A little green book with ragged edges entitled Stepping Heavenward has a prominent place on my bookshelf. The author is Elizabeth Prentiss. The book was published in 1869 and sold more than 200,000 copies in America.

But its age and its popularity are not the reasons it is special to me. On the inside front cover a young boy wrote his name when he was twelve years old. That signature was written so long ago it has almost faded away. That boy was my father.

It reads, "Wadsworth B. Neeley - 1904- Heath, S.C." It had been a treasured possession of his mother who had died two years before. It is written in journal style about a teenage girl in a loving Christian family. She expressed her hopes and her patience through ups and downs of typical sibling rivalry. Their love for their Lord and Savior kept them close to each other.

My father saw a similar growth in his family. Life was hard without their beloved mother who had been so caring and gentle. So when she died, my father, who was the oldest, gave stability to his younger brother and two sisters. His big heart made room for the children and they were in a loving relationship until the day he died. Their father was an esteemed minister of the Gospel.

It is bedrock truth that the love of God is meant to hold us steady in this life, no matter what. The great author Robert Browning (1812-1889) put it this way, "Take away love and our earth is a tomb."

Another famous author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for whom my father was named, spoke these words about love: "There is nothing holier in this life of ours than the first consciousness of love - the first fluttering of its silken wings - the first rising sound and breath of that wind which is so soon to sweep through the soul to purify."

That superb description can only be improved upon in the Word of God. The oft-recited John 3:16 says it this way: "For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life." 

Jesus had a calm response to a lawyer's testy desire to know which was the most important commandment: He said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment" (Matt.22:37).   

In other words, we must have love as the basis of all relationships in order to fulfill the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20. And certainly that love of God overflows to others after we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

Expressing this love was the purpose Elizabeth Prentiss had in writing her book, Stepping Heavenward. That bestseller was followed with several other books. She was described as a "very bright-eyed, little woman, with a keen sense of humor, who cared more to shine in her own happy household than in a wide circle of society."

Portions of her writing were in rhyme and one of her poems was set to music. She drew on Scripture as the basis. These are the words of Paul to the believers in Philippi: "And this I pray, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight "(Phil. 1:9). The words bring back sweet memories to me because my family sang them in church:

"More love to thee O Christ, more love to Thee.
Hear now the prayer I make, on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea, more love O Christ to Thee.
More love to Thee. More love to Thee."

Elizabeth Prentiss showed that poem and the other two verses to no one when it was finished, for fear that it was too simple and not important. But her husband, Rev. George Prentiss, discovered the poem years later and arranged for it to be printed in leaflet form.