Thomas Olivers was orphaned as a young child and grew up as what we would know today as a juvenile delinquent — a boy headed for major trouble. Then one day he heard George Whitefield preach. How Olivers happened to be in attendance at a religious service, I have no idea — but he was there.
Whitefield was a stem-winding preacher, and he preached that day on the text from the prophet Zechariah, “Is not this man a brand plucked from the fire?” (Zechariah 3:1). The story behind that phrase is a conversation between God and Satan. The subject was Joshua, whom God had plucked from the fire. Joshua stood before the angel dressed in filthy clothes, but told Joshua, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you with festal apparel.”
When he heard that sermon, Olivers saw himself as that man dressed in filthy clothes — and he realized for the first time that there was hope for himself. He was converted that night, and became an evangelist serving under John Wesley.
One day he happened to be worshiping in a Jewish synagogue in London — I don’t know how that happened either — and heard Cantor Meyer Lyon sing a lovely song based on the thirteen articles of Jewish faith. He was so impressed that he went home and wrote our hymn, “The God of Abraham Praise” — a song of praise to the God of Abraham — the same God that we as Christians worship.
In tribute to Cantor Lyon, Olivers named his hymn tune Leoni.
–– Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan