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Robert Lowry

by | Mar 8, 2016 | News

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

I, and I’m sure many of you, have been singing these words on periodic Sundays for most of our lives. They are words that I will once again be singing this coming Sunday, and I can still say they are as great a blessing to sing now as they have been for years past.

They were penned by a man named Robert Lowry and first released in 1876. In addition to this hymn, Dr. Lowry (he was granted an honorary doctor of divinity degree in 1875) also wrote “Shall We Gather at the River”, “We’re Marching to Zion”, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, and many others. When you read his story, it may not seem to be as interesting on the surface as the story behind the writers of other famous hymns, but what you find when you dig deeper is an example of steadfast faithfulness over the course of a lifetime. Ultimately, this is the kind of life to which we are all called.

Lowry was born in Philadelphia in 1826. He was musically inclined from a young age and entertained himself with many musical instruments as a child. At 17, he joined First Baptist Church in Philadelphia where he was a Sunday school teacher and sang in the choir, and at 28, he graduated from the University of Lewisburg (now Bucknell University) and began work in full-time ministry.

He served as a pastor in several churches throughout the course of his ministry, spent some time as a professor, and by all accounts, he was successful in all of these capacities. However, what struck me as most interesting from his story is that the most prominent output of his ministry from our perspective, his hymns, were considered by him to be a side concern. He deeply valued preaching and is quoted as saying, “I would rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative, receptive congregation than write a hymn”. Still, he took his musical calling seriously and produced hymns for many years.

I don’t doubt that Dr. Lowry was a blessing to his congregations and students during the course of his ministry; his legacy seems to attest to this, but the kingdom impact of his music is undeniable. He received some recognition in his lifetime for his music, but in his limited human perspective, he could never have imagined the blessing his work would be. Still, he was faithful to his calling and God providentially used Dr. Lowry’s work to bless and encourage future generations. God willing, it will bless our own congregation again on Sunday.

If there is anything to take away from an examination of Dr. Lowry’s life, it is that we should be faithful to our calling wherever God has us. We cannot possibly imagine how our work will be used.

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