Through different eras, beautiful musical compositions identified as hymns were written that provide us with an elevated language to praise and speak with God. Intoned in numerous congregations around the world, they have a primary function in spirituality and retain their essence over the years.
Pilgrims On The Earth / Heaven is My Home (l'm But A Stranger Here)
If there is a hymn that reminds us that we are like pilgrims here, no more than strangers in a fading world, it's "Heaven is My Home (l'm But A Stranger Here)".
Thomas Rawson Taylor (1807-1835), the author of the lyrics, was a Congregational minister who was born on May 9, 1807 at Ossett, near Wakefield, England, and died of consumption (tuberculosis) at the young age of 27. He was the son of Thomas Taylor (1766-1853), minister of the Ossett Green Independent Congregational Church between 1795 and 1808, and one of John Wesley's hand-picked preachers.
The Independent Congregational Church, Ossett Green, where Thomas Rawson was baptized, was built following the raising of subscriptions in 1732-1733. Before then, Mr Richard Foster set aside part of his pressing shop for his son-in-law, the Reverend Thomas Dickenson (1669-1743), a nonconformist British minister from Northowram, successor to Oliver Heywood (1630-1702) to preach.
Early Chapel members were described as "thoughtful hard headed men in whom the emotional was not so strongly developed as the intellectual". The first chapel was later described as being a basic barn like structure with stabling for the horses of the many members who travelled some distance to worship to God.
On May 25, 1807, Thomas Rawson was baptized by his father in that church, where he was minister for 13 years. At the age of one he moved with his parents to Bradford and is known to have subsequently visited his birthplace, Ossett, on several occasions. In his early years, as an infant child, he grew fond of poetry and it is said that his nurse would hear his verses as he developed his thirst for knowledge.
"I was born at Ossett near Wakefield and am still called by a host of linty clothiers their "awn barn".
Letter written by Thomas Rawson Taylor dated October 1827, when he was 20 years old, where he remembers his town, Ossett.
From his childhood, Thomas Rawson Taylor followed in his father's footsteps and learned much from the sermons of the Reverend Richard Foster, great-grandson of Richard Foster (c.1648-1730). Just over a year before Thomas was born, on 16 July 1806, Foster officiated at the marriage of Thomas Taylor to Mary Rawson at St Peter's Parish Church in Leeds. This man of faith maintained a very close relationship with the Taylor family until the death of Mr Thomas Taylor (1766-1853) on October 3, 1853, at the age of 86.
Years later Thomas Rawson Taylor worked as a merchant and was an apprentice in a printing company, from the age of 15 to 18. Influenced by strong religious desires, he entered Airedale Independent College to prepare for congregational ministry, taking his first position at Howard Street Congregational Church in Sheffield. In July 1830 he assumed office, held it for about six months, and left it the following January.
"....... It is past midnight, and Friday. To-morrow I have to walk through the snow to Ossett, seventeen miles. This Ossett is the place where I was born and which I have never visited since about the eighth or ninth year....."
Letter written by Thomas Rawson Taylor to a friend dated February 14, 1828, when he was 20 years old.
He was 23 years old, already seriously ill with consumption (tuberculosis), and wrote to a friend: "It may be that my life is verging fast towards its close". Although his doctors advised him to stop preaching, he continued to support his father, the Reverend Thomas Taylor (1766-1853), at his church in Bradford. This disease had already claimed the lives of a brother and a sister in their teens.
For a short time he served as professor of classical music at Airedale Independent College, but ill health which forced him to leave Sheffield also forced him to resign from his tutorship in 1832.
Thomas Rawson Taylor's life was tragically short, but he left a legacy in the form of poems and hymns and is still remembered to this day for the hymn "Heaven Is My Home (I'm But a Stranger Here)", which was written during his illness. Later, Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900), an English composer of Irish descent who had been knighted by Queen Victoria (1819-1901), set his words to music. Likewise, Sullivan was the one who composed the melody for Onward Christian Soldiers, a 19th-century English hymn taken from references in the New Testament to the Christian being a soldier of Christ, for example, 2 Timothy 2:3 (KJV): "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Unfortunately, in the following years Thomas Rawson's health worsened and "every public effort was one of imminent danger to his constitution". He was never after able to undertake his duties in full.
In May 1833 he was convinced to travel through the Scottish Highlands for almost four months to take advantage of the air in those regions. He returned more encouraged but too ill to hold a position in the church.
On the 18th January 1835 he suffered "alarming symptoms of bleeding from the lungs which returned with great violence". He was no better a month later and he was certain that his life was ebbing away. Early on Sunday morning, 1st March 1835, the haemorrhage returned as his brother remained in attendance. His father was sent for, answering the call to be by his side. He survived the night but weakened over the following few days.
Finally, shortly before five in the afternoon on March 7, 1835, Thomas Rawson Taylor fell asleep at his home in Bradford and around nine in the evening he died at the young age of 27. After his death, his hymns and poems were published posthumously in Memoirs and Select Remains, by W. S. Matthews (London: Wesley & Davis, 1836). Six of his hymns were once reasonably popular, but only this one has survived and is commonly used today. Sometimes the hymn has a tune from 1872 (St. Edmund-Sullivan), in most books associated with Lucy Larcom's "Draw Thou, My Soul, O Christ", which was composed by Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900).
"I'm but a stranger here, heav'n is my home; earth is a desert drear, heav'n is my home. Danger and sorrow stand round me on every hand; heav'n is my fatherland, heav'n is my home.
What though the tempest rage, heav'n is my home; short is my pilgrimage, heav'n is my home; time's cold and wild wintry blast soon shall be over past; I shall reach home at last, heav'n is my home.
There at my Savior's side heav'n is my home; I shall be glorified, heav'n is my home. There are the good and blest, those I loved most and best; there, too, I soon shall rest, heav'n is my home.
Therefore I murmur not, heav'n is my home; whate'er my earthly lot, heav'n is my home; and I shall surely stand there at my Lord's right hand. Heav'n is my fatherland, heav'n is my home".
Memoirs and Select Remains of the Rev. Thomas Rawson Taylor by W. S. Matthews (London: Wesley & Davis, 1836). Page 242-243.
Without a doubt, "Heaven is my home (l'm But A Stranger Here)," written by Thomas Rawson Taylor, reminds us that we are like pilgrims, strangers here on earth and therefore our home is somewhere else.
Because this world is not our home, we can have peace in times of difficulty and instead of getting entangled in earthly matters, we have a greater goal to strive for. The end result of this effort is that we will win the prize when our pilgrimage is over. Rather, our ultimate goal is to be at the right hand of the Lord Jesus, who is now enthroned at the right hand of God and promises that we will be at his side forever.
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