A refuge from the storm . . . the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. - Isaiah 32:2
We have many 19th century Scottish Presbyterians to thank for enriching our hymnals with their inspired writings. One of the few women hymnists was Elizabeth Clephane. She was born in 1830 in Edinburgh, the third daughter of the Sheriff of Fife and Kinross. She lived most of her somewhat brief 39 years in the town of Melrose, about 30 miles southeast of Edinburgh. She died there in 1869.
Elizabeth was physically frail, known as the delicate, retiring member of the family. Yet as her strength allowed she served the poor and sick of her community. She and her sisters gave to charity everything but what they actually needed for themselves each day. She was known locally as “The Sunbeam” because of her helping and cheerful nature. Elizabeth enjoyed writing poems. Several were published in the Scottish Presbyterian Magazine, “The Family Treasury.” However, most of her work appeared anonymously in this magazine in 1872, three years after her death.
An interesting side note: In 1868, one year before she died, Elizabeth wrote a poem especially for children titled “The Ninety and Nine.” It was published in a magazine called “The Children's Hour.” Five years later, the American evangelists D. L. Moody and Ira Sankey set it to music and made it famous.
As was noted above, Clephane’s hymns appeared posthumously, for the first time, in the Family Treasury, under the general title, “Breathings on the Border.” The magazine’s editor, W. Arnot, wrote:
“These lines express the experiences, the hopes and the longings of a young Christian lately released. Written on the very edge of life, with the better land fully in view of faith, they seem to us footsteps printed on the sands of time, where these sands touch the ocean of Eternity. These footprints of one whom the Good Shepherd led through the wilderness into rest, may, with God’s blessing, contribute to comfort and direct succeeding pilgrims.”
These lines of Elizabeth’s that editor Arnot referred to?
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand -
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land,
A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way
From the burning of the noon-tide heat
And the burden of the day.
I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place.
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self - my only shame,
My glory - all the cross.
- Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1872
Copied from Sing to the Lord © 1993 by Lillenas Publishing Company
Hymn commentary courtesy J. D. Sherrow