Elizabeth Payson Prentiss was born October 26, 1818, into the Congregationalist family of prominent pastor Rev. Edward Payson. While her wonderful contributions to children’s literature delighted generations of young Americans, she is best remembered in Christian circles as the author of the hymn “More Love to Thee, O Christ.”
What is remarkable is that so poignant and heartfelt a hymn was born of tragedy.
As a young lady, she had moved from her New England home to Richmond, Virginia, and published her first children’s stories. She married George Prentiss, a Presbyterian minister, and they moved to his new pastorate in Massachusetts. During the next seven years they were blessed with three children, but then in 1852, within the span of a few months, they lost their two youngest children. When their youngest died, she penned these words, at once betraying a heart broken by loss, yet comforted by faith in the goodness of God.
While sharing the Calvinism of both her father and husband, her writings display a deeply christocentric faith, personal and invigorating, and dwelling upon the marvelous ways in which the Holy Spirit works sanctification in the heart of God’s people. “It is because I believe—fully believe that I shall be saved through Christ—that I want to be like him here on earth,” said Elizabeth.
While her writings are experiencing a revival of interest in recent years, her many wonderful children’s poems and children’s books are unlikely to replace her most famous hymn in the hearts of moderns. In life and in death, Elizabeth Prentiss would ever proclaim More Love to Thee, O Christ, More Love to Thee.