He was a professor in the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary where he taught courses in the history of missions to career missionaries.
James Edwin Orr was born in 1912. His education includes earned doctorates from universities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, including the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University and the Ed. D. from U.C.L.A. in 1971.
In his many travels, Dr. Orr has visited a hundred and fifty countries, including the Soviet Union, and has been in two-thirds of the world’s six hundred major cities.
Despite these numerous life-long accomplishments, J. Edwin Orr will no doubt be best remembered as author of a simple, revival hymn text—“Cleanse Me.”
Dr. Orr recalls that he wrote the Cleanse Me text, in 1936, during an intense movement of the Holy Spirit at the Easter, revival convention in Ngaruawahia, New Zealand—
For some time prior to this Easter campaign, an attitude of unusual expectancy had been prevalent among these people. Prayer meetings spread throughout the city with much fervency, and intercession led to wide-spread confession and reconciliation among the believers. Great numbers of unconverted students professed faith in Christ. The next night was given over to exultant testimony, with singing such as one expects in heaven.
The revival news soon spread throughout all of New Zealand. Dr. Orr reports that as he was leaving New Zealand, four Aborigine girls approached and sang for him a beautiful Maori Song of Farewell.
Mr. Orr was so impressed with the beauty of this Polynesian melody that soon afterward he wrote new verses to the tune on the back of an envelope. The text was based on the familiar words of Scripture found in Psalm 139:23-24:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Further campaigns by Dr. Orr throughout Australia in the 1930s and later in nearly all of the English-speaking world, soon popularized this prayer hymn everywhere.
(1) Search me, O God, and know my heart today;
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray.
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.
(2) I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy Word and make me pure within.
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.
(3) Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine.
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord-in me abide.
(3) O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me.
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessing now, O Lord, I humbly plead.