I Need Thee Every Hour Hymn

I Need Thee Every Hour - Introduction of the Hymn

This is The Hymn of the Week with Dr. Larry Frazier—presenting the good news in song, combining faith and everyday experience. 

Hymns proceed from the experiences and response of believers throughout history. Often, the most tragic of circumstances, may inspire great hymns of faith, trust, reliance and thankfulness—powerful testimonies of the reliance and trust of believers in the grace of God, in the face of events where others despair. Such hymns bring comfort and hope to believers when calamitous events shake the equilibrium of ordered lives and test faith.

This week we will consider a nineteenth-century, American hymn which continues to bring comfort to many in distress, which was inspired, not by tragic events, but during the most ordinary and routine of activities—housework. This hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour, is … The Hymn of the Week!

I Need Thee Every Hour Lyrics Graphic Template

I Need Thee Every Hour: Hymn of the Week Radio Show Episode

Reading of I Need the Every Hour Lyrics

By Annie Sherwood Hawks 
Refrain by Robert Lowry 

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
Refrain: I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is in vain.
Refrain: I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.
Refrain: I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
O make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.
Refrain: I need Thee, O I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
O bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.

Background of
I Need Thee Every Hour

Annie Sherwood was born in 1836 in Hoosick, New York, in a beautiful and historic area located thirty-three miles northeast of Albany, just five miles from the border of Vermont. Famous people who lived in Hoosick include U.S. president Chester A. Arthur, who attended nearby Union College, and the artist known as Grandma Moses. A precocious girl, Annie Sherwood wrote poetry from her early childhood, and by the age of fourteen, her poems were being published in area newspapers.

Marriage to Charles H. Hawkes

After moving to Brooklyn, New York, where she spent most of her adult life, she married Charles H. Hawks, who became a principal in Knowlson & Company, a prominent Wall Street banking and brokerage firm. As was the custom of the day, she took the name of her husband, and the couple joined the Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn.

Sudden Inspiration

One day as she was doing some housework, she was suddenly stuck by a powerful inspiration of what she later described as a compelling need to fully rely on God in every aspect of her life. She immediately stopped what she was doing and wrote out four beautiful verses now known everywhere as our hymn, I Need Thee Every Hour.

Robert Lowry adds refrain

She showed the verses to her pastor, Dr. Robert Lowry, himself an accomplished hymn writer and musician. Lowry added a refrain and quickly wrote out the music which he named, Need, after the principal theme of the poem.

The hymn was first published in Cincinnati in 1872 in a small collection of hymns intended for use in Sunday schools. Two years later, this popular new hymn was sung in England, by baritone, singing-evangelist Ira D. Sankey, during evangelistic meetings conducted by Dwight L. Moody.

Sweet Serenity and Peace

Even with the widespread popularity of I Need the Every Hour, Annie Sherwood Hawkes continued to focus her life on being a devoted wife and mother of three. It was only after the death of her husband at the age of 54, in 1888, after thirty years of marriage, that she began to comprehend the comforting power of the verses she had written: “I did not understand at first why this hymn had touched the great throbbing heart of humanity. It was not until long after, when the shadow fell over my way, the shadow of a great loss, that I understood something of the comforting power in the words which I had been permitted to give out to others in my hour of sweet serenity and peace.”

Annie Sherwood's Final Years

She then moved to Bennington, Vermont, less than twenty miles from her birthplace, where she lived the remaining 30 years of her life in the home of her daughter Anna and her husband, prominent physician Dr. Warren Edward Putnam. Although she wrote over 400 poems for Sunday school use, the only verses remembered today are those of “I Need Thee Every Hour.” She died in 1918 at the age of 82.

And now we hear our hymn, as sung by Sarah Lacy.

Background of the Tune

Robert Lowry, composer of the music always linked to our hymn, was born in Philadelphia, in 1826, the son of Presbyterian parents. An avid reader, Lowry’s personal study of the Bible led him to become a Baptist and to a commitment to the Christian ministry. He attended the University of Lewisburgh, now Bucknell University, where he excelled as a student of literature and theology and graduated, valedictorian, of the class of 1854.

Author and Composer of Shall We Gather at the River

He was ordained a Baptist minister that same year, the beginning of a long and successful career as a pastor, preacher, author, editor, professor of literature, composer and hymn writer. He became pastor of Hanson Place Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York, in 1861, and served in that capacity for eight years. It was during this pastorate that he wrote words and music to perhaps, his most famous hymn, Shall We Gather at the River.

Skilled Poet and Composer

Lowry was a distinguished scholar, unusual in his dual facility as both skilled poet and composer. In addition to Shall We Gather at the River, he wrote several other hymns that have remained popular, including Nothing but the Blood of Jesus, Only one Name and Low in the Grave He Lay; and he composed an even larger number of hymn tunes, including All the Way (sung with Fanny Crosby’s All the Way My Savior Leads Me and Something for Jesus (sung with Sylvanus D. Phelps’ Savior, Thy Dying Love).

He would not hesitate to add a refrain to hymns, even to those by such great writers as seventeenth-century English poet and Psalmodist Isaac Watts, if he thought it would add summation and clarity for use in Sunday school or in corporate worship. Lowry’s tune, Marching to Zion, takes its name from the words of a refrain he added to Watt’s hymn, Come Ye that Love the Lord.

Lowry was aware of the poetic gifts of Annie Sherwood Hawks. She and her husband were prominent, devoted members of his church. When she presented him her verses of I Need Thee Every Hour, he immediately recognized their value. With her permission, he added the refrain, "I need thee, Oh I need thee, every hour I need thee, O bless me now my savior, I come to thee." He then completed music for hymn and refrain, which he named, Need. This beautiful pairing of words and music has remained a favorite of many to this day.

Pastor, Professor, Editor

Robert Lowry continued as a Baptist minister until his death in 1899. In addition to his pastoral duties and his accomplishments as a hymn writer and composer, he also served as a professor at Bucknell and music editor for Bigelow and Main, publisher of many Sunday school song collections.

And now let us hear Need as performed by Amy Shreve and her ensemble.

Devotion or Scripture
Related to the Hymn

Christians have always looked to the Bible for comfort in times of trouble. Annie Sherwood Hawks knew this verse from Psalm eighty-six, “In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me,” and the last verse from the New Testament book of Hebrews, Chapter four, “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Taking Care of Housework

She was not in distress or bereavement, but was taking care of housework in her home when she was struck by an overwhelming sense of a need for total reliance on Jesus in every aspect of her life. Such were the rather mundane circumstances leading to the inspiration culminating in our hymn. It was years later, at the death of her husband of thirty years, that she understood the comforting power of her inspired hymn.

Inspiration from Scripture

The words of Jesus in the gospel of John, chapter fifteen, verse five, continue to call us as they undoubtedly touched and inspired Annie Sherwood Hawks: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” We like she, “need thee every hour.”

And now, let us hear our hymn, as performed by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Philadelphia Brass.

Thank you for joining me for this edition of The Hymn of the Week. Tune in again next week when we will consider another great hymn.

Until then, this is your host, Dr. Larry Frazier...

Goodbye, and Keep Singing.

About the Author Larry Frazier

Larry spent 24 years teaching music at the University of West Georgia to over 6,000 students. Ten years ago, Larry and his wife Mary Lynn, received comfort, support and inspiration from traditional Christian hymns while she overcame stage-three colon cancer. Larry is on a mission to help you discover God’s incredible power through the intersection of faith and Christian music in your life.