By Taylor Brantley
A Christian meeting ground called Ocean Grove came especially alive in the summer of 1876. It was in that summer that one of history’s greatest hymnists traveled there with a Bible in his hand and a new hymn in his heart.
Ocean Grove was born on July 31, 1869. A group of Methodist ministers was looking for a spot to escape the summer heat and study the Word. They found a well-shaded, well-drained piece of land on the seashore of New Jersey. Twenty tents were pitched, and the ministers enjoyed their campsite so much that they decided to make it a permanent meeting site in years to come; not only for themselves, but for other Christians too. No time was wasted, and by next summer, the piece of land was being transformed into a little town. Shelters were constructed, paths were made, and a water well was dug and appropriately named Beersheba.
And [Abraham] planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God. (Genesis 21:33)
Over the 1870’s, the campsite grew rapidly in popularity. It especially boomed in 1877 when over 710,000 train tickets were sold for the Ocean Grove-Asbury Park train station. What caused this boom in attendance? It is no coincidence that this was the year directly after Robert Lowry introduced Nothing but the Blood to the summer visitors of Ocean Grove in 1876, causing a revival within the camp, and word to spread far beyond.
Robert Lowry was a well-known preacher in the nineteenth century, and took notice of the booming popularity of Ocean Grove. Lowry famously wanted to be known for his sermons rather than his hymns. He loved music, but thought it to be of lower importance than putting a sermon together and delivering it. Nevertheless, Lowry thought up a new hymn for the occasion. He thought it would be a nice add on to the main event of preaching. He was not prepared for the impact that “add on” would have in Ocean Grove that year.
What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! rang out from every corner of Ocean Grove that summer. Another famous composer, Ira Sankey, was in attendance that year, and claimed Lowry’s hymn “immediately took possession of the people.” Perhaps Lowry would be amazed at his legacy; he put such emphasis on his sermons, yet hymns written in his spare time are what have lived on so strongly through the ages. It was no different in that summer of 1876, for it was not Lowry’s sermons that spread like fire through the little town, but the simple hymn he introduced to the people.
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