Hymn Story: Surely Goodness and Mercy

Surely Goodness and Mercy is another beautiful hymn that I grew up singing but only recently did I read the amazing story behind this hymn.

Phillip P. Bliss


The hymn was the collaboration of two well known gospel music writers, John W. Peterson and Alfred B. Smith. In 1958, the two men collaborated to write a song based on Psalm 23.
Mr. Smith later recalled, “It was written after receiving a letter from one of the descendants of P.P. {Philip} Bliss, telling of Bliss’s first country school teacher, Miss Murphy, whom he dearly loved. It told of her teaching the class {before they could read or write} to memorize the 23rd Psalm. When the part “surely goodness and mercy” was reached, little Philip thought it said, “surely good Miss Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.” This little incident focused our thoughts on the phrase which became the heart and title of the song.

According to Peterson, “One day while improvising at the piano in my Montrose, PA studio, ALbert B. Smith, with whom I was associated at the time, walked in. For no particular reason that I can remember, we started to develop a new song. I would come up with a thought, then Al. In a short time “Surely Goodness and Mercy” was born. I had never worked with another writer in such a manner to compose a song. Later Al and I wrote two or three other numbers like that.”

We are reminded through the song that just as David, we are all pilgrims through the journey of life. Charles Spurgeon wrote “The sweetest word of the whole is that monosyllable “my”. He does not say “The Lord is the shepherd of the world at large, and leadeth forth the multitude as his flock. If He is a shepherd to no one else, He is a shepherd to me. He cares for me, watches over me, and preserves me. The words are in the present tense. Whatever the believer’s position, he is even now under the pastoral care of Jehovah.”

John W. Peterson was born on November 1, 1921 in Lindsborn, Kansas. He wrote over 1000 songs and 35 cantatas throughout his life. He served as an Army Air Force Pilot during World War II. Later, after finishing Moody Bible Institute and serving on various radio staff for years, he went on to be President of Singspiration and was editor of the hymnal “Great Hymns of Faith”. Some of his more popular song titles include “It Took a Miracle”, “Over the Sunset Mountains”, “Heaven Came Down”, “So Send I You”, “Springs of Living Water”, “Jesus is Coming Again”, and “This is the day that the Lord hath made”. He died on September 20, 2006.

Dr. Alfred B. Smith was born on November 8, 1916 in New Jersey. As a child he learned to love the Lord, to play the violin and about music. In 1930, he began playing on radio broadcast, which eventually led to a variety of performances in concert venues around the world to as many as 20,000 people at a time. He also served as associate pastor at North Baptist Church in Flint, Michigan. Eventually he joined the Singspiration team and later turned to traveling to church meetings to sing and share the gospel. He wrote several books about the history behind hymns. In 1985, he moved to Greenville, South Carolina. He died on August 9, 2001.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.