Reflections on the Hymn Writer: Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) who died in the 1918 Pandemic


I had been feeling pretty wretched in the last few days and of course when we display a couple of symptoms of the current virus, we think “I hope not…!” However, thankfully, I do feel much better today. It is important to remember that all the usual flu type “bugs” and other health problems haven’t taken a holiday from potentially plaguing us just because this new nasty specimen is doing the rounds on a global scale. Having summoned a bit of energy to clear up some old books, I wearily opened one to discover these uplifting words. It can be sung to the same tune as that of “Safe in the Arms of Jesus:”

Safe in Jehovah’s keeping,
Led by His glorious arm,
God is Himself my Refuge,
A present help from harm.
Fear may at times distress me,
Griefs may my soul annoy;
God is my strength and portion,
God my exceeding joy.

Safe in Jehovah’s keeping,
Safe in temptation’s hour,
Safe in the midst of perils,
Kept by Almighty power.
Safe when the tempest rages,
Safe though the night be long;
Even when my sky is darkest
God is my strength and song.

Sure is Jehovah’s promise,
Nought can my soul assail;
Here is my soul’s sure anchor,
Entered within the veil.
Blest is His love eternal,
What can I want beside!
Safe through the Blood that cleanseth,
Safe in the Christ that died.

I decided to research the author of these words… and I found his testimony. Born in Mountjoy Square in Dublin in 1841, Robert Anderson, was quite an ambitious young man who later attended Trinity College in the city. When one of his sisters trusted the Lord to save her at a revival meeting, Robert, convicted of his own need, attended a meeting one evening but (like many young students) he had his own ideas about what a person must do to find peace with God. Interestingly, the preacher offered to walk part of the way home with him.
The year was 1860, in early October, and I can imagine the scene as he and the preacher walked together through the streets of Dublin having that discussion after the meeting. On research I read that “John Hall (the preacher) stopped at one point, and faced the young man as they stood upon the pavement, and repeated with great solemnity his message and appeal: I tell you as a minister of Christ, and in His Name that there is Life for you here and now if you accept Him. Will you accept Christ or will you reject Him? After a pause – how long I know not – I exclaimed, in God’s Name I will accept Christ. Not another word passed between us, but after another pause he wrung my hand and left me. And I turned homeward with the peace of God filling my heart.”
Between his studies at Trinity College, Robert went on preaching tours in those revival years, in counties throughout Ireland. He addressed meetings in the west of Ireland, in Mayo and Sligo, in the south in Cork and in towns of the north, including Armagh, Newry, Rostrevor and Banbridge.
On his 22nd birthday Robert Anderson was called to the Irish Bar in 1863 and in time became the Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan police from 1888 to 1901. Wikipedia tells me that he was an intelligence officer with Scotland Yard, a theologian and a writer and that he presided over the investigation into the horrific crimes of “Jack the Ripper,” whose identity has never been exposed. He became “Sir Robert Anderson K.C.B., L.L.D.”
In 1918 the Spanish flu pandemic raged throughout the world, affecting 500 million people (or one third of the world’s population). The number of deaths amounted to at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 of these in the U.S.A. Unlike today’s pandemic, mortality was high in those younger than 5 years old and in otherwise healthy individuals of all ages. As for Sir Robert, I read in the old book that “after an attack of influenza, he in measure recovered, sat working till 10.30 am, retired to rest, and at 11am quietly passed into the presence of his Master whom he loved on November 15th, 1918.”
At the end of the day, despite Sir Robert’s achievements in the things of this world, it is the words of this hymn written over 100 years ago that touched me as I felt weak and weary last night – and it is his own simple testimony to God’s saving grace that gladdens my heart. I pray that multitudes would not die from today’s pandemic without hearing and being deeply touched by those simple words… “Will you accept Christ or will you reject Him?”
There is indeed “Life for you here and now if you accept Him.” It is unthinkable to reach the cliff of eternity without having made Him the Lord and Saviour of our lives and in these uncertain days it is good to be certain of one thing – that we are ready to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, who has said… “him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6v37) and whose last recorded words are… “Surely I come quickly.” (Revelation 22v20)

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7 Responses to “Reflections on the Hymn Writer: Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) who died in the 1918 Pandemic”

  1. Cathy Says:

    No coincidence that you should find a hidden gem as you opened up that book. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Reflections on the Hymn Writer: Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) who died in the 1918 Pandemic | PEACEMAKERS Says:

    […] Reflections on the Hymn Writer: Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) who died in the 1918 Pandemic […]

  3. Jackie2015 Says:

    People who,have suffered or had hard and trial times have written the most beautiful hymns.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. edward jamieson Says:

    very interesting and uplifting

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