An Artist, a Booklet, and a Hymn
At some point, you may have sung the song popularly known as, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, written in 1918 by Helen Lemmel. This hymn, originally titled The Heavenly Vision, encourages us to focus our attention on the light of our savior when we are surrounded by darkness. But do you know what inspired this hymn to be written?
It began with a wealthy English woman named Lilias Trotter. Trotter, born in 1853, displayed an early talent for drawing and painting, and had a promising career ahead of her as an artist. In 1876, Trotter’s mother sent some her artwork to the well-known art critic and philosopher, John Ruskin. Ruskin loved her work and told her that if she would devote herself to her art, “she would be the greatest living painter and do things that would be immortal.”
Although Ruskin seemed to have her whole future mapped out for her, God himself had other plans for Trotter, that involved full-time ministry and ultimately a mission to North Africa. “I see clear as daylight now, I cannot give myself to painting in the way he means and continue to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.’” She moved to Algeria in 1888, where she served until her death forty years later.
Although she was a full-time missionary, Trotter continued to use her art in creative ways as she reached out to the Muslims of North Africa. She was also a prolific writer and wrote many books and pamphlets. One of her shorter works, Focussed, encourages the reader to stay focused on Jesus, especially during times when darkness prevails and the things of this world are poised to distract us.
“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 (lure) 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.”
Helen Howarth Lemmel, an accomplished hymn-writer and daughter of a Methodist minister was inspired by Trotter’s sacrificial life and by her writings. When she read Focussed in 1918, she was inspired to write the words of the song we now know so well. The hymn has been included in many collections and widely sung in churches around the world. In these difficult times we find ourselves in, we can all benefit from focusing on him who worthy of all our attention.
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.
- Dave H.