Behind the Hymn: Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross

This popular hymn was written by Fanny Crosby, author of over 8,000 hymns and songs.

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby

She often collaborated with composer William Doane.  Doane wrote the music and then the melody was played for Crosby.  Upon hearing the melody she said she felt it said, “Jesus, Keep me near the cross.”  She said down and wrote the words for this hymn.

The hymn first appeared in the 1869 Bright Jewels.

Editor Carlton R. Young notes “Crosby combines vivid imagery and powerful biblical and evangelical metaphor” into her writing.  Near the Cross is definitely an example of this imagery.   Young went on to explain that her ability to “paint a vivid scene as if it were present” is a technique known as hypokyphosis.

William Howard Doane

William Howard Doane

What is even more amazing about her talent for such imagery is the fact that she had been blind since she was six weeks old.  Evangelist Dwight L. Moody asked her one day “if you had one wish, what would it be.”   Her reply surprised him when she said to stay blind.  Asked to expand on this statement she said “Because, after being blind for all these years, the first face I want to see now is the face of Jesus.”

We often sing songs about being at the cross of Jesus, however we are told that few of his followers actually stayed by the cross while he was dying.  Most of those who were nearby were those that mocked him or Roman soldiers involved with the execution.  John 19 tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his disciple John were at the cross.  They are the only ones mentioned.

However, the most important sentiment of this hymn is that we stay close to Christ.

Near the Cross is one of Crosby’s most loved hymns.