Anne Steele

Hymns Written

Dear Refuge Of My Weary Soul
Father Of Mercies In Thy Word
My God, My Father, Blissful Name
My Maker And My King
O Love Incomprehensible
Thou Lovely Source Of True Delight
Ye Wretched, Hungry, Starving Poor


Anne Steele lived in England from 1716-1778. She was born in Broughton, where her father, who was a timber merchant, preached at the Baptist church for 60 years – most of the time without receiving a salary! She actually lived only 15 miles from the great Isaac Watts, although it is unlikely that they ever met. Her mother died when she was 3 years old, and when she was 19 she suffered a severe injury to her hip, rendering her an invalid for most of her life. When she was 21, she was engaged to Robert Elscourt, but the day before the wedding he was drowned while bathing in a river! She never was married, and assisted her father in his pastoral labors for her whole life, although for the last 9 years of her life, she was never able to leave her bed. Still in spite of all of this her disposition was described as “cheerful and helpful” and her life as one of “unaffected humility, warm benevolence, sincere friendship, and genuine devotion.”

John Gadsby says that “from early life she was exceedingly fond of poetry, but was very unwilling for her productions to be submitted to the public eye. When at last she gave her consent, she would not have her own name attached to the volumes, but published them under the signature of Theodosia, and gave all the profits to charity.” Her father wrote in his diary, “Today Nanny sent part of her composition to London to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct in it and bless it for the good of many. I pray God to make it useful, and keep her humble.”

In total 3 volumes of her poems were published. The first two in 1760 as Poems, On Subjects Chiefly Devotional by Theodosia. The third volume was published after her death. She wrote 144 hymns, as well as 34 psalms in verse. Amos Wells (writing in 1914) says she was “the first woman writer whose hymns came to be largely used in hymn-books, and she is the greatest Baptist hymn-writer.” He describes her hymns as “very simple, clear, and beautiful, breathing a spirit of Christian faith and resignation.” 200 years ago her hymns were very popular – in 1808, an Episcopal church in Boston published its own hymnal, and out of the 152 hymns in the volume, 59 were by Anne Steele! (To recognize the significance of this fact you need to realize that at this period Baptists and Episcopalians were pretty far removed from each other and the fact that a Baptist would compose 1/3 of the hymns in an Episcopalian hymnal is truly remarkable!) Henry Burrage in Baptist Hymn Writers And Their Hymns (1888) says that over 100 of her hymns can be found in “modern” hymnals – more than any other Baptist hymn writer! He says that “her hymns, written to lighten her own burdens, give beautiful expression to the sweetness of her Christian character, and the depth of her Christian experience.” I must concur! I find her hymns so rich, and yet easily understood even by those living 250 years after her death!

Dr. Caleb Evans describes her death, “Having been confined to her chamber for some nine years, she had long waited with Christian dignity for the hour of her departure. And when the time came, she welcomed its arrival; and though her feeble body was excruciated with pain, her mind was perfectly serene. She took a most affectionate leave of her weeping friends around her, and at length, the happy moment of her dismission arriving, she closed her eyes, and with these words upon her dying lips, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ gently fell asleep in Jesus.” She was buried in Broughton churchyard and upon her tomb is inscribed the following:

Silent the lyre, and dumb the tuneful tongue
That sung on earth her Great Redeemer’s praise
But now in Heaven she joins the angels’ song
In more harmonious, more exalted lays

Some may find the hymn she composed upon her fiance’s death interesting and so I give it here in full. (The last 3 stanzas are often sung as a hymn since Augustus Toplady – writer of A Debtor To Mercy Alone, and Rock of Ages, popularized the hymn in this form in the 1700s)

When I survey life’s varied scene
Amid the darkest hours
Sweet rays of comfort shine between
And thorns are mixed with flowers

Lord, teach me to adore Thy hand
From whence my comforts flow
And let me in this desert land
A glimpse of Canaan know

Is health and ease my happy share?
Oh may I bless my God;
Thy kindness let my songs declare
And spread Thy praise abroad

While such delightful gifts as these
Are kindly dealt to me
Be all my hours of health and ease
Devoted Lord to Thee

In griefs and pains Thy sacred Word
(Dear solace of my soul!)
Celestial comforts can afford
And all their power control

When present sufferings pain my heart
Or future terrors rise
And light and hope almost depart
From these dejected eyes

Thy powerful Word supports my hope
Sweet cordial of the mind
And bears my fainting spirit up
And bids me wait resigned

And oh whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign hand denies
Accepted at Thy throne of grace
Let this petition rise

“Give me a calm, a thankful heart
From every murmur free
The blessings of Thy grace impart
And let me live to Thee

Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My path of life attend
Thy presence through my journey shine
And bless its happy end”

(essay by Kevin Twit, 1999)