Author: Trust and Obey
If you turn into the main entrance of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California, and make your way east on Westminster Road, you’ll pass the Grave of Red Skelton and the Tomb of Elizabeth Taylor. Just after the final resting place of these two famous people is “Section L” – the portion of the cemetery that houses a small, non-descript grave marker for the not-so-famous author of the REALLY famous hymn “Trust and Obey.”
John Hanna Sammis was born July 6, 1846, to Oliver and Sarah Sammis in Brooklyn, New York. According to Gina Sammis (the great-great-granddaughter of Oliver), Oliver divorced John’s mother, Sarah, when he was only six years old and married his mother’s sister, his Aunt Jeannie, when he was ten. He moved to Logansport, Indiana, when he was twenty-two.
Not much is known of John’s residence in Logansport, other than it seems he was saved at that time and that he was a successful businessman in town. His success was recognized by others; records indicate he was very active in the local YMCA, serving as secretary for the Terre Haute Association and later becoming the State Secretary. It was not too long after his conversion that John sensed a call to the pastoral ministry, so he enrolled in the McCormick Theological Seminary (then known as the Theological Seminary of the Northwest – it wasn’t until 1886 that it was renamed). He also purportedly did some training at the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio, but Lane was embroiled in such financial and political turmoil that it seems unlikely that a businessman like Sammis would spend much or any time there as a student. Lane eventually suspended operations in 1932, and ironically enough transferred its library and other resources to McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago (which might explain why it’s said that Sammis attended both seminaries).
In 1880, at the age of 34, John was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and served as the pastor of several churches over the next 20 years (Glidden, Iowa; Indianapolis, Indiana; Grand Haven, Michigan; Red Wing, Minnesota; and Sullivan, Indiana). In 1901, he moved to California to teach at the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now known as BIOLA University), which he did until his death on June 12, 1919. During his ministry and teaching careers, Sammis composed over 100 hymns which were collected and organized by T. C. Horton and R. A. Torrey (Trust and Obey, and Other Songs, www.archive.org/details/trustobeyotherso00sammrich).
The genesis of the hymn “Trust and Obey” seems to have begun in 1886 while Sammis was pastoring in Glidden, Iowa. His friend, Daniel Brink Towner (or D. B. Towner as he was affectionately called at that time), explains how it all came to pass in his biography My Life and the Story of the Gospel Hymns:
“Mr. Moody (D. L. Moody) was conducting a series of meetings in Brockton, Massachusetts, and I had the pleasure of singing for him there. One night a young man rose in a testimony meeting and said, ‘I am not quite sure—but I am going to trust, and I am going to obey.’ I just jotted that sentence down and sent it with a little story to the Rev. J. H. Sammis, a Presbyterian minister. He wrote the hymn, and the tune was born.”
But there’s more to the story! Come to find out, Sammis made short work of his friend’s request and immediately sent his five verses and a refrain back to Towner. Towner, though, struggled to come up with an appropriate tune that he thought adequately conveyed the spirit of the text. In fact, one night after working hard on a composition, he wadded up his work and tossed it in the garbage. The next morning, his wife Mary found the discarded page and the rest (as they say) is history:
“Out of curiosity, she took it out and had a look, singing the song to herself. Delighted with it, she placed it on the organ. When her husband saw it later, he explained that he’d thrown it away. She replied, ‘I know you did, Daniel, but I feel that the melody you’ve written is just what is needed to carry the message.’ And it has, ever since, in the song Trust and Obey.” (Robert Cottrill, “Today in 1846 – John Sammis Born”, 2010)
The hymn was first published in the 1887 collection of hymns called Hymns Old and New (a work Towner edited). The sheet was initially headed by the verse from Psalm 25:14, “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him”. Since that time, “Trust and Obey” has appeared in hundreds of hymnbooks across denominational lines. Could it be because faith and obedience have always been a consuming challenge for God’s people? Praise the Lord that we have a hymn that reminds us of the divine blessing on both!
Sorry, no records were found. Please adjust your search criteria and try again.
Sorry, unable to load the Maps API.