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Some one has said, “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who may write its laws.”

It is a wise saying; for who can estimate the influence of the songs we sing, especially the songs of children? There is no better way to teach Christian truths to children than to have them sing those truths into their hearts and souls.

When Jemima Luke sat in an English stage-coach in 1841 composing the lines of a little poem that had been ringing in her mind, she could scarcely have known she was writing a hymn that would gladden the hearts of thousands of children in many years to come. But that is how she wrote “I think when I read that sweet story of old,” and that is the happy fate that was in store for her labor of love.

Her maiden name was Jemima Thompson. Her father was a missionary enthusiast, and she herself was filled with zeal for mission enterprises. Even as a child, at the age of thirteen, she was an anonymous contributor to “The Juvenile Magazine.” When she was twenty-eight years old she visited a school where the children had been singing a fine old melody as a marching song.

“What a lovely children’s hymn it would make,” she thought, “if only there were suitable religious words for it.”

She hunted through many books for the words she desired, but could find none that satisfied her. Some time later, as 302 she was riding in a stage coach with nothing to occupy her, she thought of the tune again. Taking an old envelope from her pocket, she recorded on the back of it the words that have come to be loved on both sides of the Atlantic, and some day probably will be sung by the children of all the world.

When she returned home, she taught the words and the melody to her Sunday school class. Her father, who was superintendent of the school, chanced to hear them one day.

“Where did that hymn come from?” he asked.

“Jemima made it!” was the proud answer of the youngsters.

Without telling his daughter about it, the father sent a copy of the words to the “Sunday School Teachers’ Magazine,” and in a few weeks it appeared for the first time in print. Since that time it has continued to find a place year after year in almost every juvenile hymnal published in the English language.

The last stanza of the hymn, which begins with the words, “But thousands and thousands who wander and fall,” was added subsequently by the author, who desired to make it suitable for missionary gatherings. Her interest in foreign missions continued unabated throughout her life. At one time she was accepted as a missionary to the women of India, but poor health prevented her from carrying out her purpose. However, she edited “The Missionary Repository,” the first missionary magazine for children, and numbered among her contributors such famous missionaries as David Livingstone, Robert Moffatt and James Montgomery.

In 1843 she married a minister, Rev. Samuel Luke. After his death in 1868 she devoted much of her time to promoting the erection of parsonages in parishes that were too poor to provide them for their pastors.


When an international convention of the Christian Endeavor society was held in Baltimore in 1904, Mrs. Luke sent the following message to the young people:

“Dear children, you will be men and women soon, and it is for you and the children of England to carry the message of a Saviour’s love to every nation of this sin-stricken world. It is a blessed message to carry, and it is a happy work to do. The Lord make you ever faithful to Him, and unspeakably happy in His service! I came to Him at ten years of age, and at ninety-one can testify to His care and faithfulness.”

She died in 1906 at the age of ninety-three years. Although she wrote a great deal of inspiring Christian literature, it is only her beautiful “Sweet Story of Old” that has come down to us.

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