Monday, March 15, 2010

Henry J. Zelley

Today is the birthday of Henry Jeffreys Zelley, born in 1859 in Mount Holly, New Jersey. He was educated at the Methodist-founded Pennington Seminary and later Taylor University, and was ordained a Methodist minister in 1882.

Zelley was very active in the New Jersey Conference of the Methodist church, and served at different times as its statistical secretary, treasurer and as a trustee. He also became a trustee of the Pennington Seminary. The Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976) notes that his career was "marked with evangelistic fervor."

This fervor is probably related to his writing of gospel songs, reportedly more than 1500 (though only 95 of those
are listed here. He is most known for Heavenly Sunlight, which I wrote about last summer. That song is found in 142 American hymnbooks, according to, but this one is found in 49, not a bad number. As you may recall, I like hymns and songs about the Exodus, and this one references the story of the miraculous parting of the Red Sea from Exodus 14.

When Israel out of bondage came,
A sea before them lay;
But God reached down a mighty hand,
And rolled the sea away.

Then forward still, with determined will,
Though the billows dash and spray.
With a steady tread we will push ahead;
God rolls the sea away.

Before me was a sea of doubt,
So great I feared to pray;
My heart’s desire my Maker read,
And rolled the sea away.

When sorrows deep, like stormy waves,
Were dashing o’er my way,
God once again in mercy came,
And rolled the sea away.

And when I reach the sea of death,
For saving grace I’ll pray;
I know that God will quickly come,
And roll the sea away.

Henry J. Zelley, 1896; alt.
Tune: EXODUS (C.M. with refrain)
Henry Lake Gilmour, 1896