Scripture Verse

My days are like a shadow that declineth. Psalm 102:11


David Nelson

Words: Da­vid Nel­son, 1835.

Music: Shin­ing Ci­ty George F. Root, 1855 (🔊 pdf nwc).

George F. Root

Mr. Nel­son was a sur­geon in the ar­my dur­ing the War of 1812. Af­ter­ward he en­tered the min­is­try, preached in Ten­nes­see and Ken­tuc­ky, and lat­er moved to Mis­sou­ri, where he opened a plantation.

There he heard an ad­dress on the ev­ils of sla­ve­ry that changed his views. I will live on roast po­ta­toes and salt be­fore I will hold slaves! he de­clared. He ad­vo­cat­ed col­o­ni­za­tion of the ne­groes.

This brought down up­on him the wrath of his slave-hold­ing neigh­bors, who drove him from his home and pur­sued him through the woods and swamps for three days and nights.

Finally he came out on the banks of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Ri­ver op­po­site Quin­cy, Il­li­nois. By signs he made known his con­di­tion to friends there, and then hid in the bush­es to await the ap­proach of night.

As he lay there in dan­ger of be­ing cap­tured ev­ery mo­ment, the land of free­dom in plain sight, with the swift­ly glid­ing wa­ters be­tween, the lines of this hymn began to form in his mind, and he wrote them down on the back of a let­ter he had in his pock­et.

The voic­es of the venge­ful pur­su­ers were heard in the woods about him. Once they strode by the ve­ry clump of bush­es in which he was con­cealed, and ev­en poked their guns into sep­a­rate the branch­es; but the failed to no­tice him.

Several mem­bers of the Con­gre­ga­tion­al church of Quin­cy came ov­er in the ev­en­ing in a ca­noe, and be­gan fish­ing near his hid­ing-place. When they had lo­cat­ed this ex­act­ly they gave a sig­nal, and draw­ing near to the shore, met him as he rushed down the wa­ter’s edge.

They got him safe­ly to the Il­li­nois side, but were dis­cov­ered and fol­lowed by the slave­hold­ers, who de­mand­ed his sur­ren­der. But they were in­formed that Mr. Nelson was now in a free State, and that no­thing should mo­lest him.

In Il­li­nois he was em­ployed by the Home Mis­sion­a­ry So­ci­e­ty and con­tin­ued to take an ac­tive part in the an­ti-sla­ve­ry ag­i­ta­tion of those times.

Sankey, pp. 277–78


My days are gliding swiftly by;
And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly,
Those hours of toil and labor.


For, oh! we stand on Jordan’s strand;
Our friends are passing over;
And, just before, the shining shore
We may almost discover.

We’ll gird our loins, my brethren dear,
Our distant home discerning:
Our waiting Lord has left us word,
Let every lamp be burning.


Should coming days be cold and dark,
We need not cease our singing:
That perfect rest naught can molest,
Where golden harps are ringing.


Let sorrow’s rudest tempest blow,
Each cord on earth to sever:
Our king says, Come, and there’s our home,
Forever, oh! forever.