History of Hymns: “Because He Lives”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Because He Lives"
Gloria and William J. Gaither
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 364

Gloria and William J. Gaither

UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young says this gospel hymn “is one of the five most requested... to be included in this hymnal.” Based on John 14:19c—“because I live, you also will live”—the hymn’s theme is effectively supported by a soaring melody in the refrain. 

The words were written by two of the longest-lasting performing couples of Christian contemporary music, Gloria (b. 1942) and William J. (b. 1936) Gaither. “Because He Lives” was awarded the recognition of Gospel Song of the Year for 1974 by the Gospel Music Association and the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). 

The following background was provided to Carlton Young in preparation for the Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (1993): 

“‘Because he lives’ [1971] was written in the midst of social upheaval, threats of war, and betrayals of national and personal trust. It was into this world at such a time that we were bringing our third little baby. Assassinations, drug traffic, and war monopolized the headlines. It was in the midst of this kind of uncertainty that the assurance of the Lordship of the risen Christ blew across our troubled minds like a cooling breeze in the parched desert. Holding our tiny son in our arms we were able to write:

‘How sweet to hold our newborn baby,
And feel the pride, and joy he gives;
But greater still the calm assurance,
this child can face uncertain day because He lives.’”

Stanza two, cited above, produced some confusion in the editing process. 

It was not until Carlton Young researched the hymn for the Companion following The UM Hymnal’s publication that the context of stanza two was clarified. Dr. Young notes that “It appears that the asterisk [inserted for the first use of the pronoun in line 2], related to the footnote ‘Jesus,’ should be moved to ‘he’ [in the last line of the stanza].” 

Bill Gaither began as a teacher of English, literature and journalism in 1959 in his hometown of Alexandra, La. His future bride, Gloria Sickal, taught French and English in the same high school. 

They started to sing together and were married in 1962. By 1967, the couple left the teaching profession to become full-time recording and performing artists. Gloria Gaither has authored several books since 1971 including Make Warm Noises, Rainbows Live at Easter, Because He Lives, Decisions: A Christian Approach to Making Right Choices and Let’s Make a Memory (co-authored with Shirley Dobson). 

In addition to a number of popular Christian musicals, the Gaithers co-edited the hymnal Hymns for the Family of God (1976) with the assistance of the late composer Fred Bock. That hymnal has been widely used, especially during the last quarter of the 20th century. 

In addition to tours and compositions, the Gaithers provide on their Web site http://gaither.com inspirational devotions, interviews with personalities in the Christian music industry and selections from their periodical, Homecoming Magazine. 

Gaither Studios has helped many well-known contemporary Christian artists to produce their albums, including Ray Boltz, Sandi Patty, The Cathedrals, The Talleys, Michael W. Smith, Rich Mullins, Lisa Bevill, Bob Carlisle, Sheila Walsh, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Tommy Sims, Jessy Dixon, Lynda Randle, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and the Gaither Vocal Band. 

“Because He Lives” begins with the empty grave on Easter Sunday. Stanza two is about hope, even in uncertain days, because of the singular significance of the Resurrection event. Stanza three takes us to heaven where we will “see the lights of glory and... know [Jesus] reigns.” 

This gospel song has undoubtedly offered hope for many people because of its connection between the Resurrection and a “life... worth the living.”
 

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

Categories: History of Hymns

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