The Songs and Life of C.A. Tindley

I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and pray that 2023 will be productive, fruitful, and fulfilling, as the Lord works in and through each of us for His glory, as we love Him supremely, and our neighbor as ourselves.

I love stories, I love history, and I so enjoy the juxtaposition of people and events that reveal the working of God in human lives. Such a serendipitous juxtaposition can be seen in the story of Dr. C.A. Tindley (1851-1933).

Born in Maryland to a free mother and a slave father, Charles Albert Tindley grew up to become one of the best-known African American pastors in the East. He was virtually self-taught, and he asked others to tutor him. He took correspondence courses. He learned Hebrew and Greek on his own, asking a Philadelphia synagogue to teach him Hebrew, and taking a correspondence course to study Greek.  He was the janitor of a Methodist church in his youth, and eventually became the pastor of that very church. His church, which had several races represented, grew from 130 people to an average attendance of 10,000. He wrote many songs, several of which are still sung today.

One such song, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” is thought by some to be the basis for the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Here is a look at some of C.A. Tindley’s best-known songs.

“We’ll Understand it Better By and By”

1. We are tossed and driven

on the restless sea of time;

somber skies and howling tempests

oft succeed a bright sunshine;

in that land of perfect day,

when the mists are rolled away,

we will understand it better by and by.


By and by, when the morning comes,

when the saints of God are gathered home,

we’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome,

for we’ll understand it better by and by.

2. We are often destitute

of the things that life demands,

want of food and want of shelter,

thirsty hills and barren lands;

we are trusting in the Lord,

and according to God’s word,

we will understand it better by and by.


3. Trials dark on every hand,

and we cannot understand

all the ways of God would lead us

to that blessed promised land;

but he guides us with his eye,

and we’ll follow till we die,

for we’ll understand it better by and by.


4. Temptations, hidden snares

often take us unawares,

and our hearts are made to bleed

for some thoughtless word or deed;

and we wonder why the test

when we try to do our best,

but we’ll understand it better by and by.


“Leave it There”

If the world from you withholds of its silver and its gold

And you have to get along on meager fare

Just remember in His Word how He feeds the little bird

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”

Chorus: “Leave it there, leave it there

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out,

Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

What are They Doing in Heaven?

What are they doing in Heaven today

Where sin and sorrow have all passed away?

And peace abounds like a river they say.

What are they doing now?

(My pastor, Milton Hollifield, Sr., and his daughter, Keva, used to sing this in our church back in Swannanoa, NC. Check it out.)

“Nothing Between” (Found in a number of older hymnals.)

Nothing between my soul and the Savior

So that His blessed face may be seen.

Nothing preventing the least of His favor.

Keep the way clear, there’s nothing between.

And then there’s my personal favorite of all the songs written by C.A. Tindley. This was sung at my father’s funeral in 1981, but I have loved it my whole life. You may want to check it out.

“Stand By Me”

When the storms of life are raging stand by me

When the storms of life are raging stand by me

When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea

Thou who rulest wind and water stand by me.

In the midst of tribulation, stand by me

In the midst of tribulation, stand by me

When the hosts of Hell assail and my strength begins to fail,

Thou who never lost a battle, stand by me.

In the midst of faults and failures stand by me

In the midst of faults and failures stand by me

When I’ve done the best I can and my friends misunderstand

Thou who knowest all about me stand by me.

In the midst of persecution, stand by me

In the midst of persecution, stand by me

When my foes in war array undertake to stop my way

Thou who rescued Paul and Silas, stand by me.

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me

When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me

When my life becomes a burden, and I’m nearing chilly Jordan

Oh, thou lily of the valley, stand by me.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the life of this remarkable man was a providential encounter with Thomas H. (Pop) Willey. (From the book, Never Say Can’t by Jerry Ballard1, later cited in Arminian Baptists, by David Lytle and Charles Cook.2)

In the 1910s, future Free Will Baptist missionary pioneer Pop Willey met Tindley at a conference while in his early teens.

Thomas was suddenly astonished to see a giant black man moving toward the pulpit with a briefcase. He had enormous shoulders and huge hands like Thomas had never seen on another human being.  ‘Who in the world is that man?’ Thomas quizzed the one sitting next to him. ‘That’s Dr. C.A. Tindley. He’s pastor of the largest Methodist church in the world.’ came the reply.

Tindley had five minutes on the program to represent the ministry among the thousands of African Americans who were migrating North. When he began to speak, the simple eloquence of his words stirred the congregation from platform to pew. Willey recalled, ‘Strong men wept and shouted and laughed. Dignified bishops began to shout and praise God…’

Later, Thomas would visit Dr. Tindley’s church. After the message, “Thomas plunged through the great crowd, finally winning his way into the presence of the preacher. He told Tindley how far he had come and how long it had taken him to get there…He then declared how he wanted to preach Christ in a way he never had before.’

….the great black preacher took the young white boy’s hand and pulled him close. He then placed his giant hands on Willey’s head and prayed for God to anoint him with the Holy Spirit, to take his yielded life and make it a blessing to the whole human race, a blessing to people in all parts of the world.

God, the great weaver and architect, is constantly working in our lives to accomplish His purposes. May we be fully surrendered, totally alert, and completely cooperative with His working in and through us for His glory in this new year! (Philippians 1:13)

  1. c. 1971, Paperback edition issued 1984 by Randall House Publications, Nashville, TN.
  2. c. 2022, Arminian Baptists: A Biographical History of Free Will Baptists, Randall House Publications, Nashville, TN, pg. 307
Steve Lytle
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Steve Lytle

Steve and his wife Judy have spent the majority of their ministry in Panama with Free Will Baptist International Missions. They recently retired and are hard at work serving the Lord locally. Steve is serving the elder generation of Cofer's Chapel mainly, but is also involved in visiting sick, hospitalized, and shut-ins of any generation at our church. Steve is also heavily involved in the church's Hispanic ministry as teacher and translator.

2 thoughts on “The Songs and Life of C.A. Tindley

  • January 24, 2023 at 3:25 pm

    What a great spiritual legacy!

  • January 25, 2023 at 7:19 am

    It was a “labor of love” for me. I enjoy sharing with others things God uses in my life.


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