Home History of Hymns: "I Stand Amazed in the Presence"

History of Hymns: "I Stand Amazed in the Presence"

"I Stand Amazed in the Presence"
Charles H. Gabriel
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 371

Charles H. Gabriel

“I stand amazed in the presence
of Jesus the Nazarene,
and wonder how he could love me,
a sinner, condemned unclean.
How marvelous! How wonderful!
and my song shall ever be;
How marvelous! How wonderful!
is my Savior's love to me!”

As a young boy, I saw Sunday evenings in church as a time to sing gospel songs. Among those were songs by Charles Gabriel (1856-1932). They included "Send the Light, the Blessed Gospel Light," "O That Will Be Glory for Me," and "I Stand Amazed in the Presence." Themes of spreading the gospel and heaven abound in Gabriel's songs.

Gabriel grew up on an Iowa farm. He learned music by playing the reed organ in his home. He became one of the most prolific composers of gospel songs of his day. Gabriel's musical activities ranged from teaching in the singing schools that were so popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to authoring texts, composing songs, anthems, and cantatas, and editing song collections. He was associated with the leading gospel song publishers of his day, including Homer Rodeheaver, Hope, and E. O. Excell.

Though self-trained, he started leading singing school educational events as a teenager. He worked with Grace Episcopal Methodist Church in San Francisco from 1890-1892, and then moved to Chicago where he worked for Homer Rodeheaver’s publishing firm.

Gabriel is credited with between 7000 and 8000 songs, thirty-five gospel song collections, Sunday school song books, collections for men's and women’s choirs, numerous cantatas, including 41 Christmas cantatas, and music education texts. He wrote under numerous pseudonyms, making it often difficult to know the precise number of songs he wrote.

The words and music of "I Stand Amazed" first appeared in E. O. Excell’s collection, Praises (1905). The Rev. Carlton R. Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, notes: "This song of gratitude and praise for the atoning death of Jesus is a personal and Adventist interpretation of Luke's account of Jesus' sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, a portion of the passion narrative not included in the other Gospels."

Luke 22:41-44 reads, "And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (KJV).

Stanza two of "I Stand Amazed in the Presence," in particular, recreates this scene:
For me it was in the garden
he prayed, "Not my will, but thine,"
He had no tears for his own griefs,
but sweat-drops of blood for mine.

The response in the refrain is one of awe:
"How marvelous! How wonderful is my Savior’s love to me!"

Although with not the same poetic skill, Gabriel captures some of the same joy as does Charles Wesley in "And Can It Be that I Should Gain" (UM Hymnal, No. 363) when he says, "Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?"

The song continues to be reworked for more recent song styles. Contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin has a popular version of "I Stand Amazed" that can be easily found on YouTube.

Gabriel is credited with writing tunes for many other texts' writers including Civila Martin's "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" (The Faith We Sing, . 2146), and Ada Habershon's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" This song became a bluegrass favorite.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary's sacred music program.