Story behind the song
by Lindsay Terry
“It’s a lie!!” was the reaction of Alfred H. Ackley one Easter Sunday morning in 1932, as he was getting ready to preach in his church in Escondido, California. He was listening to the radio while shaving with a straight razor. His outburst came because he heard someone on the air say, “Good morning folks, it’s Easter! You know, folks, it really doesn’t make any difference to me if Christ be risen or not. As far and I am concerned His body could be as dust in some Palestinian tomb. The main thing is, His truth goes marching on!”
The whole matter seemed to ignite a blaze under Ackley, even with his razor in his hand. He believed, with all of his being, the Biblical accounts that Christ had risen from the tomb, bodily. His wife heard him shouting and asked, “Why are you yelling so early in the morning?!” Ackley said, “Didn’t you hear what that man said? He said that it didn’t matter whether Christ had risen, bodily, or not!”
Well, that morning Ackley preached as he had never preached before. He could not set aside the fact that someone, on the radio, would utter such sacrilege. After Ackley and his wife had gotten home from church, she could see that he was still fretting over the situation. She did something that has had lasting results. She told her husband, “Listen here Alfred Ackley, it’s time for you to do what you do best. Then you will have something that will go on telling the story.” He got the message and went to his piano and began to compose a song. When he had finished the tremendously popular He Lives had been born.
I serve a risen Saviour,
He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him
He’s always near.
He lives, He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and He talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He live, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
Alfred Ackley was born on January 21, 1887, in Spring Hill, Pennsylvania. He received a thorough education in music, including study in composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London, England. As a performer, he was recognized as an accomplished cellist.
Following graduation from the Westminster Theological Seminary, in 1914, he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry. He always maintained a keen interest in the writing of hymns and Gospel songs. It is estimated that he wrote well over 1,000 songs and hymns in addition to aiding in the compilation of various hymnals and songbooks. In recognition of his contribution to sacred music, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music Degree from John Brown University. Dr. Ackley died in Whittier, California, on July 3, 1960.
Of all the Atkley accomplishments mentioned in this column, none was greater than the writing of the notable… He Lives!
He is not here, for He is risen, as He said.
Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
- Matthew 28:6