Martha Snell Nicholson: Pilgrimage of Pain

by Bernard R. DeRemer

Martha Snell NicholsonLouis T. Talbot, chancellor of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), called Martha Snell Nicholson "one of the most amazing demonstrations of the grace of God that I have witnessed Out of her troubles were born the exquisite verses which have blessed and comforted thousands of Christians the world around."

He added that her poetry (in seven volumes) "has now taken its place with the best Christian literature of all time."

Martha Snell was born at Fullerton, Neb., but grew up in Tacoma, Wash. Her godly home included a family altar, and she said, "God pity children who don't have singing parents." As a little girl she "memorized dozens of the old hymns from hearing my parents sing them." Thus she was greatly enriched and the foundation was laid for her ministry to others far into the future.

Early she came to know the Lord; she could never remember the exact date, but the fact was certain. At 9 she joined the church.

Martha was sickly as a child, often missing school. But she applied herself, studied and learned. Poetry began to appeal, such as Whittier's classic "Snow-bound": "Alas for him who never sees/The stars shine through his cypress trees" Milton, Tennyson, and others were also favorites, with their lovely words. She began to think of words as tools "and to long for the time when I might use them to make something lovely and good." God was indeed fashioning His future servant.

During a period of somewhat improved health, she married Howard Nicholson in 1919. But their happiness would be marred by repeated bouts of serious illness: TB, anemia, and many other ailments. She spent three years in Denver, the first in a sanitarium.

The doctor suggested a warmer climate, so the couple moved to a new home in southern California. Martha's health improved, but still she often battled many illnesses. Her afflictions included a spine bent and twisted, perhaps partly from a childhood injury.

Gradually she took up her pen to express herself and to share faith with others. Poems began to appear in magazines. In 1938 she was overjoyed at the publication of her first book, Wings and Sky. Six others would follow. Eventually nearly two million of her tracts were distributed. Their message was greatly needed, especially during the awful days of World War II. Three messengers became a tremendous blessing to her, so often invalided: Charles E. Fuller's "Old Fashioned Revival Hour"; Dr. Talbot's radio messages, especially on prophecy; and First Mate Bob, of the "Haven of Rest," who became "as dear as he is to all his wide family." These broadcasts greatly enriched and encouraged the suffering saint.

In 1948, Howard, her tower of strength and support for so many years, went to be with the Lord after a coronary occlusion. Her devastation was almost unbearable, but she trusted in the One who promised never to leave or forsake.

Here are selections from a few of her many poems:

At Evening

What have you done for the Lord today?
Can you think of the vanished moments and say:
I spent them every one for my Lord,
I started the day with His precious Word.
When I lifted my heart in prayer to Him,
Till heaven was real and earth was dim,
And my Saviour was personal and dear,
And all day long I would feel Him near

The Other Side

This isn't death, it's glory!
It isn't dark, it's light;
t isn't stumbling, groping,
Or even faith-it's sight.
This isn't grief, it's having
My last tear wiped away.
It's sunrise, it's the morning
Of my eternal day!

This Troubled Year

I cannot be afraid;
He has not once my trust betrayed,
Nor will He now. Though bombs should fall
Till death's dust settles over all
He loves and keeps the soul He made;
I cannot be afraid.

And how could I be sad?
The world grows evil, dark, and mad;
And yet my spirit soars on wings,
For in my heart the chorus rings,
"He comes!" Can I be aught but glad?
Singing, can I be sad?

Lord, I will occupy,
As swift the fleeting days pass by;
The time grows short. Never again
Will come the chance to speak to men
Until I soar into the sky,
Lord, may I occupy!

Martha wrote, "Pain. I have been its victim and its conqueror, its master and its servant. It has been my enemy and my teachermy constant companion." But suffering forever ended when she went to be with the Lord in June, 1957. It was indeed "far better."

Quotes are from His Banner Over Me by Martha Snell Nicholson; Moody Press, 1953. These titles are out of print but may be available from a second hand source or in libraries: The Family of God, The Glory Forever, Heart Held High, In Heaven's Gardens, Ivory Palaces, Threshold of Heavenand Wings and Sky.

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