Maltbie D. Babcock (1858-1901) was an extraordinarily talented young man from a well-to-do family, so he could easily have succeeded at any profession. God called him to be a minister of the Gospel, and he followed the call faithfully.
As a student at Auburn Theological Seminary (at that time located in Auburn, in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York) he excelled at scholastics as well as a host of other things–– baseball, swimming, and music in particular. He enjoyed nature, and was an avid fisherman. He wrote poetry.
The story is told of him encountering a bully who was giving a child a hard time. Babcock picked up the bully by the nape of the neck and the seat of his pants and threw him over a fence.
Upon graduation from seminary, he accepted a call to First Presbyterian Church in Lockport, New York, a few miles east of Niagara Falls and a few miles south of Lake Ontario––a lovely place. Babcock enjoyed running for exercise. He would often run several miles to a hill where he could see Lake Ontario in the distance––and he enjoyed visiting a ravine where some forty varieties of birds found sanctuary. As he left to go running, he would tell the secretary, “I’m going to see my Father’s world.”
He then accepted a call to Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, where he stayed fourteen years. He was quite popular among the students at nearby Johns Hopkins University, where he often preached, lectured, and interacted with students.
Then in 1899 he accepted a call to Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City––following Henry van Dyke in that pulpit. The workload there was quite heavy and it was no longer easy to find a place to commune with nature. I have the sense that Babcock wasn’t nearly as happy there as he had been in Lockport or Baltimore––but he was determined to do his best.
When he had been at Brick Church for a year and a half, the congregation gave him a trip to the Holy Land. It should have been a restful trip. There was no airline travel yet, so he would have traveled by ship. However, during a stop at Naples, Italy, he came down with an infection and died. He was 43 years old.
After his death, his widow pulled together a collection of his writings and published them under the title, Thoughts for Everyday Living. That collection included the words to this hymn.
The tune associated with this hymn, “Terra Beata” (Beautiful World), is a traditional English melody.
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan