The Old, Old Story

From the files of Stephen M. Lawson

The poem - - Poem source

Notes on the finding of a Recording - 1977

The derivative hymns - original poem, lyrics and tunes

Select a speaker for voice of Minnie E. Freeman reciting her favorite poem.

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Poem Source

While the author of Grandma's recitation was uncertain, information received by email in 1997 suggested a common source for the poem and the hymn of the same name. From 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck (Grand Rapids, MI 1982), pages 109-10, we learn that the hymn author was A. Katherine Hankey (1834-1911), with these paragraphs giving the possible relationship between the hymn and the poem that follows.

"When Katherine was only thirty years of age, she experienced a serious illness. During a long period of recovery she wrote a lengthy poem on the life of Christ. The poem consisted of two main sections, each containing fifty verses. The first section of the poem was entitled 'The Story Wanted.' It was from this part of her poem that she later adapted the words for another of her familiar hymn texts, 'Tell Me the Old, Old Story.' This hymn has since become another of the church's classic children's hymns.

"Later that same year while still recovering from her illness, Kate Hankey completed the second part of her poem on the life of Christ. This sequel to the first section was entitled 'The Story Told.' From these verses came the text for 'I Love to Tell the Story,' written in the same meter but with a different accent than her other familiar hymn text."

In 1997, the following desire was posted here: The full text of Katherine Hankey's two part poem is desired, both for the blessing and inspiration that it will no doubt provide, and to determine if it truly is the source of Grandma's recorded words.

Ten years later, in February 2007, an email was received from Rod Watts of East Sussex, England, advising that he had located an 1867 edition of Katherine Hankey's poem at the British Library. Rod received digital images of the booklet in March, with the title and copyright pages reading (here in plain text):


Part I. - The Story wanted.
Part II. - The Story told.

24, Paternoster Row.

Fortieth Thousand.

Copyright Edition
Entered at Stationers' Hall.

Price One Penny.
Larger Edition, with Music, Sixpence.

Bristish Museum

The motivation for Rod Watts to seek and find this marvelous publication was to obtain background information for the hymn "Tell Me The Old, Old Story," which he and Mike Brett agreed to record following a BBC program on Radio Solent. A detailed explanation of the project in PDF format, together with the full text of the 1967 publication with original punctuation, is available at no charge from Rod Watt's web page - and check out their CD offerings while there.

In May, 2007, the compiler purchased a copy of the 1875 edition of The Old, Old Story from Silver Trees Books, Coventry, and is pleased to share it (610K PDF file) - low resolution to limit file size.

As the following comparison reveals, there is no doubt that "The Story Told" is the original source of Grandma Freeman's 1944 recitation. The published poem is 47 verses, with the recitation omitting one verse, and with a number of minor variations in wording - the recitation was from memory, and Grandma had comitted the poem to memory several years previous.

The 1867 publication differs from the history in 101 Hymn Stories quoted above - part one of the poem consists of only 8 verses*, while part two has 47 verses. Other histories indicate that the two poem parts were completed in January and November 1866, when Katherine Hankey was age 33, rather than age 30. In either case, it is apparent that the 1867 edition was published very soon after the poem was written.

Note on the bottom of the title page that there was also available a "Larger Edition, with Music, Sixpence." Perhaps the Larger Edition included an expanded Part I. This Larger Edition is of special interest since it contains the Music either composed or commissioned by Katherine Hankey, rather than the music now associated with "Tell Me the Old, Old Story" (Evangel by William H. Doane, 1870) and "I Love to Tell the Story" (Hankey by William G. Fischer, 1869). William H. Doane also composed music for "I Love to Tell the Story" soon after 1867, but the Fischer tune replaced it very soon.

"I Love to Tell the Story" has appeared in print with several versions of words and music. In 1868, a "Sacred Song" was published which used 16 verses verbatim from the 1867 publication. Kate Hankey penned the words currently used about 1867, with her own music (not yet located). William H. Doane published his version about 1870, but the currently used music and text soon became the accepted version.

* All eight verses of "The Story Wanted" appear verbatim in the four verse versions of "Tell Me the Old, Old Story" in various hymnals, such as #138 of The New Church Hymnal (1976), and #68 of The American Hymnal (1926).

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The Old, Old Story - The Story Told

1866 poem by Arabella C. Hankey, published in 1867
recitation by Minnie E. Freeman, transcribed by S. Lawson

recording by George A. Freeman at KRSC radio studio, Sep. 19, 1944

Transcription of recitation, with addition
of punctuation from the 1867 edition.

Lines from the 1867 edition which
differ from the 1944 recitation.

You have asked me for a "Story
  Of unseen things above;—
Of Jesus and His glory,
  Of Jesus and His love."

You want "the old, old Story,"
  And nothing else will do!
Indeed I do not wonder,
  It always seems so new!

I often wish that some-one
  Would tell me it, each day;
I never would grow tired
  Of what they had to say.

But I am wasting moments!
  Oh! how shall I begin
To tell that "old, old Story,"
  How Jesus saves from sin?

Well, you listen, and I will tell you;
  God help both you and me,
To make this "old, old Story"
  His Message unto thee!

Once, in a pleasant garden,
  God placed a happy pair;
All within was peaceful,
  And all around was fair.

But they disobeyed Him!
  The one thing that He denied
They longed for, they took, they tasted;
  They ate of it, and—they died!

Yet, in His love and mercy,
  The Lord at once declared
How man, though lost and ruined,
  Might after all be spared!

For one of these descendants,
  Not sinful, like the rest,
Has spoiled the work of Satan,
  And man be saved and blest!


Hundreds of years were over;
  And Adam and Eve had died,
And the following generation,
  And many more beside.

At last, the shepherds watching
  Beside their flocks, one night,
Was startled in the darkness
  By a strange and heavenly Light.

One of the holy Angels
  Had come from Heaven above,
To tell that new, new Story,
  Of Jesus and His love.

He came to bring "glad tidings:"
  "You must not, need not, fear;
For Christ, your new-born Savior,
  Lies in a village near."

Then many other angels
  Took up the chorus then;
"On High to God be Glory,
  Good-will, and Peace, to men."

And was it true—that Story?
  They went at once to see,
And they found Him in a manger,
  And they knew that it was He.

He whom the Father promised,
  So many ages past,
Had come to save poor sinners;
  Yes, He had come at last!

He was "content to do it,"
  To seek and to save the lost,
Although He knew beforehand—
  Knew all that it would cost.

He lived a life most holy;
  His every thought was Love,
His every action showed it,
  To man, and to God above.

His path on earth was lowly;
  He was a "Working-Man:"
Who knows the poor man's trials
  So well as Jesus can?

His last three years were lovely!
  He could no more be hid;
And time and strength would fail me
  To tell all the good He did.

He gave away no money,
  For He had none to give;
But He had power for healing,
  And He made dead people live.

He did kind things so kindly!
  It seemed His heart's delight
To make poor people happy,
  From morning until night!

He always seemed at leisure
  For every one who came,
However tired or busy,
  They found Him just "the same."

He heard each tale of sorrow
  With an attentive ear.
And took away each burden
  Of suffering, sin, and fear.

He was "a Man of Sorrow!"
  And when He gave relief,
He gave it like a Brother,
  "Acquainted with" their "grief."

Such was "the Man Christ Jesus!"
  A Friend of sinful man!....
But hush! the tale grows sadder:
  I'll tell it—if I can!

This gentle, holy Jesus,
  Without a spot or stain,
By wicked hands was taken,
  Was crucified, was slain!

Look! look!—if you can bear it—
  Look at your dying Lord!
Stand near the Cross and watch Him:
  "Behold the Lamb of God!"

His Hands and Feet are piercèd,
  He cannot hide His Face;
And cruel men "stand staring,"
  In crowds, about the place.

They laugh at Him; they mock Him!
  They tell Him to "come down,"
To leave that Cross of suffering,
  And exchange it for a Crown.

Why did He bear their mockings?
  Was He "the Almighty God?"
And could He have destroyed them
  With one Almighty word?

Yes, He could have done it;
  But I will tell you why
He would not use His power,
  But He chose instead to die.

He had become our "Surety;"
  And what we could not pay,
He paid instead, and for us,
  On that one dreadful day.

For our sins He suffered;
  For our sins He died;
"Not for ours only,"
  But for "all the world" beside!

And now, the work is "finished!"
  The Sinner's debt is paid!
Because on "Christ the Righteous"
  The sin of all was laid.

O wonderful Redemption!
  God's Remedy for sin!
The Door of Heaven is open,
  And you may enter in!

For God released our "Surety,"
  To show the work was done;
And Jesus' Resurrection
  Declared the victory won!

And now, He has ascended,
  And He sits upon the Throne,
"To be a Prince and Savior,"
  And to claim us for His own.

Now, when He left His people,
  He promised them to send
"A Comforter," to teach them,
  And to guide them, to the end.

And that same Holy Spirit
  Is with us to this day,
And is ready now to teach us
  That "New and that Living Way."

Now, this is "the old, old Story";
  Say, Do you take it in—
This wonderful Redemption,
  God's Remedy for sin?

Do you with heart believe it?
  Do you believe it was true,
And was sent for every sinner,
  And, therefore, meant for you?

Then take this "great Salvation;"
  For Jesus loves to give!
Believe! and you'll receive it!
  Believe! and you shall live!

Now, if this simple message
  Has now brought peace to you,
Then tell "the old, old Story,"
  For others need it too.

Let everybody know it,
  That Christ has made you free;
And if it sets them longing,
  Tell them, "Jesus died for thee!"

Soon, soon, our eyes shall see Him!
  And, then in heaven above,
We'll sing that "old, old Story
  Of Jesus and His love!"
You ask me for "the Story

Indeed I cannot wonder,

  Would tell it me, each day;
I never should get tired

To tell "the old, old Story,"

Listen, and I will tell you;

And make "the old, old Story"

But oh! they disobeyed Him!
  The one thing He denied
They longed for, took and tasted;
  They eat it, and—they died!

Yet, in His love and pity,
  At once the Lord declared

For one of Eve's descendants,

Should spoil the work of Satan,

He should be son of Adam,
  But Son of God as well,
And bring a full Salvation
  From sin, and death, and hell.

  Adam and Eve had died,
The following generation,

At last, some shepherds watching
  Beside their flocks, at night,
Were startled in the darkness
  By strange and heavenly Light.

To tell the true, true Story,

  "You need not, must not, fear;

  Lies in the village near!"

And many other angels
  Took up the Story then;
"To God on High be Glory,

And found Him in a manger,
  And knew that it was He.

  To seek and save the lost,

And every action showed it,

His path in life was lowly;

  To tell the good He did.

But He had power of healing,
  And made dead people live.

  Of suffering, sin, or fear.

  "Acquainted with" the "grief."

  The Friend of sinful man!....

  I'll tell it—if I can!

  And crucified, and slain!

They laugh at Him and mock Him!

And leave that Cross of suffering,
  And change it for a Crown.

  Was He "the Mighty God?"

Yes, Jesus could have done it;
  But let me tell you why

  But chose to stay and die.

And "not for ours only,"
  But "all the world's" beside!

  And sits upon the Throne,

  And claim us for His own.

But when He left His people,
"The Comforter," to teach them,
  And guide them, to the end.

And ready now to teach us
  The "New and Living Way."

This is "the old, old Story";

Do you at heart believe it?
  Do you believe it's true,
And meant for every sinner,

Believe! and you receive it!

And if this simple message

Make known "the old, old Story,"

Let everybody see it,

  Say, "Jesus died for thee!"

Soon, soon, our eyes shall see Him!
  And, in our Home above,
We'll sing "the old, old Story

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Notes on the Finding of a Recording - 1977

by Stephen M. Lawson

You have asked me for a story Of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, Of Jesus and His love.

This is the opening stanza of a recitation which I remember hearing often from my grandmother, Minnie Elsie Freeman. Many years ago Grandma had committed to memory forty-six stanzas which presented the old, old story of Jesus and His love. Grandma took delight in telling the message of salvation to all who would listen. After many years, when she was bed-ridden, blind and nearly deaf, she drew comfort from the old, old story and the blessings others could receive through hearing it.

The last time I remember Grandma reciting this poem was in the spring of 1957, just before I left for Alaska with the army for two years. I never heard it again from her lips, silenced by death in February, 1959. The last stanza had become a reality for her....

Soon, soon, our eyes shall see Him; And then in heaven above
We'll sing that old, old story Of Jesus and His love.

My memory fails me, but sometime around April, 1977, I was riding with Rev. Pastine, returning from visiting church members. Somehow the conversation turned toward the song I Love to Tell the Story. Perhaps it was that we had just heard the song on the radio. Perhaps I somehow began talking of my grandmother. In any case, I mentioned that Grandma had recited some forty verses of a poem based on that song. I could recall none of it accurately after twenty years, but did recall the joy with which it was given and the blessings received from it. Rev. Pastine commented that it would be wonderful if the verses were recorded - written down somewhere. I thought that it might be possible that my Aunt Eva would have them, but I really didn't have much hope. I would ask my mother to check into it. But I delayed....

A month or two later, after evening worship, I sat at home thumbing through a hymnbook when I came across I Love to Tell the Story. This was not the first song I paused over, enjoying the messages and recalling the tunes, and it was quite late. But, knowing my ability to procrastinate, I felt I had to call Mom immediately if I were to ever find out if the poem Grandma delighted in was written down. I called Mom and apologized for the late hour. I explained only that I had come across the song and thought of Grandma, and asked if perhaps she would ask Aunt Eva if the words were recorded.

Mom replied immediately that, yes, they were recorded, and that Aunt Eva had the recording. Recording?! I was amazed. Mom explained that she and Aunt Eva were discussing that same poem a month or so before, and that there was a record made by Grandma many years ago. I had expected written words, at best, and found that I may again be able to actually hear Grandma reciting the poem. Mom agreed to get the record that no one had heard for perhaps 30 years or more.

The following Wednesday I stopped by Mom's place to pick up any mail I might have received and found she had gotten the record earlier in the day and left it out for me. The monthly elders meeting was held on that Wednesday in June, and I greeted Rev. Pastine with the news that I had a recording of the poem we had discussed. But much to my dismay, the record was too large to play on my changer. It was noted on the label that the recording was made September 19, 1944, just five days before Grandma's 67th birthday. (This year, 1977, is the centennial year of her birth.) I knew I would have a time finding some way to play the record - it looked like about 15 inches in diameter, and the label indicated that it was recorded at either 33 1/3 or 78 rpm, and either "from the inside out" or "from the outside in." I later discovered that it was recorded by my Uncle George at his place of work, KRSC radio [later KAYO, KSPL, and KEZX], and that it was recorded from the inside to the outside at 33 1/3 rpm. But, first things first -- the elders meeting was held.

Again, I found myself apologizing for a late telephone call, this time to Bob Johnson. I asked if his stereo would play a 15 inch record -- he measured, and said it would. After briefly explaining what I had, Bob kindly let me go to his house at the late hour to hear Grandma's voice again, for the first time in 20 years. Arriving with the record carefully in hand (it was boldly marked GLASS), I was nervous with anticipation. Yes, Bob's stereo would take a 15 inch record. BUT this record was 16 inches in diameter! Well, I tried; I would have to check elswhere. Mark and Robert, Bob's sons, to the rescue! They, almost at the same time, suggested we use Robert's record player. That $3.00, salvaged military public address system worked beautifully. It took the 16 inch record and played it backwards (inside out). My first comment when I heard "You have asked me for a story" was, "That's Grandma!" Robert let me borrow his player so that I could transcribe the recitation to cassette tape for others to hear.

While I only listened to a couple of minutes of the record at the Johnson's, it was now very late. But I just had to play it for Mom. I reached her home, carrying the record and player, explaining what had happened. I put the record on the player and turned it on. The first part is a chorus of the song, and as it began I suddenly realized that here was Mom about to hear her mother's voice after nearly 20 years -- I stopped and asked her if she was "ready." She assured me she was, so I continued the record. Words cannot express that joyful experience, I knew that Mom was also thinking how she would enjoy hearing other voices now silenced here on earth -- mainly those of Dad and Grandpa. There we were playing a recording I didn't know existed just two months ago. What a joy! Greater joys await in heaven.

I made one tape recording that night from the speaker of the record player; not very good quality. But that recording has already been heard by the neighbor and had been taken to my cousin's in Michigan within the week. Since then a dozen more tapes have been made for distribution to relatives and friends. Grandma is still telling the old, old story here on earth as well as in heaven.

Let everybody know it -- That Christ has made you free --
And if it sets them longing Tell them, "Jesus died for thee."

As I had the player and record in the car the following night (Vacation Bible School Program), I was pleased to be able to play it for Rev. Pastine. Imagine, a slim hope that the written words to a poem might be found after twenty years had blossomed into the reality of a thirty three year old recording of Grandma reciting her blessed old, old story.

I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother....
II Timothy 2:5

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