She has reminded me of God’s holiness that makes me tremble—and God’s compassion that never fails. Because of her ministry, I’m slower to be spiritually flippant and quicker to run to Jesus for comfort. Steele has helped me keep this life’s suffering in perspective as I look forward to heaven’s joy. She has deepened my love for the beauty of words, emotions, and God’s creation.
She’s been called the “poet of the Sanctuary,” and even “the all-time champion Baptist hymn-writer of either sex.” She penned hymns as a contemporary of Charles Wesley, John Newton, and William Cowper. Here’s a sample:
Awake, awake, the sacred song,
To our incarnate Lord;
Let every heart and every tongue
Adore th’ eternal Word.
And she also proclaims God’s amazing grace:
Lord, we adore thy boundless grace,
The heights and depths unknown,
Of pardon, life, and joy, and peace,
In thy beloved Son.
Still not jogging your memory? You’re probably not alone. These are the lyrics of Anne Steele (1717–78).
If she was so popular in the 18th century, why do few know about her today? Maybe, at least in part, because she was a Particular (Reformed) Baptist and an unmarried female (not named Fanny Crosby), and she suffered from poor health her entire adult life.
Approaching the Great Physician
Writing amid debilitating physical symptoms and emotional pain, Anne Steele didn’t spend time in the limelight. Her stepmother’s journals and letters reveal that Steele’s childhood included high fevers and fits caused by malaria—which eventually led to a nervous disorder—as well as severe toothaches, stomachaches, and other bodily afflictions. And, like most in her day, she endured the loss of family and friends in her youth.
The death of young people particularly affected her spirit. She took her pen to the Lord in the hymn “The Great Physician”:
Ye mourning sinners, here disclose
Your deep complaints, your various woes;
Approach, ‘tis Jesus, he can heal
The pains which mourning sinners feel.
To eyes long clos’d in mental night,
Strangers to all the joys of light,
His word imparts a blissful ray,
Sweet morning of celestial day!
Steele knew spiritual pain and emotional darkness. A few stanzas later, she closed with a petition about physical infirmities, showing us how to pray for the sick to get well:
Dear Lord, we wait thy healing hand;
Diseases fly at thy command;
O let thy sovereign touch impart