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Words: Oswald Jeffrey Smith (b. Nov. 8, 1889; d. Jan. 25, 1986)
Music: Daniel Brink Towner (b. Apr. 5, 1850; d. Oct. 3, 1919)
Note: It seems this 1913 hymn was the first of many that Oswald Smith wrote. His own two-word title for the song was Jesus Only.
We have a number of expressions to indicate that someone is extra special, or that some accomplishment is extremely rare. While it may exaggerate the case a little, we’re trying to describe something that reaches the rarefied atmosphere of being virtually unparalleled, and beyond compare.
“She’s one in a million,” we might say. Or, “When they made him they threw away the mold.” Or we might describe a particular person as being “the one and only.” Whether it’s because of Wayne Gretzky’s record-breaking hockey career, or William Shakespeare’s masterful writing, calling them “the one and only,” says both are in a class by themselves, in many ways superior and incomparable to others.
That kind of description, “the one and only,” might be applied also to a remarkable Canadian named Oswald Jeffrey Smith (1889-1986). Oswald Smith was a pastor, and the founder of the large People’s Church, in Toronto. He preached some twelve thousand sermons, in about eighty countries of the world. He authored thirty-five books, many of which were translated into other languages.
The present writer sang at the People’s Church with a visiting choir about fifty years ago. By then, Dr. Smith was in his mid-eighties. His son Paul had become the senior pastor, while the father continued to give leadership to the many missionary projects dear to his heart. He had become a respected missionary statesman with a worldwide influence.
As an author, Smith produced over a thousand poems as well. A hundred of these were set to music, many becoming familiar gospel songs. It’s for these that he is most widely known today. Deeper and Deeper, God Understands, Joy in Serving Jesus, and Then Jesus Came are a few of them. The hymn we’re considering now was written when he was still a student at seminary in Chicago, and he was facing some painful difficulties. He describes it as “a time of uncertainty, doubt, and disappointment.”
It was as though his personal resources had failed him, the things that had been propping up his life had been kicked from underneath him. In his distress, he turned in a more earnest and urgent way to the Lord. Walking down the street one day, he pondered the many resources we have in Christ, and a new hymn began to form itself in his mind, line by line. He called it Jesus Only, perhaps thinking of the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration who, at the last, and appropriately, “saw no one but Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8).
In each succeeding stanza of the hymn, the author presents things that give us some key areas of Christ’s superiority. Stanza one: He is the only source of salvation. Stanza two: He’s the only infallible Guide through life.
CH-1) For salvation full and free,
Purchased once on Calvary,
Christ alone shall be my plea—
Jesus! Jesus only.
Jesus only, let me see,
Jesus only, none save He,
Then my song shall ever be–
Jesus! Jesus only!
CH-2) He my Guide from day to day,
As I journey on life’s way;
Close beside Him let me stay–
Jesus! Jesus only.
The Guinness Book of World Records is packed with examples of the kind of superlatives mentioned earlier. But the fact that the book has gone through many editions since it was published sixty years ago is a testament to the fact that often those records have been broken. New champions have been crowned. But there’s one Person in all the universe for whom that will never happen, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Whatever measure that can be applied, He will always and infinitely be adjudged above all, “that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” Jesus says (Matt. 28:18). “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22:13). “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).
CH-4) He shall reign from shore to shore,
His the glory evermore–
Heav’n and earth shall bow before
Jesus! Jesus only.
1) Have you had an experience similar to Dr. Smith’s in which other resources failed and you cast yourself on the Lord Jesus alone?
2) Can you make a list of several things beginning: “The Lord Jesus is my only _______”?