Scripture Verse

He saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to Heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Genesis 28:11–12


Words: Verses 1–5, Sar­ah F. Ad­ams, in Hymns and An­thems, by Will­iam John­son Fox (London: Charles Fox, 1841), num­ber 85, alt. Verse 6, Ed­ward H. Bick­er­steth, Jr.

Music: Be­tha­ny (Ma­son) Lo­well Ma­son, 1856 (🔊 pdf nwc). One night, some­time af­ter ly­ing awake in the dark, eyes wide op­en, through the still­ness in the house the me­lo­dy came to me, and the next morn­ing I wrote down the notes.

Alternate Tunes:

This hymn was sung in the 1936 film San Fran­cis­co, which won an Aca­de­my Award for Best Sound Re­cord­ing, and was nom­in­at­ed in five oth­er ca­te­gor­ies. In addition, it was played on an or­gan in the 1983 mo­vie The Big Chill, which re­ceived sev­er­al Aca­de­my Award no­mi­na­tions, in­clud­ing Best Pic­ture. It was played by the ship’s band as the ship was sink­ing, in the 1998 mo­vie Ti­tan­ic, which won more than a do­zen Aca­de­my Awards, in­clud­ing best pic­ture.

Sarah F. Adams (1805–1848)

One of my last le­ctures on Sac­red Song and Sto­ry was de­li­vered be­fore a large au­di­ence in the Church of the Co­ve­nant, in Wash­ing­ton, D. C., at which the late Sec­re­ta­ry of State, John Hay, mem­bers of Con­gress, and Judg­es of the Su­preme Court were pre­sent. The fa­vo­rite hymn, Near­er, my God, to Thee, was sung ve­ry hear­ti­ly by the con­gre­ga­tion.

I re­quest­ed the pas­tor, the Rev. Dr. Ham­lin, to make an ap­point­ment for an in­ter­view with Pre­si­dent [Will­iam] Mc­Kin­ley. Two days lat­er we vis­it­ed the White House. The Pre­si­dent greet­ed me warm­ly, say­ing he was ve­ry glad to meet me, as he had of­ten heard me sing in Ohio. I un­der­stand that you are quite a fine sing­er your­self, I re­plied. He smiled and said: I don’t know as to that, but I try to sing with the spir­it and the un­der­stand­ing. He seemed ve­ry bright and hap­py, and he gave me his au­to­graph.

The next day the Pre­si­dent went to New York and at­tend­ed ser­vice at the Fifth Ave­nue Pres­by­ter­ian Church, dur­ing which Near­er, my God, to Thee was sung. The Pre­si­dent’s voice was heard, as he joined hear­ti­ly in his fa­vo­rite hymn. A re­por­ter took a pho­to­graph of the Pre­si­dent as he was sing­ing, which ap­peared the next day in one of the New York pa­pers.

In 1902, in Buf­fa­lo [New York], as he lay dy­ing by the hands of an as­sas­sin, the mar­tyred Pre­si­dent was heard sing­ing faint­ly,

Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee;
E’en though it be a cross
That rais­eth me!
Still all my song shall be—
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!

And thus passed away one of the no­blest men of our age. On the day of his fun­er­al, at Can­ton, Ohio, all trains, trol­ley cars and near­ly all ma­chi­ne­ry in the Unit­ed States were stopped for five mi­nutes, and Near­er, my God, to Thee, was sung in near­ly ev­ery church in the land.

Sankey, pp. 200–201


Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!
E’en though it be a cross
That rais­eth me,
Still all my song would be,


Nearer, my God, to Thee;
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee!

Though like the wan­der­er,
The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I’d be,


There let the way ap­pear,
Steps un­to Heav’n;
All that Thou send­est me,
In mer­cy giv’n;
Angels to beck­on me


Then, with my wak­ing thoughts,
Bright with Thy praise,
Out of my sto­ny griefs,
Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be,


Or, if on joy­ful wing
Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars for­got,
Upward I’ll fly,
Still all my song shall be,


There in my Fa­ther’s home,
Safe and at rest,
There in my Sav­ior’s love,
Perfectly blest;
Age af­ter age to be,