Edith Margaret Clarkson (1915-2008)
Margaret Clarkson, whose rarely-used first name is Edith, was born in 1915 into, as Margaret herself described, ‘a loveless and unhappy marriage’, which broke up when she was 12.
In 1946, C. Stacey Woods asked Margaret Clarkson, then in Toronto, to write a hymn. Recently turned 30, Margaret was a primary schoolteacher known for her keen evangelical faith, her love of music and talent for verse.
In childhood she treasured her Presbyterian hymnbook, responding to the gospel by the age of ten during a series of meetings based on Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Second only to her Bible, she learned and loved the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and from the top of the family’s cherry tree she sang the hymns she had picked up by heart in church; many from Watts, Newton and Havergal among her favourites. She always preferred ‘real hymns’ to gospel songs or their later counterparts.
It was Margaret’s commitment to student work which led to Stacey Woods’s request; the result, ‘We come, O Christ, to thee’, which Margaret counted her first proper hymn. It was immediately sung at the dramatic first Missionary Conference of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (equivalent to our UCCF), published in IVCF’s first hymnal, and crossed the Atlantic to feature in Christian Praise (Tyndale Press/IVP, 1957). She was one of that book’s very few living contributors, and almost its youngest.
Joy in God
Margaret’s many prose works dealt with nature (as a keen bird-watcher), education, mission, the single life and much more. But she is best known as the writer of over 100 hymns, collected in 1986 in A Singing Heart. In the mid-stream of her writing she embraced the challenge of changing language, most significantly from ‘thee/thine’ mode to ‘you/your’.
As well as several Canadian and American books which include her hymns, Christian Hymns (2004 edition) has ten, and 13 appear in Praise! (2000). They characteristically rejoice in our sovereign God; and Christ’s redemption, return and global mission imperative.
She was a robust defender of the Reformed faith, a lively and witty correspondent, and a respected editor and consultant. She enjoyed meeting kindred spirits on her London visits, and was toughened by a lifelong struggle with physical disabilities involving much surgery and considerable pain.
On 17 March, from her Toronto nursing home, Margaret went to meet the Lord she had served so faithfully and for so long. Although her final years were clouded by dementia, countless believers share her heartfelt prayer: ‘Lead on in sovereign mercy through all life’s troubled ways, till resurrection bodies bring resurrection praise!’ (Praise! no. 960).
We thank EN for the use of this obituary, first published in June 2008.