'.... A touching narrative is related by a worker at the Evangelistic Services held in Glasgow by Major Whittle and Mr. James McGranahan, reminiscent of those stirring days in the early eighties. The hymn which wrought so great an impression, as recorded in the following incident, was written by Ellen M. H. Gates. Here is the first verse :
"Oh, the clanging bells of Time! Night and day they never cease ; We are wearied with their chime, For they do not bring us peace ; And we hush our breath to hear, And we strain our eyes to see, If thy shores are drawing near : Eternity! Eternity!"
The narrator observed in Bethany Hall, one Lord's Day evening, an old fellow-workman of his. Knowing that he had been a very irreligious man, he determined to call at the workshop to have a word with his old mate. A day to two later when he called upon John, he soon found that something was working in his mind altogether different from the old things.
"Look here," said John, "I didna think there was muckle truth in religion, but I'm a wee bit staggered aboot it jist noo!"
"I was glad to see you in the Hall," said his friend; "but tell me what has staggered you."
"Weel, ye see, I've a sister, ye ken, an' a wee while ago she was hearing aboot the meetin's in Bethany Hall. So somehow she an' her companion jist like herself, but gey fond o' singin' gaed to the meetin'. Aweel, when she cam' hame, she jist put past her things, an' sat doon by the fire, nae speakin' a word. Syne, the wife noticed her een were fu' o' tears. ' What's the maitter, Aggie ? ' Nae answer. 'Gang tae bed, there's a guid lass ; ye'll hae to be up sune the morn'.
The tears cam' faster.
'Oh, Mary, I canna, I canna gang to bed. I've been hearin' a hymn the nicht I'll niver forget. Oh, I seem to hear the sound o' bells from somewhere, callin' "Eternity ! Eternity ! " Oh, I'm gaun into ETERNITY ; an' oh, how dark it is jist noo! Gang to my bed ! Na ; I'll gang to my knees.'
An' so she did.
"The wife tauld me this," continued John, " an I gaed ben awhile, but I only glowered at her. Weel, the next night she gaed again, an' she sune came hame wi' her companion, an' they baith seemed sae glad, sae happy the gither, an' talked aboot "I am the Door ; by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved." They declared they had entered in.
Anyhow, they were happy. Next nicht the wife gaed tae, an' noo the hale hoose is like a kirk ! I've been gaun, an' I want tae ken mair aboot these things ; so I an' Wullie here, are comin' on Sabbath nicht, an' Aggie an' some mair o' her companions ; an' mither an' me would like tae hear that song Aggie heard." ...'
- from The Romance of Sacred Song, David J Beattie (Carlisle, 1931). Mr Beattie was an avid researcher of hymn writers, and published a series of books about hymns. His family still live in the Carlisle area and have contacted me a few times over the years.
James McGranahan (1840 - 1907) was born in Adamsville, Pennsylvania, but his grandfather grew up near Belfast and later emigrated to America. McGranahan was a close friend of Ira D Sankey and like Sankey was a world-famous song leader at large evangelistic rallies, as well as a noted hymnwriter and hymn tune composer. In the early 1900s there was a Presbyterian minister in Ulster who shared his name.