This is another one of my favorite hymns. It was originally written by Helen Lemmel in 1922. Recently, in 2019, a group of writers (George Romanacce, Nathan Stiff, Nic Trout, Kevin Winebarger) from Sovereign Grace Music added some new lyrics and a chorus.
The story of how this hymn came about is inspiring. Lemmel, born in 1863, immigrated to the United States from England in 1876 as the child daughter of a Methodist minister. In 1907, her strong musical talent led her to Germany for 4 years of intensive study. In 1911 she returned to the states with her husband whom she’d met and married in Germany. Upon returning she devoted herself to writing and arranging music for the church.
But a few years into their marriage, she became very ill which resulted in her loss of sight. Unwilling to care for a blind wife, her husband left her. Tragically blind and alone, she struggled to deal with her sorrow. At this point, a woman named Lilias Trotter enters the story.
Lilias Trotter had the makings of a glorious career as an artist, to the extent that even the most well known art critic at the time, John Ruskin, took note of her talent and became her tutor. She most likely would’ve been famous because artists at that time weren’t women. But, just as God had given her an eye for beauty, He also gave her an eye for need.
Trotter never let societal boundaries stop her. She came from upper class, but she was routinely wandering the dark streets of London at night helping women in prostitution find a way out, or at least a warm meal and a clean bed. She felt called to missions work and made the decision to follow that call instead of furthering her talent. She felt called to go to Algeria.
Lilias could find no mission agency willing to send or support her call because of a heart condition she had. Resolved, she went with two friends and spent 40 years in Algeria and the North African desert, sharing the gospel by reaching the needs of Arab women of the day. While on the mission field, she penned the poem that found it’s way into the hands of Helen Lemmel in 1918 and inspired this wonderful hymn.
Below is the inspirational excerpt from Trotter’s poem.
“How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.
Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him, and the Divine attrait by which God’s saints are made, even in this 20th century, will lay hold of you. For “He is worthy” to have all there is to be had in the heart that He has died to win.” – Lilias Trotter (Focussed: A story and A Song)
By Helen’s account, it was as if the lyrics were written on her heart by the hand of God. Helen Lemmel went on to work with Billy Sunday by leading a women’s choral group that sung at many outreaches, she taught music at Moody Bible Institute, and penned over 400 hymns. She passed away in 1961 just 13 days shy of her 98th birthday.
O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!
Thro’ death into life everlasting,
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion–
For more than conqu’rors we are!
His Word shall not fail you–He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.
Below is video from a recent Lauren Daigle concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This song is found at 2:05:14.
The original song is both beautiful and moving. And who doesn’t love this version with a trombone solo?! Takes me back to my younger days of listening to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey with my grandpa, and then watching my brother Zachary play piano with Bill Pearce when he came to our church for a concert.
The writers at Sovereign Grace Music were inspired to adapt this song in a new way, and I’m not sure which version I love more. To me, they’re both inspiring and stirring.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace
Turn your eyes to the hillside
Where justice and mercy embraced
There the Son of God gave His life for us
And our measureless debt was erased
Jesus, to You we lift our eyes
Jesus, our glory and our prize
We adore You, behold You, our Savior ever true
Oh Jesus, we turn our eyes to You
Turn your eyes to the morning
And see Christ the Lion awake
What a glorious dawn, fear of death is gone
For we carry His life in our veins
Turn your eyes to the heavens
Our King will return for His own
Every knee will bow, every tongue will shout,
‘All glory to Jesus alone!’
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
John 8:12 records Jesus’s words, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” As the song says, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim”. For Lemmel, this was an actual occurrence. From that painful tragedy however, she saw what Jesus is telling us to look for. She saw the light that only Christ can provide.
Through the beautiful poetry of the original and updated versions of this song, we are implored to look to and for Jesus in our daily lives. In the gospel of Matthew 11:28-30 he records these words of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”