The name of Eliza Hewitt may not be a household name, but her hymns are known to anyone who has attended Sunday School.
She was born in Philadelphia on June 28, 1851. She was the second child in a family that would eventually have six children. She grew up during the tragic Civil War in America, being educated through those turbulent years. She was an intelligent young woman who graduated as valedictorian from the Girls’ Normal School which she attended. Subsequently, she became a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. It was while working as a teacher that tragedy struck. It is alleged that she was struck by a student who used his heavy slate and hit her across her back while he was being disciplined. So, not all children in the 1800s were respectful and feared their teachers!
As a result, she became bedridden, being place in a heavy cast for six months. Confined to bed, she faced the same choices that each individual so affected has faced: “Will I become bitter over this or will I seek to use it in some way for others?” She gave herself to the study of English literature at first, and then began to write hymns. One of her first was:
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, sing His mercy and His grace
In the mansions bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.
As she continued writing, her poems became well-known. One of her poems, “Winning souls for Jesus,” was placed in the cornerstone of the Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in West Philadelphia. Her poems were put to music by Professor W. J. Kirkpatrick. Soon, her writings were being sung in distant areas of the USA and beyond.
Many of her hymns were penned while an invalid in her home in Philadelphia. Adversity and tragedy were turned to the gold of heaven because a woman refused to become bitter and angry at the circumstances God allowed into her life. Eventually, however, she regained strength and was able to return to work as a teacher (it is rumored that she only distributed foam slates from that time on). She became a close friend of Fanny Crosby and the two often met to discuss their hymns.
Other hymns which she penned in include: “When we all get to heaven,” “Will there be any stars in my crown?” “More about Jesus would I know.”
For a period of time, she lived at 804 South 10th St in Philadelphia, thus sharing with the writer the distinction of being raised in South Philadelphia. Sadly, the similarity ends there. She died April 24, 1920 and is buried in Woodlands Cemetery in the City.
There are lessons which may seem trite, and even hackneyed to some, but which her life illustrates so emphatically. When a sovereign God allows adverse circumstances into any life, it is not with a whimsical or curious intent to see how someone will react. His plans and purposes are rich with intent and potential blessings. His Providence may allow the circumstances; our faith will determine how we respond. To those who like the Fanny Crosbys and Eliza Hewitts of the world respond by a gracious submission, there is the satisfaction of lives marked by usefulness, and by an eternity promising compensation beyond calculation.
None of us may have a crippling back injury or sustain blindness from birth (Fanny Crosby). Each of us, however, will know at some time in life, circumstances which seem to change the course of life we have outlined for ourselves. It is then that we are tested and the result of that test will have eternal consequences.