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It does not surprise us that the writer of “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me” was the pastor of a sailors’ church. Rev. Edward Hopper, who for many years was minister of the Church of Sea and Land in New York harbor, had in mind the daily life of the seamen attending his church when he wrote his famous lyric. A hymn on the theme of the stormy sea, picturing Jesus as the divine Pilot—this, he felt, would appeal to sailors and be a source of constant comfort and encouragement.

Perhaps Hopper got his idea from Charles Wesley. It was a common practice of the great English hymn-writer to compose hymns that were particularly adapted to the audiences he addressed. When he visited the men who worked in the Portland quarries in England, he wrote the hymn containing the lines:

Strike with the hammer of Thy Word,

And break these hearts of stone.

In any event, Hopper’s beautiful hymn at once sprang into popular use, not only with sailors, but with Christians everywhere. It appeared for the first time anonymously in “The Sailors’ Magazine,” but several hymn-books adopted it. It was not until 1880, nine years after it was published, however, that the author’s name became known. In that year the anniversary of the Seamen’s Friend Society was held in Broadway Tabernacle, New York City, and Hopper was 416 asked to write a hymn for the occasion. He responded by producing “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me,” and the secret was out.

Hopper wrote several other hymns, but only this one has lived. Like Edward Perronet, the author of “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name,” he was “a bird of a single song.” We could have wished that the fires of inspired genius had continued to burn with both of these men. Here, however, apply the words: “Happy is the man who can produce one song which the world will keep on singing after its author shall have passed away.”

The author of “Jesus, Saviour, pilot me” was a child of the city. He was born in America’s great metropolis, New York City, in the year 1818. His father was a merchant. His mother was a descendant of the Huguenots, the persecuted French Protestants. He was educated for the ministry, and, after serving several churches in other places, he returned to New York in 1870 to begin his work among the men who go down to the sea in ships. He remained as pastor of the Church of Sea and Land until his death in 1888, and we scarcely need to add that his ministry was singularly successful.

The beautiful prayer in the third stanza of Hopper’s hymn was answered in his own passing. He was sitting in his study-chair, pencil in hand, when the final summons came. On the sheet before him were found some freshly written lines on “Heaven.” Thus was fulfilled in his own death the beautiful prayer expressed in the final stanza of his hymn:


When at last I near the shore,

And the fearful breakers roar

’Twixt me and the peaceful rest,

Then, while leaning on Thy breast,

May I hear Thee say to me,

“Fear not, I will pilot thee.”

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