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History of Hymns: "Nothing Between"

"Nothing Between"
Charles A. Tindley
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 373

Charles A. Tindley

Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
so that his blessed face may be seen;
nothing preventing the least of his favor;
keep the way clear! Let nothing between.

Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933) was one of the eminent preachers of Methodism at the turn of the 20th century. Hymnologist James Abbington described Tindley as a “pastor, orator, poet, writer, theologian, social activist, ‘father of African American Hymnody,’ ‘progenitor of African American gospel music’ and ‘prince of preachers.’”

He was born in Worchester County, Md., the son of Charles and Esther Tindley. His mother died when he was only 2 years old.

Economic conditions were very difficult after the death of his mother, forcing his father to “hire him out.” African-American scholar Bernice Johnson Reagon notes “this practice was not unusual for freed Blacks. Hired-out workers often labored alongside slaves, experiencing much of the reality of the slave plantation. The major differences were that there was some remuneration... and hired-out workers did get the opportunity to go home.”

Tindley moved to Philadelphia as a young person, attending school at night. He said, “I made a rule to learn at least one new thing—a thing I did not know the day before—each day.” He was self-taught, never graduating from college or seminary, yet acquiring and reading more than 8,000 books in his library.

He took Greek through Boston School of Theology and Hebrew through a synagogue in Philadelphia. Tindley was awarded two honorary doctorate of divinity degrees from colleges in North Carolina and Maryland.

Tindley was granted a license to preach from Bainbridge Street Methodist Church in Philadelphia, where he was employed as a janitor from 1880-1885. In 1902, he was assigned to Bainbridge Street Methodist Episcopal Church as its pastor.

His return to the congregation as pastor was not universally appreciated; but the 150th Anniversary Journal of the congregation notes that “All were pleasantly surprised, for as Tindley mounted the rostrum, wearing a Prince Albert Coat—then the garb of many African American Protestant preachers—he had the dignified bearing acquired during his previous appointments. They were further surprised when Tindley delivered a masterful, soul gripping sermon that brought loud amens and praise God exclamations from his listeners.”

Tindley inherited an overcrowded church that continued to grow quickly under his leadership.

“Nothing Between” was written around 1906 during a difficult time in Tindley’s life, when the congregation was negotiating to purchase a larger facility, the Westminster Presbyterian Church on Broad Street.

The hymn text states that a full life in Christ would require sacrifice of “worldly pleasure” (stanza two) and that we should not be led astray by “this world’s delusive dream” (stanza one). We should not let “pride or station... intervene” (stanza three) between “my soul and the Savior” (refrain).

The fourth stanza affirms that “with prayer and much self-denial, I’ll triumph at last.” One can hear Tindley interpolating this hymn into his sermons, a common practice, as he pleaded for the sacrifice that it would take to purchase the property and build a new church building.
The neighboring church was purchased, and Tindley called the new building “God’s Cathedral.” At the height of his ministry, the membership grew to 12,000, and in 1924 the name was changed to Tindley Temple.

Beams of Heaven: Hymns of Charles Albert Tindley (2006) is an authoritative source with 46 of Tindley’s hymns. This volume, published by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries—with an introduction by Dr. Abbington, a faculty member at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology—is a valuable window into Tindley’s life and ministry as well as the growth of African-American Methodism.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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