The Story Behind the Song

by Lynda Schultz

At the risk of dating myself, or being considered woefully behind the times, I’ll admit to still enjoying some of the old hymns. I suspect that some of the younger generation, and those more recently come to faith, might learn to enjoy some of them too—if they knew the stories behind the words.

Take Standing on the Promises for example. Written by composer Russell Kelso Carter (1849-1928), the song reflects his personal experience as a petitioner before the throne of God.

Carter was apparently a star athlete and a top student. It was at the age of fifteen during a prayer meeting at the Pennsylvania Military Academy that he committed his life to the Lord. He became an instructor at the academy in 1869 and an athletics coach.  Later, Carter allied himself with the Methodists and the holiness movement, becoming an ordained Methodist minister. His history, both personal and theological, passed through some deep and disturbing waters as he searched for balance in his belief. 

Carter spent the last years of his professional life as a medical doctor. Somewhere in the midst of all his diverse adventures and professions he had time to become a musician and a songwriter. He worked with John Sweeney to produce, in 1886, Songs of Perfect Love, a hymnbook in which his famous hymn Standing on the Promises appeared, and with A.B. Simpson on Hymns of the Christian Life, published in 1891.

However, it wasn’t until Carter faced his own mortality that he came to understand exactly what it meant to rest on God’s promises. Diagnosed with a critical heart condition by age 30, Carter was facing imminent death.

Connie Ruth Christiansen writes: “He knelt and made a promise that healing or no, his life was finally and forever, consecrated to the service of the Lord.”  Christiansen goes on to say that from that moment on the Scripture took on new life for Carter and he began to lean on the promises that he found in the Bible. He committed himself to believe, whether or not God granted him healing.

God chose to heal him and Carter lived, with a healthy heart, for another 49 years, though he would later suffer many other health issues from which God did not choose to heal him. In the end, Carter came to the conclusion that healing was God’s choice to make and that God also chose the instruments through which that healing, if granted, would come. His hymn was a personal testimony to his faith.


Standing on the Promises

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Saviour as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

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