The compilers and editors of the Believers Hymn Book (“BHB”) must have been hard men to please. Isaac Watts, the father of modern hymnody, was given just eleven slots in the BHB. Charles Wesley, considered the prince of hymn writers, is said to have written more than 6000 hymns. Only fourteen made it into the BHB. Twenty-two of the hymns of James George Deck, however, are in the BHB. Deck would not usually be considered in the first rank of hymn writers. It is not hard to see why the BHB editors found his hymns appealing, though. Some of the more famous writers (though not necessarily Watts and Wesley) were better poets than theologians. Deck, however, is reliable. His hymns get their effectiveness from their solid spiritual truths.
He was born in 1807 in England, to a mother who set aside an hour a day to pray for the salvation of her children.
Oft my fancy sees thee kneeling,
While I slumbered, by my bed;
Thy rapt face thy love revealing,
Seeking blessings on my head.
As a young man, he decided upon the career of a soldier. His ambition was to serve in this capacity, then to run for a seat in Parliament. He trained in France, under one of Napoleons generals. The British East India Company in those days had gained effective control of India. Deck found employment with them in India as an officer in the 14th Madras Native Infantry.
He was still a teenager when he came under conviction of sin. He drew up a code of good behavior and signed it with his blood. But when he returned to England in 1826, he was still in his sins. His sister, who had previously been converted, brought him to hear the preaching of “a godly Church of England clergyman.” There he found salvation.
O Lord, I remember the day that I came,
All wearied and wounded to Thee;
My heart was bowed down with its sin and its shame;
But Thou spakest so kindly to me:
Oh, I neer shall forget Thy sweet accents of love,
Nor the mercy that beamed in Thy face,
When Thy pitiful-kindness my load did remove,
And assured me of welcome and grace.
While in England he was married to the daughter of an evangelical Anglican clergyman. Returning to India, he began preaching to his fellow officers. He soon came to the conclusion that the occupation of soldier was not one for a Christian. He returned to England, intending to become a minister in the Church of England. While his father-in-law was christening the couples second son, he mentioned that some with Baptist leanings were causing him problems. Intrigued, Deck began examining the Scriptures. He knew that in becoming a minister of the Anglican Church he would have to “assent and consent” to the forms of the Book of Common Prayer. However, after searching his Bible he could find no scriptural support for infant baptism. He and his wife left the Church of England and joined with a company of local believers, where they were baptized as believers.
Unto Thy death baptised,
With Thee, O Lord, we died;
With Thee, our Life, are risen,
And shall be glorified;
From sin, the world, and Satan,
Were ransomed by Thy blood,
And here would walk as strangers,
Alive with Thee to God.
It was while he was young, between the ages of 31 and 37, that he wrote all of the hymns for which he is now known. In his mid-forties, he suffered a breakdown and moved to New Zealand, where his wife died almost immediately. He continued to write hymns (about one hundred, in all) and poetry until his death, more than thirty years later. Although none of his later works achieved the recognition that those of his youth have, he was a poet of considerable ability and spiritual in-sight. His works remain in print. He himself awaits the call.
Thou art the Resurrection, Lord;
Thy voice shall raise Thy saints that sleep;
One moment, one almighty word,
The harvest of the dead shall reap:
Our bodies raised by power divine,
Conformed, O Lord of Life, to Thine.