Nearer My God To Thee

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Horbury, The British version

Nearer, My God, to Thee is a 19th century Christian hymn by Sarah Flower Adams, based loosely on Genesis 28:11-19,[1] the story of Jacob's dream. Genesis 28:11-12 can be translated as follows: "So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it..."

It is most famous as the alleged last song the band on RMS Titanic played before the ship sank.


These are the lyrics to the hymn, when sung.[1][2][3]

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me;
Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I'd be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
There let the way appear steps unto heav'n;
All that Thou sendest me in mercy giv'n;
Angels to beckon me nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Then with my waking thoughts bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
So by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!
Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, upwards I fly,
Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Text and musicEdit

The verse was written by English poet and Unitarian hymn writer Sarah Flower Adams (1805-1848) at her home in Sunnybank, Loughton, Essex, England, in 1841. It was first set to music by Adams' sister, composer Eliza Flower, for William Johnson Fox's collection Hymns and Anthems.[4]

In the United Kingdom, the hymn is usually associated with the 1861 hymn tune "Horbury" by John Bacchus Dykes, while in the rest of the world, it is usually associated with the 1856 tune "Bethany" by Lowell Mason. Methodists prefer the tune "Propior Deo" (Nearer to God), written by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan) in 1872. Sullivan also wrote a second setting of the hymn to a tune referred to as "St. Edmund", and there are other versions, including one referred to as "Liverpool" by John Roberts.

Played on RMS TitanicEdit

"Nearer, My God, to Thee" is associated with the RMS Titanic, as many passengers reported that it was the last song the ship's band played as the Titanic sank. The song comes in three main versions (and five other alternate versions): the American version ("Bethany"; used in the 1943 nazi propaganda film Titanic, the Jean Negulesco's 1953 film Titanic and James Cameron's 1997 Film Titanic.), the British version ("Horbury"; played in Roy Ward Baker's 1958 movie about the sinking, A Night to Remember), and the British Methodist version, Propior Deo, which has currently not yet been played in any Titanic movie to this date.

Either one of these three versions or the popular waltz “Songe d’Automne" must have been the last song Wallace Hartley and his band had played. However, the evidence for "Songe d'Automne" rested solely on the uncorroborated testimony of Harold Bride, who told a reporter for the New York Times that the last song he remembered the band playing was called “Autumn.” Now it is generally accepted that "Nearer, My God, to Thee" was the final song, and which version it was.

“Propior Deo” would have been well known to the British passengers aboard the Titanic, and in passages it sounds very similar to “Bethany”–and nothing at all like “Horbury.” In the noise and confusion of the night, it would hardly be surprising if both Americans and Britons, hearing only snatches of music, would both believe that they were hearing the version of “Nearer, My God, to Thee” with which they were most familiar.

Hartley was a Methodist, just like another band member. “Nearer My God to Thee” was known to be a favorite of Hartley’s–who was also a friend of Sir Arthur Sullivan and who liked Sullivan’s music–and it was the hymn played at the graveside of all deceased members of the Musician’s Union. Perhaps most convincing of all is a report in the Daily Sketch on April 22, 1912, where a colleague of Hartley’s recalled how some years earlier, while working aboard the Mauretania, he asked Hartley what he would do if he found himself on the deck of a sinking ship. Hartley replied that he would assemble the ship’s orchestra and play “O God Our Help in Ages Past” or “Nearer, My God, to Thee.”

Conclusion? "Prioper Deo" is most likely the last song played on the Titanic, but "Horbury" is also possible. "Bethany" is not an option, 6 out of 8 band members were British, and none of them was American.

Other associationsEdit

Another tale, surrounding the death of President William McKinley in September 1901, quotes his dying words as being the first few lines of the hymn.[5] At 3:30 in the afternoon of September 14 1901, after five minutes of silence across the nation, numerous bands across the United States played the hymn, McKinley's favorite, in his memory.[5] It was also played by the Marine Band on Pennsylvania Avenue during the funeral procession through Washington and at the end of the funeral service itself[5], and at a memorial service for him in Westminster Abbey, London. It was also played as the body of assassinated American President James Garfield was interred at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio and at the funeral of former United States President Gerald R. Ford.

The Rough Riders sang the hymn at the burial of their slain comrades after the Battle of Las Guasimas.[6]

A film called "Nearer My God to Thee" was made in 1917 in the UK. "Nearer, My God, to Thee" is sung at the end of the award-winning 1936 movie San Francisco. It is also the title of a painting by physician Jack Kevorkian. William F. Buckley mentions in the introduction to his 1997 book "Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith" that the title was inspired by "Nearer My God to Thee".

At the beginning of the The Simpsons Movie (2007), Green Day is seen playing a concert in Springfield on a barge. After finishing the Simpsons Theme Song, they begin to talk about the environment and start to get stones thrown at them by the audience. Meanwhile, their barge begins to dissolve due to the toxicity of the lake. As the barge begins to sink, bassist Mike Dirnt quotes the film Titanic, uttering Hartley's line, "Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight."[7] They all take out violins and begin to play "Nearer, My God, to Thee" while sinking. This Titanic gag was also used in the film Osmosis Jones, but the line is changed to "Gentlemen, playing with you has been the greatest pleasure of my life." In the South Park episode, Summer Sucks, the boys play "Nearer, My God, to Thee" during the pandemonium after the giant snake was lit.

Ted Turner, speaking shortly before the launch of CNN, promised that, barring technical problems, "We won't be signing off until the world ends. We'll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event.... and when the end of the world comes, we'll play 'Nearer My God to Thee' before we sign off."[8]


  1. Nearer, My God, to Thee at CyberHymnal
  2. Nearer, My God, to Thee
  3. Nearer My God to Thee at Christian Music
  4. Taylor & Francis Group (2003). A Historical Dictionary of British Women. Routledge. pp. 3 and 171. ISBN 1857432282. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Excerpt from McKinley biography
  6. Brown, Theron and Hezekiah Butterworth. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes (1906)
  7. IMDB list of "memorable quotes
  8. Quote from Ted Turner


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