Story behind the hymn search me oh Lord (cleanse me)

Written by on June 30, 2024

At the age of 24, a Baptist evangelist, James Edwin Orr (1912-1987)… known as J. Edwin, wrote this hymn following an Easter campaign in New Zealand.

During that campaign in 1936, revival fell on the people of New Zealand. Midnight services had to be added to accommodate the crowds. Many people were converted. Revival fire spread across the island nation. The key to this revival was the public confession and reconciliation of believers. A theme verse for that revival was Psalm 139:1, which says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart today.”

As hearts were cleansed, the Holy Spirit moved in power.

As J. was set to leave New Zealand, 4 Maori girls came to him and sang him their native song of farewell. Impressed by the song… especially the tune, and still stirred by the revival he had witnessed there, J. quickly scribbled some verses on the back of an envelope while he was waiting in the post office of Ngaruawahia, New Zealand.

J.  was a brilliant man who would go on to earn doctorates from universities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America. He would also study revival movements for the next 50 years, and write about them in several books. Of him, Billy Graham wrote, “Dr. J. Edwin Orr, in my opinion, is one of the greatest authorities on the history of religious revivals in the Protestant world.” J. was influential in the Campus Crusade for Christ, and was one of the five original board members of that organization.

But, he would probably be best known by most as the writer of this hymn… set to the music of (and the tune was named for) that farewell tune by those Maori girls: “Search Me, O God”.

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