In 1880, Dr. Jeremiah Rankin, Pastor of First Congregational Church in Washington, D.C., was looking for a farewell hymn to close the worship service. “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” was a possibility, but he wanted something less formal—more engaging.
Not finding the hymn he was looking for, he set out to write it. He took a dictionary from his bookshelf, and began looking at words such as “farewell” and “goodbye” to see if they would spark his imagination. The definition that he found for “goodbye” included the words “God be with you”—and so a hymn was born.
Dr. Rankin wrote a verse and chorus for his new hymn, and sent them to two people asking for a tune. He chose the tune written by William Tomer, a part-time church musician, and was so enthusiastic that he sat down and wrote seven more verses.
Ira Sankey, the music director for Dwight L. Moody, learned of the hymn and began using it as a closing hymn in Moody’s evangelistic services, popularizing it worldwide.
“God Be With You” is a simple hymn that uses a good deal of repetition throughout. Perhaps that is part of its charm. It is like a simple prayer—words from the heart—expressing again and again the lovely sentiment, “God be with you till we meet again.”
— Copyright 2007, Richard Niell Donovan