Mar 18, 2024

Anne Steele


Tim Keller wrote, “Humility is a shy virtue. If you start talking about it, it leaves.” What a perfect lead-in to today’s prayer. Wiliam Steele was a Baptist minister and a successful trade merchant, making it possible for him to provide formal education for his children, even his daughters, which was unheard of at the time. William’s wife, Mary, died when their children were young. Their second child, Anne Steele (1717-1778), initially wrote poetry and composed hymns for her own devotional use but was reluctant to share them with a wider audience. Her dad convinced her to allow her hymns to be used as congregational songs in worship. He lobbied Nanny (Anne’s family name) to send her writings to a publisher and adopt a pseudonym so she would not be “lifted up with pride.” An entry in his diary from 1757 reads, “This day Nanny sent part of her composition to London, to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled and stirred her up to such a work, to direct her in it and bless it for the good of many…I pray God to make it useful and to keep her humble.” She assumed the pseudonym Theodosis meaning “gift of God” and sent along two volumes of poems published under the title Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional in 1760. Her poems make frequent use of questions to probe more deeply than statements can and her brutal honesty in dealing with doubts and sorrows was characteristic of her poetry. One poem she submitted, “God my Creator and Benefactor,” was later turned into a hymn, “My Maker and My King.” While Anne suffered from chronic malaria all her life, her longing for God in her poetry puts all other longings in their place:

My Maker and my King, To thee my all I owe,
Thy sovereign bounty is the spring,
From whence my blessings flow.

Thou ever good, and kind,
A thousand reasons move,
A thousand obligations bind,
My heart to grateful love.
The creature of thy hand,
On thee alone I live:
My God, thy benefits demand
More praise than life can give.

Oh! What can I impart,
When all is thine before?
Thy love demands a thankful heart:
The gift, alas, how poor!

Shall I withhold thy due?
And shall my passions rove?
Lord, form this wretched heart anew,
And fill it with thy love.

O let thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine;
Let all my powers to thee aspire,
And all my days be thine.

Sharon James In Tribulation and Joy: Four Women Who Lived for God

Rev. Dr. Peter James served 42 years as the senior of Vienna Presbyterian Church in Vienna, VA — 21 years in the 20th century and 21 years in the 21st century. He retired in 2021 and now serves as Pastor-in-Residence at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Even as a pastor, prayer came slowly to Pete. Read Pete’s story.