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Words: Jemima Thompson Luke (b. Aug. 19, 1813; d. Feb, 2, 1906)
Music: a Greek folk tune, arranged by William Batchelder Bradbury (b. Oct. 6, 1816; d. Jan. 7, 1868)
Note: Called originally “The Child’s Desire,” the hymn was published in 1841. The original had six stanzas, but only CH-1, 2, 3 and 5 are commonly used today. The story of the writing of the hymn is given in the Wordwise Hymns link, and in a more complete form in the Cyber Hymnal link.
There are difficulties with trying to write a hymn for children. Perhaps the author will consider them “little adults,” and write things that are too far over their heads. Or he (or she) may talk down to them, in a kind of superior way, treating them as less than they are, and virtually using baby talk to communicate with them.
Jemima Luke avoids the extremes nicely. One way she does this is to begin where the Bible does, with the scene in the Gospels of Christ welcoming and blessing the children.
“Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.’ And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them” (Mk. 10:13-16).
Mrs. Luke does an interesting thing, in the first stanza and on through the song. Of course she is putting words into the mouths of children when she writes, “I should like to have been with them then.” But one can also picture her leading the children in the hymn, and pointing to herself, with a smile, as she sings that last line. She identifies herself with the children, and makes their desire her own.
CH-1) I think, when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How He called little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with them then.
The last line of CH-2 is taken right from Mark 10:14 (KJV)–“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” though replacing the archaic “suffer,” (permit, allow, let). Then there is that remarkable statement of Jesus, “Of such is the kingdom of God” (cf. CH-5). What is it about children that we older ones have perhaps lost? Whatever it is, we need it.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive and accept and welcome the kingdom of God like a little child [does] positively shall not enter it at all” (vs. 15, Amplified Bible).
A little child, unspoiled by abuse and bitter disappointment, seems to be trusting by nature. The character of child-like faith which is to be emulated involves simplicity, and a lack of cynicism. And at the root of it is a recognition of dependance. As Spurgeon put it, “Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the kingdom.”
CH-2) I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,
That His arms had been thrown around me,
And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,
“Let the little ones come unto Me.”
Jemima Luke transitions from the scene in Bible times to the present. How can we come to the Lord Jesus now, when He is physically absent?
CH-3) Yet still to His footstool in prayer I may go;
And ask for a share in His love;
And if I thus earnestly seek Him below,
I shall see Him and hear Him above.
This brings the author to a missionary application–in a stanza that is unfortunately omitted by many hymn books today. This is a message to be shared.
CH-4) But thousands and thousands who wander and fall,
Never heard of that heavenly home;
I wish they could know there is room for them all,
And that Jesus has bid them to come.
Finally, there is a reunion anticipated, when all who trust in Him will be taken to the heavenly mansions, there to dwell with the Lord forever (Jn. 14:2-30.
CH-5) In that beautiful place He has gone to prepare
For all who are washed and forgiven;
And many dear children shall be with Him there,
For “of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
1) What is it that makes this a fine children’s hymn?
2) What other children’s hymns do you know and use?