George Croly, an Anglican minister from Dublin, went to London as a young man to serve a small congregation. After serving there for twenty-five years, he was asked to re-open Saint Stephens Church in one of London’s worst slums. He did so, and soon began attracting large crowds. He had a powerful ministry in the slums for more than two decades.
While working in the slums, Croly wrote the hymn, “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” The hymn is a prayer for God to change us — to change us from the inside out — to teach us how to love God as we ought to love (v. 1) — to allow us to seek God and to find him (v. 3) — to teach us that God is always with us (v. 4) — and to teach us to love as the angels love (v. 5).
During the twenty years that he served in the heart of the slums, Croly saw many lives redeemed. This hymn reflects his conviction that redemption is an inside job — that it begins not when our surroundings change but when God changes our heart.
NOTE: Before using this hymn story, be sure to check to insure that the words in your hymnal correspond to the above. If not, adjust the above to fit the words in your hymnal.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan