spoke very highly of her (Theodosia’s) book. I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.”

In presenting a copy of her work to her father, she wrote in “humble acknowledgment of her grateful sense of his parental affection, and the benefit she had received from his instructions.” “If you should survive me,” she adds, “it will be preserved, I doubt not, as a mournful pleasing remembrance of a departed child who once shared your tender regard.” Referring to any possible use her productions might be to her fellow-Christians, she says: “They may, perhaps, find seasons when the thoughts of the unworthy writer may suit their own, and the remembrance produce delight. If, while I am sleeping in the silent grave, my thoughts are of any real benefit to the meanest of the servants of my God, be the praise ascribed to the Almighty Giver of all grace.”

This was written when she was in a very weak state of health, and when her departure to another world would have taken no one by surprise.

The unpretending volumes of her poetry were published under the name of “Theodosia,” a name that may be well applied to herself and to her writings, which have proved “the gift of God” to many a weary traveler along life’s pathway, to many a sincere worshipper in many a land, and to multitudes who have never heard her name, but who have been cheered in their sorrow and pain by her sweet and heaven-breathing hymns.

Many a “troubled mind” has been guided to “God the only sure Refuge,” by her hymn—

“Dear Refuge of my weary soul!
On Thee, when sorrows rise—
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.”

Her hymn, “Desiring Resignation and Thankfulness,” has doubtless hushed the murmuring of many a disquieted spirit, especially the last three verses, which, slightly altered, have found their way, as a separate and complete hymn, into almost every hymn-book:

“Father! Whatever of earthly bliss,” &c.

The original contains ten verses beginning—

“When I survey life’s varied scene,
Amid the darkest hours,
Sweet rays of comfort shine between,
And thorns are mixed with flowers.”

Her hymn on “The Holy Scriptures” has been highly appreciated, if its introduction into a large variety of selections may be regarded as a proof of its value. At Bible Society and missionary meetings, Christians of every name, and in every land, join in singing—

“Father of mercies, in Thy word,
What endless glories shine!
For ever be Thy name adored,
For these celestial lines.”

While still increasing thousands of devout and earnest breathe its last two verses as their earnest prayer—

“O may these heavenly pages be,
My every dear delight;
And still new beauties may I see,
And still increasing light.

Divine Instructor! Gracious Lord!
Be Thou for every near:
Teach me to love Thy sacred word,
And view my Savior there.”

The somewhat delicate constitution and rather feeble health of Miss Steele had received a painful shock somewhat early in life, which event, no doubt, cast a shadow on her subsequent course, and perhaps gave a tinge of sadness to her spirits. She was engaged to be married. It is said the day was fixed, and near, and all needful preparations ready, when a painful and fatal circumstance cast a deep gloom over her anticipations and the whole of her family circle. The gentleman to whom she was to be united was accidentally drowned while bathing.

The effect on her health was deep and lasting, and though she knew how to be still, and acknowledge the hand of God, the painful wound was long in healing, and she carried the scar to her grave. These trials no doubt gave a point and a force to some of the her hymns, and a breathing of pensiveness to others. She would find solace in making verses, and they would take the color and odor of her own mind. The remembrance of these things will help us to appreciably her rendering of Psalm 39. The first three verses are usually omitted, and the fourth verse forms a good beginning.

“Almighty Maker of my frame,
Teach me the measure of my days;
Teach me to know how frail I am,
And spend the remnant to Thy praise.”

The last verse shows that in her case there so no unhealthy longing for death, no morbid desire to get rid of sorrow in the grave, which we sometimes see in some who have little if any meetness for another world—

“Oh, spare me, and my strength restore,
Ere my few hasty moments flee;
And when my days on earth are o’er,
Let me for ever dwell with Thee.”

It is remarkable that the same country should have given the Church to such sweet singers as Watts and Steele. It has been said in commendation of the North of England over the South, “We grow trees in the South, and men in the North.” There may be some truth in the remark; but if so, there have been some noble exceptions.

Miss Steele, like the great Welsh poet, William Williams, wrote missionary hymns before modern missionary and Bible societies were established. She also wrote a well-known Sunday-school hymn long before Sunday-schools were thought of. “When blooming youth is snatched away, By death’s resistless hand,” was penned thirty or forty years before Robert Rake began his glorious work.

The death of the Rev James Hervey, whose excessively flowery style was forgiven by the pious of his day for the sake of his solid worth and evangelical earnestness, drew forth a poem of no mean worth from her pen. This is said to have been the origin of the well-known epitaph—

“Forgive, blest shade, the tributary tear.”

Of hymns specially fitted for cheerful congregational worship we will cite only two examples, though others are within reach.

“Ye humble souls, approach God,
With songs of sacred praise,
For He is good, immensely good,
And kind are all His ways.”

This, though full of fine sentiments, is perhaps excelled by that entitled “The King of Saints.”

“Come, ye that love the Savior’s name,
And joy to make it known;
The sovereign of your hearts proclaim,
And bow before His throne.”

As Miss Steele was, unlike most authors, placed in circumstances above the reach of want, she was enabled to devote the pecuniary profit of her books to religious and charitable uses, and the same course was pursued by her surviving relatives. After the death of her father she spent the remaining nine years of her life in the house of her brother William, which he had built very near the old home. It may be thought that he illness and her painful disappointment tended to produce misanthropic sentiments, but such was by no means the case. “She was possessed,” says Dr. Caleb Evans of Bristol, who wrote a preface to her books, “of a native cheerfulness, which not even the agonizing pain of her latter days could deprive her of. In every short interval of abated suffering she would, in a variety of ways, as well as by her enlivening conversation, give pleasure to all around her.” The same writer thus describes her last illness and death, which took place at the age of sixty-one:—

“Having been confined to her chamber for some years, she had long waited, with Christian dignity, for the awful hour. She often spoke, not merely with tranquility, but with joy, of her decease. When the hour came she welcomed its arrival; and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. She uttered not a murmuring word, but was all resignation, peace, and holy joy…She closed her eyes with those animating words on her dying lips, “‘ know that my Redeemer liveth,’ and gently fell asleep in Jesus.”

She was buried in the parochial burying -ground of her native village, where her tomb-stone may still be seen, with the following lines underneath—

“Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue,
That sung on earth her great Redeemer’s praise;
But now in heaven she joins the angelic song,
In more harmonious, more exalted lays.”

It is a matter for profound regret that no portrait of Miss Steele is in existence, or was ever taken. For, though the best portraiture consists in those things which are inward and spiritual, rather than those which are outward and physical, and the best ornaments are those of wisdom and grace, yet we love to look on the outward resemblance of those who, though passed away from earth, still live in their works and example, and whose spirit still breathes in their pious utterances. The regret, however, in this case, has been mitigated by the kindness of some surviving descendants of the Steele family, who have most cheerfully place at our disposal the original of a verse of one of Theodosia’s psalms, and her autograph.”


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