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Alfred Henry Ackley was born in Pennsylvania in 1887. He showed great promise as a child, and his musician-father personally tutored him before sending him to New York City to study music.
From there, it was on to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Alfred then returned to the States to attend Westminster Seminary in Maryland, and he was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry in 1914.
After pastoring a church in his home state of Pennsylvania, Alfred was called to a congregation in California.
It was there in 1932, that Alfred met a Jewish man to whom he began witnessing. But the man resisted the Christian faith, saying, "Why should I worship a dead Jew?"
That statement played on Alfred's mind as he prepared his Easter Sunday message. Rising early to prepare for the day, Alfred flipped on the radio as he shaved and was astonished to hear a famous liberal preacher in New York say: "Good morning -- it's Easter! You know, folks, it really doesn't make any difference to me if Christ be risen or not. As far as I am concerned, His body could be as dust in some Palestinian tomb. The main thing is, His truth goes marching on!"
Alfred wanted to fling the radio across the room. "It's a lie!" he exclaimed. His wife rushed into the bathroom, asking, "Why are you shouting so early in the morning?"
Didn't you hear what that good-for-nothing preacher said?" Alfred replied.
That morning, Ackley preached with great vigor on the reality of Christ's Resurrection, and he did the same at the evening service. But later that night, he was still exercised over his friend's question and the morning's radio sermon. "Listen here, Alfred Ackley," his wife said at last. "It's time you did that which you can do best. Why don't you write a song about it and then maybe you'll feel better?"
Alfred went to his study, opened the Bible, and re-read the Resurrection account from Mark's Gospel. A thrill went through him, and he began writing the words to "He Lives." A few minutes later, he was at the piano putting it to music, not dreaming it would become one of the church's most triumphant Easter hymns.
I serve a risen Savior, 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,