It rarely falls to the lot of any hymn to be sung under such trying circumstances as was this, during the Boxer outbreak in China, by a company of beleaguered missionaries who had gathered together one night in great fear lest they should have to suffer the fate of so many who were giving up their lives rather than deny their Lord. The following account of the singing is furnished by Miss Helen Knox Strain, one of the missionaries present that night.
"The Woman's Union Missionary Society has a magnificent work just outside of the city of Shanghai. No harm had come to us up to this time, but serious threats and unpleasant rumors were rife; we dared not so much as put our heads out at night, though forty little soldier-men played at keeping us safe. Our missionaries have two centers at that place, and they meet often for prayer and consultation. At this particular time the rumors were so frightful, and the threats to burn our homes that very night so distressing, that we had a memorable meeting. Separated from home and friends, facing death in a far-off land, and full of tenderest feelings, we lifted our hearts in song.
"' Though destruction walk around us,
Though the arrows past us fly;
Angel guards from Thee surround us:
We are safe if Thou art nigh.'
"Out of the storm each soul, renewing its strength, mounted up with wings as eagles and found peace in the secret of His presence.
"Our Saviour breathed, in very deed, an ' evening blessing' upon us, the fragrance of which remains even unto this day. The last verse of the hymn, ' Should swift death this night o'ertake us,' was omitted. It seemed too probable that it might. We wanted only to think of the safe-keeping, and such, thank God, it proved to be."
Edmeston, a voluminous hymn-writer, was an architect by profession, and a member of the Established Church at Homerton, England, where he resided. The theme of this hymn was suggested to him by a sentence in a volume of Abyssinian travels—”At night their short evening hymn, ' Jesus Forgive Us,' stole through the camp. ”Though first appearing in the author's ”Sacred Lyrics” in 1820, and to be found in the older church hymnals, it had no special prominence until Mr. Stebbins' setting became known. Since then it has come into general use, and has been adopted by many of the church hymnals. The music was written in 1876, for the choir of Tremont Temple, Boston, of which Mr. Stebbins was then the director. Published two years later in ”Gospel Hymns Number 3,”it became a favorite at once with the great choirs of our meetings and with other evangelistic choirs, and has since then been used wherever the ”Gospel Hymns” are sung, even in the remote places of the earth.