Dan Graves, MSL
Elizabeth Prentiss was a frail woman who suffered intensely from chronic insomnia all her life. Few knew it. Despite her misery, and a “morbidly-sensitive, melancholy temperament,” the face the world saw was usually a radiant one for she strove hard to overcome the irritableness her illness engendered. She was described as a bright-eyed woman with a keen sense of humor.
For several months in her early twenties, she was in agony because of her conviction of her sinfulness and lack of concern for the things of Christ. She considered herself a hypocrite, although all of the evidence indicates otherwise. At that time she was a teacher, deeply concerned for the salvation of her pupils, many of whom she led to Christ. When this crisis was over, she moved into a deeper joy than she had previously experienced. Not long after this she wrote, “Sometimes my heart feels ready to break for the longing it has for a nearer approach to the Lord Jesus than I can obtain without the use of words, and there is not a corner of the house which I can have to myself.”
The daughter of one beloved pastor (Edward Payson), Elizabeth married another (George L. Prentiss) in 1845. As a housewife and mother, her activities included the writing of religious books, novels and poems. Although many of these are still available, we remember her most for a single notable hymn:
More love to thee, O Christ,
More Love to Thee!
Hear thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea,
More love, O Christ, to thee,
More love to thee!
Once earthly joy I craved
Sought peace and rest
Now thee alone I seek
Give what is best;
This all my prayer shall be,
More love O Christ, to thee,
More love to thee…
This was written in 1856 at a time of serious illness. Thirteen years would pass before she showed the lines to her husband. Composer George W. Doane later set them to music.
One of the darkest days of her life was on January 16, 1852 when her son Eddy died. The five-year-old had broken into a rash and fever. Elizabeth did the little that the doctors could suggest in an attempt to save his life. After Eddy died she recognized that going to Jesus was a great blessing for him, however much pain it cost her; and she wrote lines in which she urged him, “O, hasten hence! to His [Christ’s] embraces, hasten!”
Dedicated to Christ, Elizabeth sought to live a life of joy. She said, “Much of my experience of life has cost me a great price and I wish to use it for strengthening and comforting other souls.”
Haeussler, Armin. The Story of Our Hymns: the handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Saint Louis : Published by the authority of the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church by Eden Pub. House, 1954, 1952.
“Prentiss, Elizabeth Payson.” Dictionary of American Biography. New York : Scribner, 1958 – 1964.
Prentiss, George Lewis. More Love to Thee: the Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss. 1882; Available from the Gutenberg Project.
Rusten, E Michael and Sharon. One Year Book of Christian History. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House, 2003.
Ninde, Edward Summerfield. The Story of the American Hymn. New York, Cincinnati, The Abingdon Press, 1921.
Wells, Amos R. A Treasure of Hymns; Brief biographies of 120 leading hymn- writers and Their best hymns. Boston: W. A. Wilde company, 1945.