I Know Not why God's Wondrous Grace

The story behind the hymn

I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me has been made known;
Nor why - unworthy as I am -
He claimed me for his own.

Refrain:
But I know Whom I have believèd,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.

I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Or how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
(Refrain)

I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin;
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
(Refrain)

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
(Refrain)

I know not when my Lord may come,
I know not how, nor where;
If I shall pass the vale of death,
Or meet Him in the air.
(Refrain)

Major Daniel Webster Whittle 1840 – 1901

The writer of this very personal hymn of testimony was Major Daniel Webster Whittle, an American Civil War Veteran who became a well known preacher after the war had ended. His hymn is clearly based on the writing of the Apostle Paul to his young friend Timothy in 2 Timothy Chapter 1 v 8 – 12.

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus… I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day”.

The story of his conversion to Christ and how this hymn came to be written is told in Whittle’s own words below.

"When the Civil War broke out, I left my home in New England and came to Virginia as lieutenant of a company in a Massachusetts regiment. My dear mother was a devout Christian, and parted from me with many a tear, and followed me with many a prayer. She had placed a New Testament in a pocket of the haversack that she arranged for me.

We had many engagements, and I saw many sad sights, and in one of the battles I was knocked out, and that night my arm was amputated above the elbow. As I grew better, having a desire for something to read, I felt in my haversack, which I had been allowed to keep, and found the little Testament my mother had placed there.

I read right through the book—Matthew, Mark, Luke, to Revelation. Every part was interesting to me; and I found to my surprise that I could understand it in a way that I never had before. When I had finished Revelation, I began at Matthew, and read it through again. And so for days I continued reading, and with continued interest; and still with no thought of becoming a Christian, although I saw clearly from what I read the way of salvation through Christ.

While in this state of mind, yet still with no purpose or plan to repent and accept the Saviour, I was awakened one midnight by the nurse, who said: ‘There is a boy in the other end of the ward, one of your men, who is dying. He has been begging me for the past hour to pray for him, or to get someone to pray for him, and I can't stand it. I am a wicked man, and can't pray, and I have come to get you.’

Why, said I, I can't pray. I never prayed in my life. I am just as wicked as you are. ‘Can't pray!’ said the nurse; ‘Why, I thought sure from seeing you read the Testament that you were a praying man, and you are the only man in the ward that I have not heard curse. What shall I do? There is no one else for me to go to. I can't go back there alone. Won't you get up and come and see him at any rate?’

Moved by his appeal, I arose from my cot, and went with him to the far comer of the room. A fair-haired boy of seventeen or eighteen lay there dying. There was a look of intense agony upon his face, as he fastened his eyes upon me and said:

‘Oh, pray for me! Pray for me! I am dying. I was a good boy at home in Maine. My mother and father are members of the Church, and I went to Sunday School and tried to be a good boy. But since I became a soldier I have learned to be wicked. I drank, and swore, and gambled, and went with bad men. And now I am dying, and I am not fit to die! Oh, ask God to forgive me! Pray for me. Ask Christ to save me!’

As I stood there and heard these pleadings, God said to my soul by His Spirit, just as plainly as if He had spoken in audible tones, ‘You know the way of salvation. Get right down on your knees and accept Christ, and pray for this boy.’

I dropped upon my knees and held the boy's hand in mine, as in a few broken words I confessed my sins, and asked God for Christ's sake to forgive me. I believed right there that He did forgive me, and that I was Christ's child; I then prayed earnestly for the boy. He became quiet, and pressed my hand as I pleaded the promises. When I arose from my knees he was dead. A look of peace was upon his face, and I can but believe that God, who used him to bring me to my Saviour, used me to get his attention fixed upon Christ and to lead him to trust in His precious blood. I hope to meet him in Heaven.

Many years have passed since that night in the Richmond Hospital, and I am still trusting and confessing the Lord Jesus Christ, and purpose by God's grace to continue doing so until He calls me Home."

Later Whittle penned his hymn of testimony which confirmed the reality of that wartime experience. Today it is sung by Christians all around the world. The question is whether you can sing it with the same assurance as Daniel Whittle – do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour?

Adapted from the book: “Twice-Born Men: True Conversion Records of 100 Well-Known Men in All Ranks of Life” written in 1932 and now out of print.