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Monday, March 8, 2021

Near to the Heart of God

By Clifton Angel

    Cleland Boyd McAfee penned the song "Near to the Heart of God" in 1903. Resources say two of his infant nieces died from diphtheria, which event motivated the writing of this hymn. Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that is rare today because of immunization. According to the Mayo Clinic, "Diphtheria typically causes a sore throat, fever, swollen glands and weakness. But the hallmark sign is a sheet of thick, gray material covering the back of your throat, which can block your airway, causing you to struggle for breath" (www.mayoclinic.org). Two places come to mind when I think of being near to the heart of God: (1) Heaven; (2) The church. According to the hymn, "near to the heart of God" are several blessings.
    "A place of quiet rest." Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Now that I know the history behind the song, I cannot help but to think of the loud and restless nights that may have ensued while these two young girls suffered diphtheria.
    "A place where sin cannot molest." This may be my favorite line in the entire song. I am reminded that death, decay, and disease are all results of sin (Romans 5:12). In Revelation 21, we are given a glimpse of the church in Heaven, when "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:4). Furthermore, if today we are walking in the light, Jesus' blood continually cleanses our sins and we remain "near to the heart of God" (cf. 1 John 1:7).
    "A place of comfort sweet." When our children are sick or hurting, our first priority is often to seek comfort for them. Furthermore, true comfort is only found "near to the heart of God." Paul wrote, "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
    "A place where we our Savior meet." In another hymn, we sing: "What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see; When I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me to the Promise Land; What a day, glorious day that will be."
    "A place of full release." "He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 21:5). We can rest assured those two baby girls no longer have diphtheria. And, while it pains us to imagine what the parents endured in their loss, it comforts us that the baby girls obtained full relief from their suffering.
    "A place where all is joy and peace." Paul wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing; But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4–7; cf. Revelation 21:2–4). The refrain reads: "O Jesus, blest Redeemer, sent from the heart of God, hold us, who wait before Thee, near to the heart of God." Is Jesus your Savior? Is Jesus your Redeemer? Have you made arrangements to be "near to the heart of God"?             
- Clifton Angel preaches for the Coldwater Church of Christ in Coldwater, MS. He may be contacted through that congregation's website: http://www.coldwatercofc.com/


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