The hymn that brought J.C. Penney to salvation
This article is courtesy of Mature Living magazine.
Nothing in James Cash Penney's early life indicated his name would one day become a household word across the United States. Born in 1875, he grew up on a small farm in Missouri. His father was a minister in the Primitive Baptist Church. Both parents were committed Christians who instilled a deep and abiding faith in their children.
While James was a young teenager, his father became the victim of church politics and was removed as the minister. The ensuing financial hardship meant that James had to leave school and take a job to help support the family. He began to work as a store clerk. Although Penney did not realize it at the time, this modest start would prove to be providential and propel him into an illustrious career as a retailer.
After working in various stores, Penney was able to purchase a one-third interest in a dry goods store in Kemmerer, Wyo., a mining town of less than a thousand people. The date was April 14, 1902. Penney and his wife lived in a tiny apartment above the store. Their furniture included a large, empty dry goods box for a table and smaller boxes for chairs. Penney's young wife wrapped their firstborn infant in a blanket, allowing him to sleep under a counter while she worked alongside her husband to serve their customers.
From that humble beginning, J.C. Penney would eventually preside over 1,700 stores. He would lead the country's largest chain of department stores, each one bearing his name. The influence of Penney's godly parents became evident with the growth of his business. He described his chain as "The Golden Rule Store," based on the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:12: "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (KJV).
Although Penney's enterprise made him incredibly wealthy, his life was not devoid of setbacks and troubles. Beginning in 1929, a series of events nearly cost Penney his life. When the Great Depression struck the country, it came at a time of great financial vulnerability for Penney. While his stores continued to do well, Penney had been adding outside interests, and these were proving to be extremely costly. In order to finance these outside interests, he borrowed heavily.
In addition, Penney was becoming a major philanthropist, giving generously to organizations and individuals. The Depression prompted banks to request repayment of his loans sooner than Penney had anticipated. Suddenly cash flow was tight, and Penney found it difficult to meet payment schedules. Constant and unrelenting worry began to take a toll on Penney. "I was so harassed with worries that I couldn't sleep and developed an extremely painful ailment," he said.
Concerned about his deteriorating health, Penney checked himself into the Kellogg Sanitarium at Battle Creek, Mich. It was the Mayo Clinic of its era. Dr. Elmer Eggleston, a staff physician, examined Penney and declared that he was extremely ill.
"A rigid treatment was prescribed, but nothing helped," Penney recalled. He was attacked by the twin demons of hopelessness and despair. His very will to live was rapidly eroding. "I got weaker day by day. I was broken nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for. I felt I hadn't a friend left in the world, that even my family had turned against me."
Alarmed by his rapidly deteriorating condition, Dr. Eggleston gave Penney a sedative. The effect quickly wore off, and Penney awakened with the conviction that he was living the last night of his life. "Getting out of bed, I wrote farewell letters to my wife and son, saying that I did not expect to live to see the dawn."
However, Penney awoke the next morning surprised to find he was alive. Making his way down the hallway of the hospital, he could hear singing coming from the little chapel where devotional exercises were held each morning. The words of the hymn being sung spoke deeply to his condition. Penney entered the chapel and listened with a weary heart to the singing, the reading of the Scripture lesson, and the prayer.
"Suddenly something happened," he recalled. "I can't explain it. I can only call it a miracle. I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into a warm, brilliant sunlight. I felt as if I had been transported from hell to paradise. I felt the power of God as I had never felt it before."
In a life-transforming instant, Penney knew that God was there to help. "From that day to this, my life has been free from worry," he declared. "The most dramatic and glorious 20 minutes of my life were those I spent in that chapel that morning."
The hymn which spoke so eloquently and miraculously to J.C. Penney — God Will Take Care of You.
The hymn God used to save Penney's life was written by Civilla Durfee Martin. Not much is known about the hymn writer. She lived from 1866 to 1948, writing the hymn in 1904. The inspiration for the words may have come from 1 Peter 5:7: "Casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you."
The first stanza and refrain read:
Be not dismayed whate'er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
God will take care of you,
Through ev'ry day, o'er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.