Encouraging a higher standard for Christian music


The frail old woman sits at a table in her tiny room in Seattle, Washington. Before her is a small plastic organ–one such as a child might have. But, as she fingers the keys and sings, her poor surroundings seem to fade from view, her face shines with the light of heaven, and tears trickle down her time-lined cheeks. Perhaps in her mind she is seated at a majestic pipe organ in some ornate cathedral. The place does not matter. She is intent on worshiping her Saviour.

The woman’s name is Helen. In her nineties at the time described, and with little of this world’s goods, her faith sustained her. When asked, “How are you?” her frequent reply was, “I am fine in the things that count.” (Well said!)

Helen Howarth Lemmel was born in England, the daughter of a Methodist clergyman. As a child, she was brought to America, where she spent the remainder of her life. A gifted soloist, she gave concerts in many churches, and taught voice for a time at Moody Bible Institute. She moved to Seattle in 1904, and for three years was music critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Mrs. Lemmel also authored about 500 hymns.

She wrote a lovely song–both words and music–in 1918. Helen Lemmel was given a tract by a visiting missionary. The leaflet was entitled “Focused,” and in it was this exhortation: “So then, turn your eyes upon Him [Christ]. Look full into His face and you will find that the things of earth will acquire a strange new dimness.”

Mrs. Lemmel was riveted by those words. She says, “I stood still. And singing in my soul and spirit was the chorus, with not one conscious moment of putting word to word to make rhyme, or note to note to make melody.” The three stanzas of the song were added later the same week.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s a light for a look at the Saviour,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

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