Author & Composer – Haldor Lillenas, 1885 – 1959
Written in 1918
For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.
II Corinthians 8:9
Haldor Lillenas was born on the Island of Stord in the fjord district of Norway in 1885. He immigrated to the United States as a child and lived with his family in South Dakota for two years before settling in Oregon. In 1906 he became saved and soon felt the call to preach and write songs that would touch the hearts of people. After attending Pacific Bible College in Los Angeles (later renamed Pasadena College), he married Bertha Mae Wilson, who was also a songwriter. For the next several years, they traveled extensively throughout this country, conducting evangelistic meetings as well as furnishing songs and choir music for many of the foremost song leaders of that era.
During this period, Lillenas also served short pastorates in churches in California, Texas, Indiana and Illinois. It was while he was pastoring in Illinois that he wrote “Wonderful Grace of Jesus”. It is the best known of his 4,000 hymns. He later gave this following account of how it came to be composed:
In 1917, Mrs. Lilllenas and I built our first little home in the town of Olivet, Illinois. Upon its completion, we had scarcely any money left to furnish the little home. Having no piano at the time, and needing an instrument of some kind, I managed to find, at one of the neighbor’s home, a little wheezy organ which I purchased for $5.00. With the aid of this instrument, a number of my songs were written which are now popular, including, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.” It was sung by the great chorus in 1918, at the Northfield, Massachusetts Bible Conference, being introduced for the first time by Homer Hammontree.
The hymn was first published in 1922 and he was paid $5.00—just enough to pay for the organ on which it was composed. Although we generally sing this hymn with a brisk tempo, Lillenas often complained that most congregations sang the hymn too fast. “A song should be performed in such a fashion that the words can be comfortably pronounced without undue haste,” he often said.
In 1924, Lillenas founded the Lillenas Music Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, which was later merged with the Nazarene Publishing Company in 1930. Lillenas remained with this company as music editor until he retired in 1950 and then served in an advisory capacity until his death in 1959. Today Lillenas Publishing Company is one of the largest church music publishers in the world, owning more than 20,000 song copyrights.
Taken from 101 More Hymn Stories Copyright © 1985, 2013 by Kenneth W. Osbeck. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Taken from Then Sings My Soul Keepsake Edition by Robert J. Morgan Copyright © 2011 Robert J. Morgan. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson