If you have accident-prone children, take comfort in the story of John Henry Yates. His parents had immigrated to New York State from England; and John was born in Batavia, New York, in 1837. His dad was a shoemaker and a traveling temperance lecturer. His mom was a school teacher who loved poetry and literature.
On several occasions, John gave his parents reason for grave alarm.
- On Election Day, 1844, he fell from a high set of stone steps in a hotel and tumbled down into the cellar, fracturing his skull. It wasn’t certain he would come to, as he was unconscious a long time. He kept the broad scar as a lifelong souvenir of the incident.
- In 1847, when his family was traveling by ship, a storm struck so powerfully that young John was thrown across the deck, breaking his leg.
- At 16, John brought down the curtain on a school play when, during a dramatic scene, he accidently fell on an open double-edged knife, piercing his right lung. For three weeks, his life hung on a thread.
He survived it all, however; and at age 18, he began helping his aged parents in the shoe business. About the same time his mother persuaded him to start writing poetry, which was immediately published in the Batavia newspaper, and soon in Harper’s Bazaar and other national magazines. Before long his ballads, poems, songs, and hymns were being recited and sung across America.
Despite his newfound fame, Yates kept his day job in retail sales, first in shoes, then working in a hardware store and finally managing a popular department store. Only later in life did he finally leave the retail business to work for the local newspaper.
All the while, John was preaching here and there. Beginning in his late teens, he served as a lay preacher in the Methodist church. For many years, he traveled through western New York State, preaching in churches of all denominations and sharing his faith in Jesus Christ.
That faith was severely tested in February of 1878, when his wife and two sons all died within the space of one week from an outbreak of diphtheria. He eventually remarried and kept going, giving living illustration that our faith in the promises of God and in our Lord Jesus gives us overcoming victory.
In 1891, Yates agreed to write Gospel songs exclusively for the great Christian song director, Ira Sankey, who directed the evangelistic campaigns for D. L. Moody. Many of his hymns became popular favorites. Yates also switched from the Methodists to the Free Will Baptists and began pastoring near Batavia.
He passed away on September 5, 1900, and this marker rests over his grave: In Memory of the Poet-Preacher Rev. John H. Yates… Born 1837 / Died 1900… Faith is the Victory, Oh, Glorious Victory, That Overcomes the World.
John’s house Washington Avenue at State Street in Batavia is now on the historic register and serves as the home of a quaint independently-owned bookstore — Present Tense Books and Gifts.
Here is John Yates’ most enduring hymn – Faith is the Victory
Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise.
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled.
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.
His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God.
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath,
Swept on o’er every field.
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield.
Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.
PS – Check out my books on the history of hymns here.