Okay, so as excited as I have been about the series on God the Holy Spirit… I’m delaying part 3 of that post. In listening to a sermon this morning on 2 Timothy 1, the speaker mentioned the Hymn I Know Whom I Have Believed, and the story of its author, Major Daniel Webster Whittle. Not being much of a hymnal guy, it was the first I had heard of Mr Whittle. I chose to look this story up, and with a tear in my eye, I decided this was well worth sharing today. I pray you find some blessing in this story, too.
This beloved hymn written by Major Daniel Webster Whittle, the exact date of his composition is not known, but it was originally published in 1883 in Gospel Hymns No. 4. It is one of about two hundred hymns composed by Major Whittle as he was known. It is one of his most well-known hymns, one other popular hymn that he wrote is “There Shall Be Showers of Blessings” If you look at these two hymns for the authorship you may be a bit confused, you will see the name El Nathan on the left hand side indicating that El Nathan wrote the Lyrics, and you will see James McGranahan on the right hand side, indicating that he wrote the music. El Nathan is a pseudonym – a fictitious name used by a person or sometimes a group, which Daniel Webster Whittle used. He also used the pseudonyms Elias Nathan and W.W.D.
Daniel Webster Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts on November 22, 1840. He was named after the great American politician Daniel Webster who was greatly admired by Whittle’s father. Little is known of his childhood. His father had heard Daniel Webster, the great statesman, make a stirring speech. Daniel Webster in this speech said “It is my living sentiment, and by the blessing of God it shall be my dying sentiment — independence now and independence forever!”
This would later inspire his parents to name him after Daniel Webster in hopes that he would become a great leader in the fight for freedom as well. His mother is said to have been a godly woman who instilled in him and his three brothers strong Christian principles.
Daniel Whittle worked as a cashier for Wells Fargo bank as a teenager and into his early twenties. He was not a wicked man at first, on the contrary, he was quiet religious. He surrendered his life to the Lord one night while acting as a night watchman at the Wells Fargo Bank. He went into the vault, got down on his knees and gave his surrendered his life for the Heavenly Father to use as he would. He even became the Sunday School Superintendent at the great Tabernacle in Chicago where he would meet his wife, Miss Abbie Hanson. He would join the army in 1861 and be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. In the summer of 1862, August as the Civil War began to intensify his unit was called to go South. August 22, 1862, the night before his departure, he and Abbie were married. It would be a year before they would be reunited. In his own words he tells of his departure, “My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she’d arranged for me”
This little New Testament would pay a vital part in his rededication. Whittle rose to the rank of Major and while leading a charge, actually filling in, and he was wounded in his sword arm which led to the amputation of his arm and a stay in a prisoner of war camp. It was while he was in this POW camp that out of boredom he began to search for something to read. He found in his personal effects the little New Testament that his Mother had placed there. He read through the New Testament in a matter of days and started through it again. One night the nurse woke him up and told him that one of his men was dying and had been begging for someone to pray for him. The nurse told Major Whittle that he (the nurse) was a wicked man and could not pray. Major Whittle confessed that he too was wicked man with many sins in his own life and could not pray either. The nurse said that he thought Major Whittle was a Christian because he had observed him constantly reading the Scripture and the Major Whittle did not cuss as the other men. The nurse begged Major Whittle to at least accompany him to see the boy as he did not want to return alone. Moved with compassion, Major Whittle reluctantly agreed. Here, in Major Whittle’s own words, is what took place that night: “I dropped on my knees and held the boy’s hand in mine. In a few broken words I confessed my sins and asked Christ to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me. I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet and pressed my hand as I prayed and pleaded God’s promises. When I arose from my knees, he was dead. A look of peace had come over his troubled face, and I cannot but believe that God who used him to bring me to the Savior, used me to lead him to trust Christ’s precious blood and find pardon. I hope to meet him in heaven.”
Ten years later at the encouragement of his close friend D.L. Moody he would enter into evangelism. Some of his first songs were set to music by Phillip Bliss. Whittle attended and participated in the memorial service for Phillip Bliss. Later he would work closely with the man who would set to music many of his later songs, and who set the music to this song, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, James McGranahan. Major Whittle died March 4, 1901 after having written over 200 hymns.
The refrain of the hymn is a direct quotation from the King James Bible in II Timothy 1:12 “…for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
The rest of the article is interesting, but I wanted to stop here and reflect a bit about the message of Salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In closing, let us return to the words of the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 1 (ESV)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
2 To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
May the Lord bless and keep you, and may the Holy Spirit who dwells within us grow us into the full knowledge of Him who Saved us,