A visit to the New York City’s Bowery Mission one night in 1869 provided Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) with the inspiration for one of her finest hymns. The Bowery Mission is a rescue mission that in the present day still provides food, medical services, and employment assistance to the working poor and homeless men, women, and children.
‘Rescue the Perishing’ was written soon after Fanny’s encounter with a young man at the Bowery Mission.1 Recounting her personal experience, Fanny wrote, “I was addressing a large company of working men one hot summer evening, when the thought kept forcing itself on my mind that some mother’s boy must be rescued that night or he might be eternally lost. So I made a pressing plea that if there was a boy present who had wandered from his mother’s home and teaching, he should come to me at the end of the service.”2
An 18-year-old young man came forward and said, “Did you mean me, Miss Crosby? I promised my mother to meet her in heaven, but as I am now living, that will be impossible.” They prayed and he rose from his knees with a new light in his eyes, and said, “Now I can meet my mother in heaven for I have found her God.”3
Jesus said, “I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:3, NIV). Many are drowning in the sea of iniquity and they will perish unless we reach out and rescue them by dropping them the gospel lifeline to Jesus who is mighty to save (stanza 1). Sinful men may knowingly and willingly reject the Savior, but Christ still patiently pleads (stanza 2) and reaches out to them with His nail-pierced hands.
In the final stanza of this inspiring hymn, ‘the Queen of gospel music’, as Fanny was often called, wrote that it is our duty to rescue the perishing. Jesus has given us the Great Commission and we are to labour patiently, trusting God will lead them back to the ‘narrow way’. Let us pray that God will use us to rescue the perishing!
1 Ernest K. Emurian, Living Stories of Famous Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), 107.
2 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 285.
3 Ernest K. Emurian, Living Stories of Famous Hymns (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), 107.
Rescue the Perishing (United Methodist Hymnal, #591)
1 Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
2 Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
waiting the penitent child to receive;
plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently.
He will forgive if they only believe. [Refrain]
3 Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
chords that are broken will vibrate once more. [Refrain]
4 Rescue the perishing, duty demands it.
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
back to the narrow way patiently win them,
tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died. [Refrain]
Words: Fanny Crosby, 1869
Music: William H. Doane, 1870
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is Principal of the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.