The Story Behind Before the Throne of God Above
Charitie Lees Smith wrote the poetic hymn in Ireland back in 1863. Daughter to a reverend in Dublin, she had a natural talent for writing religious poems since childhood. During that same year, the words were originally published in a hymnal under the name "The Advocate." Other collections also published her poem under different names and with different formats.
Once the hymn's popularity died down by the mid-1880s, Charitie had married and divorced Arthur Bancroft, a naval officer, and Edmund Parkinson, a surgeon. Her divorces came after their deaths. She then emigrated to California to join her brother, George, in the U.S. After getting into prison ministry, she opened a home for ex-convicts and married her final husband, Frank DeCheney. They actually divorced in 1915 after separating in 1901.
100 years after its popularity, “Before the Throne of God Above” resurfaced in hymnals in the early 1970s. The words were often sung to other tunes since nobody had written an original melody to go with Charitie’s words. Churches often sang the words along to another hymn called Sweet Hour of Prayer.
In 1997, Vikki Cook, a composer for Sovereign Grace Music, finally decided to write an original melody to pair with the over 130-year-old hymn. Her pastor had returned from England with the words, and they sang it to Jerusalem by Hubert Parry during the following service. Nobody liked it much, other than Vikki. So she decided she would write a tune to be able to praise God with those words in song. She said, “[She] played it for our worship leader, and the song just kind of “snowballed” from that time since. I’m amazed at how God has used this song in the church at large, especially when I think that I just wrote this new melody so that I could worship God in my quiet times with Him.”
The song was published in hymnals within a few years. Multiple singers recorded covers of the hymn, and Kristyn Getty’s version recorded with Sovereign Grace Music made the song even more well-known. In 2003, Vikki wrote another stanza to add to the lyrics but isn’t widely known. Her additional words are not included in the lyrics above.
Listen to Kristyn Getty sing "Before the Throne of God Above" here: