So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:16)
As a young woman, Cecil Francis Humphreys (1818-1895) had a great desire to share her faith. Although she was born in Dublin, at that time Ireland formed part of the Church of England and so she was a daughter of the Established church which - as one author has charmingly put it - was “disposed at the time to be somewhat drowsy”. The great energy and vitality of the Evangelical Revival which had woken the church from her slumbers in the eighteenth century had ebbed away into the free churches, and so all was quiet.
Then in the 1830s a new movement began to stir in Oxford, where the Wesleys and Whitfield had been a century earlier, which was to became known as the Oxford Movement. A rather literal name! The great idea was to awaken the Church of England by calling her back to her Catholic roots, especially as they were found in the practices of pre-Reformation church in Britain. Go back, in order to build once more and go forward.
Miss Humphries was most excited by this, and set to writing a collection of hymns which would instil “sound Church principles” into children. In 1848 these were published as Hymns for Little Children, and covered all sorts of topics from the life of Christ (“Once in Royal David’s City”) to the doctrine of the creeds (“There is a Green Hill”). This hymn was written so that children might understand the line of the Apostles’ Creed which reads “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried”.
Now, as you are reading this you might be thinking to yourself: “I thought this was written by Cecil Alexander”. Well, two years after the hymns were published she married the Rev. William Alexander who eventually went on to become Archbishop of Armargh. However, the Archbishop’s wife never became conceited, and did not like to hear praise of her hymns. Her husband wrote:
”Again and again I have read to her words of lofty, of almost impassioned commendation from men of genius or holiness, of rank and position. She listened without a remark and looked up almost with a frown”.
There was one exception, though. When she heard of a man who was so deeply moved by ‘there is a Green Hill” that it led to his conversion she “almost sprang from her chair, looked me in the face, and said: ‘Thank God! I do like to hear that’”.
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified,
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there,
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven, and let us in.
O dearly, dearly has He loved,
And we must love Him too,
And trust in His redeeming blood,
And try His works to do.