What Is the Hymn 'Rescue the Perishing' About?

"Rescue the Perishing" is an iconic hymn that pushes us to think about the state of our salvation, and why reaching the lost matters so much.

Contributing Writer
Updated Jun 29, 2023
What Is the Hymn 'Rescue the Perishing' About?

Strains of the hymn “Rescue the Perishing” often filled the old country church’s sanctuary. The music enveloped a group of young friends sitting on a long wooden pew. They sang with soft hearts and enthusiastic voices. These friends for life birthed a passion for missions through words that poignantly portray souls needing Christ.

What Are the Lyrics to 'Rescue the Perishing'?

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;

Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,

Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.


Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,

Waiting the penitent child to receive;

Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;

He will forgive if they only believe. [Refrain]

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,

Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;

Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,

Chords that were broken will vibrate once more. [Refrain]

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;

Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;

Back to the narrow way patiently win them;

Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died.

Who Wrote 'Rescue the Perishing'?

Frances Jane Crosby (better known as Fanny Crosby) wrote the hymn “Rescue the Perishing” in 1869. Known as the Queen of gospel songwriters, Crosby wrote over 8,000 hymns, many under various pseudonyms. A prolific composer, her work also included a broad range of writing for secular publications and social action works.

Born in 1820, Crosby lost her eyesight at six weeks of age—which many biographers attribute to a doctor’s error. Today experts believe it may have been a congenital condition, but Fanny believed God intended it for His purposes. The condition did not deter her from achieving what she set out to do.

Gratitude and acceptance of life’s circumstances marked her life. She often reflected upon her blindness as a blessing.

“I could not have written thousands of hymns if I had been hindered by the distractions of seeing all of the beautiful objects that would have been presented to my notice,” she said.

When Fanny was only six months old, her father died. This new tragedy, so quick on the heels of Crosby’s sight loss, persuaded her 21-year-old mother to move with Fanny from New York to Connecticut. There they lived with her grandmother, Eunice Paddock Crosby, who nurtured in Fanny a deep love of learning. Determined to help her grandchild thrive, she taught Fanny through memorization. As a child, because of her grandmother’s attention, the little blind girl absorbed classic literature, nature, science, and music.

She memorized several Bible chapters weekly and could quote the Pentateuch, Gospels, Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and many Psalms.

Fanny Crosby’s other writings included over 1,000 secular poems, popular songs, cantatas, books, and political and patriotic works. She spoke before the Senate, Congress, and Presidents. She taught and labored among people with low incomes, people with disabilities, and whoever she met at rescue missions.

“If I had a choice, I would still choose to remain blind,” Fanny said, “for when I die, the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.”

Does 'Rescue the Perishing' Quote Any Bible Verses?

With Fanny Crosby’s familiarization and memorization of Bible verses and stories, she had a library from which to birth “Rescue the Perishing.”

Two passages played a significant part in the lyrics.

“Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ ‘Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?

He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?’ And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Proverbs 24:11-12 NKJV, emphasis added)

“. . . but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 1:23 NKJV)

What Inspired Crosby to Write 'Rescue the Perishing'?

Inspiration for the “Rescue the Perishing” came one evening as Crosby spoke to a group of workmen. A strong sensation compelled her to appeal to the audience. She asked if there might be some mother’s son in the group who had wandered from what he’d been taught. She asked whoever he might be to talk to her after the service. An eighteen-year-old came to her afterward.

“Did you mean me?” he asked.

He told Fanny of a pledge he’d made to his mother. He promised one day, he would meet her in heaven.

This young man concluded he could not possibly fulfill his vow with the life he’d been living. That night together with Crosby, he gave his life to the Lord.

“Now, I can meet Mother in heaven, for I have found her God,” the young man exclaimed.

The subject “Rescue the Perishing” had been suggested previously by songwriter William Howard Doane. After meeting the young man that night, she sat down and wrote the lyrics that Doane later put to music.

Many years after, she met that same man again. He had lived his life serving Jesus. When they parted, the man confidently promised to see Fanny one day in heaven. Although Fanny never saw him again on earth, she carried the sweet remembrance of God’s work in rescuing a young man from perishing without Christ.

What Kind of Perishing Does 'Rescue the Perishing' Talk About?

“Rescue the Perishing” speaks to the spiritually lost condition of humankind and each person’s need for a Savior. The song became well-known by missionaries and was often sung at rescue missions. Crosby’s heart, moved by the physical needs of those around her, sought to lift the plight of people experiencing poverty on the streets of New York. This work influenced charitable missions movements that sought to bring salvation to the lost while caring for physical needs.

Although Fanny lived a life writing, teaching, and speaking about Jesus, Fanny became unsure about her own salvation. At age 31, after a disturbing dream in which a dying friend asked, “Will you meet me in heaven?” she yielded her life to the Lord.

“Rescue the Perishing” testifies to her recognition of spiritual need and that same need in all of us.

Hymns Similar to 'Rescue the Perishing'

“Rescue the Perishing” overflowed with urgency, but countless others also composed hymns that stirred missionary zeal. Many hymnals have entire sections dedicated to missions. This deep awareness of the need for the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ spurred ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It still does. To share the good news, Christ’s followers cross cultural barriers, sail across oceans, and plant feet on foreign soil.

Another hymn attributed to Herbert G. Tovey, a contemporary of Frances Crosby, heralded a similar passion for lost souls as “Rescue the Perishing.”

In 1888 Edward S Ufford wrote a hymn titled “Throw out the Lifeline.”

H. Ernest Nichol, an Oxford University graduate, wrote the hymn “We’ve A Story To Tell To The Nations” in 1896. Its words describe the joy and hope of the gospel story.

These magnificent songs of the church, which pressed their call onto young listeners, found many hearts responding to their message. On that long wooden pew in decades past, a group of my lifelong friends sang hymns by Fanny Crosby and other great songs writers. Many in that line became ministers, missionaries, senders, and full-time Christian workers.

The message God gave to Fanny many years ago, sung through decades, has indeed brought the story of rescue into many hearts. The refrain’s conclusion continues to compel us today to carry its truth.

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/ Zheka-Boss

Sylvia SSylvia Schroeder loves connecting God’s Word with real life and writing about it. She is a contributing writer for a variety of magazines and online sites. Sylvia is co-author of a devotional book and her writing is included in several book compilations. Mom to four, grandma to 14, and wife to her one and only love, Sylvia enjoys writing about all of them. 

Her love for pasta and all things Italian stems from years of ministry abroad. She’d love to tell you about it over a steaming cup of cappuccino. Connect with Sylvia on her blog, When the House is Quiet, her Facebook page, or Twitter.


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