Posted by: rcottrill | August 22, 2011

My Jesus, I Love Thee

Words: William Ralph Featherstone (b. July 23, 1846; d. May 20, 1873)
Music: Gordon, by Adoniram Judson Gordon (b. Apr. 13, 1836; d. Feb. 2, 1895)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There is some question about the dating of this song. Some say it was written in 1858, when the author was sixteen years old. But if the date of his birth is correct, he was only twelve at that time. The writing of the hymn possibly took place in 1862.

This simple hymn was written by William Featherstone in his teens. It expresses his devotion to Christ following his recent conversion. But it has been the testimony of many saints since, all along their life’s journey. Catherine Booth, wife of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, sang it on her deathbed.

Peter speaks of the Lord Jesus as the One “whom having not seen [we] love” (I Pet. 1:8). Love for the Lord is commanded (Matt. 22:37), and it’s demonstrated chiefly by obedience to His Word (Jn. 14:23). But in addition to being an act of the will, it’s also the warm response of the redeemed heart, as prompted by the indwelling Spirit of God.

As believers, we love Him as our “gracious Redeemer” and “Saviour” (CH-1) And the author exults, “I know Thou art mine”–that He is my Saviour. Just as surely as we are His, He belongs to us, in terms of our right to fellowship with Him, and claim our position as joint heirs with Him. A relationship like that calls for a response: “For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.” (Or, as I believe the original had it, “For Thee all the pleasures of sin I resign,” cf. Heb. 11:24-25.) In either case, Featherstone describes a desire to do that which pleases the Lord.

In CH-2 we have: “I love thee because Thou hast first loved me,” a direct reference to First John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Clearly the love of Christ was most fully expressed at Calvary. “Having loved His own…He loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1). “The Son of God…loved me and have Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). That He was willing to suffer so terribly for us, prompts our loving response.

It might seem unusual for a teen-ager to think so graphically of his coming death (CH-3). But this hymn was written in the days before wonder drugs and technical marvels in medicine. Death was all too common. The average life expectancy, when Ralph Featherstone wrote these words, was about forty! (The author died at the age of twenty-seven.) But he confidently testifies that, just as he will demonstrate his love for Christ “as long as Thou lendest me breath,” he will also love the Lord “when the death dew lies cold on my brow.”

Morbid as this may sound to modern ears, it’s not the end. Young Featherstone is no secular humanist, thinking that death and the grave is the end of all. He trusts in the promise of Christ: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn. 14:2-3).

The final stanza (CH-4) is so uplifting and triumphant that, in congregational singing, it seems to call for a slightly quickened tempo, and perhaps a modulation to a higher key (as The Celebration Hymnal arrangement has it).

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Questions:
1) How would you describe the Lord’s love for us? And how would you describe the ideal love of the believer for Him? (What does each look like in practical terms?)

2) What is the opposite of love for the Lord? And why is it that some do not love Him?

Links:
Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


Responses

  1. Questions:
    1) How would you describe the Lord’s love for us? And how would you describe the ideal love of the believer for Him? (What does each look like in practical terms?)

    Christ’s love for us began with His desire to redeem us with His own life and blood. The veil in the temple was rent and because of that, every born-again believer has full and direct access to the Father because of being joint heir with the Son.

    The ideal love of the believer for His Lord should be reciprocated love. That is, that the believer loves Christ with his or her all, desiring to draw closer to the Saviour both in a personal relationship with Him through prayer and Bible study, as well as an honest desire to be obedient to all His commands. A life of the fear of God and practical holiness, abiding daily in Christ is how it can be shown.

    2) What is the opposite of love for the Lord? And why is it that some do not love Him?

    I dare say that it is apathy. The light of Christ is not able to shine through the believer as many are not abiding in Him nor do they understand how to do so. There’s a lack of teaching in our churches resulting in many believers not understanding who they are in Christ nor what is available to them as joint-heirs with Christ. They don’t understand the power of God, therefore it cannot be exercised in their lives.

    Worldliness and careless living has also sapped us of any faith or spiritual strength and have caused many believers to become Biblically illiterate. A practical fear of God in our daily lives has become non-existent, therefore the reality of a judgment for the believer is gone. “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:18. We are truly living in the last days. As Christ said, “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. You offer some good insights. I also dropped in on your site and watched the video “The Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It provides a very clear explanation of the plan of salvation. I was, however, quite surprised at one statement made: “Virtually every prophecy written in the Bible has already been fulfilled.” Really? I can’t understand how any sincere student of the Scriptures could say that. Actually, there are approximately a thousand individual prophecies in the Word of God, and about half of them have been fulfilled so far. But other than that, and the speaker’s minor blunder of calling “gospel” a Greek word (the Greek word is euaggelion) the presentation should be helpful to many. Thanks again for writing. God bless.

  2. Do you know how this wonderful hymn came to have it’s first and last stanza changed? My hymnal (Hymns of Truth and Praise, 1971, printed in U.S.A.) has the first verse saying “Lord Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine. My Rock and my Fortress, my Surety Divine. My gracious Redeemer, my song shall be now: ‘Tis Thou who art worthy, Lord Jesus, ’tis Thou.” Verse three says:”And when the bright morn of Thy glory shall come, and children ascend to the Father’s glad home, I’ll shout with Thy likeness impressed on my brow, ‘Tis Thou who art worthy, Lord Jesus,’tis Thou.” these are beautiful words but I do miss singing the other verses which you have shared. They credit the same author as well. I have found this to be the case with other hymns too. Thank you, and I really enjoy your wonderful site! God Bless you!

    • An interesting question. The changes were not made by Featherstone, I’m pretty sure of that. Hymnary.org has copies going back to the mid-1800’s, here and they are all basically the same. The only difference I have see is that some have “the follies of sin I resign,” and others have “the pleasures of sin I resign.” Both express a worthy idea, but “pleasures” seems to be a reference to Moses’ experience (Heb. 11:24-25).

      Hymns of Truth and Praise which you use is a hymnal put out by Gospel Perpetuating Publishers, who also published Choice Hymns of the Faith (1946). This organization is, I believe backed, or supported, by the Plymouth Brethren. Redemption Hymns, put out in 2009 by the Emmaus Correspondence School, in New Zealand, seems likewise to be associated with the Brethren. I mention this because all three books have changed the wording of the hymn–which suggests this group is the source.

      This is a common practice of the Brethren. They alter the wording of familiar hymns–often because they have some doctrinal disagreement with the original. I do appreciate the Brethren and what they stand for, and sometimes I agree that the new version is an improvement. In the case of My Jesus, I Love Thee, I’m not so sure all the alterations make the hymn better. Their first stanza isn’t bad, but the soaring beauty of Featherstone’s last stanza is lost.

      To be accurate, the hymn book should read: Wm. R. Featherstone, alt. or say Stanzas 1 and 4, alt. (i.e. altered). In any event, I believe that’s where the change came from. Hope that’s a help.

      • I see what you’re saying; this hymn book does read alt beside Featherstone’s name, as well as as (orig.) My Jesus I Love Thee (etc.) right at verse one.
        It is good they write this in, but I wonder how Mr. Featherstone would feel to know these liberties were taken with his song. It’s like an old painting being re-vamped by someone else, just doesn’t seem right somehow.

      • H-m-m… Yes, you have a point. But let me make a few more comments on the subject of changes made in our hymns.

        Being something of a traditionalist myself, I tend to want the old hymns left as they are. There is a simple reason for doing so. It encourages a sense of unity among the people of God. If believers from another church visit ours, it’s a good thing when familiar hymns really are familiar–that they know the words, and don’t have to stumble over unexpected changes. It also helps to bridge the generation gap when teens sing the same words that dad and mom–and grandpa and grandma–have sung.

        I’ve heard arguments for changing (for example) thee and thine to you and yours, because people don’t talk that way now. Or changing songs such as Good Christian Men, Rejoice, because it leaves out women. To me, these aren’t valid concerns. In fact, it insults the intelligence of the users, suggesting they don’t know what “My Jesus, I love Thee…” means, or that they can’t appreciate that “men” can be used in a generic sense (as the word often is in Scripture).

        However, let me give you an example of a change that I believe is valid. Elizabeth Clephane’s hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus was published in 1868. And for the next forty years or so the last line of one stanza spoke of: “my own worthlessness.” Then, around 1912, some editor apparently thought, “Wait a minute! How can one who is a creation of God be labeled “worthless”? How can one whom God loves, and for whom Jesus died be worthless? Most hymn books now read “my unworthiness.” Unworthy of what God has done for us, yes. That’s grace. Worthless, never!

        My main concern, above all, is that a hymn be biblically correct. I may be missing something, but I can’t see any serious error in My Jesus, I Love Thee as young Ralph Featherstone wrote it. If there is a significant problem with a hymn, we have several options: change the part that is in error; or, if the problem is confined to a certain stanza, simply omit it when the hymn is sung; or, if the problem is more extensive, not sing the hymn at all.

        As to hymn writers objecting to having their hymns tinkered with: Well, I suppose some might. Stuart Hine complained when Bev Shea changed a couple of words in his translation of How Great Thou Art, but I believe he came to accept that they were an improvement. And others have more a humble attitude toward their work, and are less possessive. Our hymns and gospel songs, after all, are the work of men and women, not inspired and infallible Scripture. John Ellerton (1826-1893) refused to copyright his hymns, saying that if they were “counted worthy to contribute to Christ’s praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble.”

  3. Thank you for your wise insights. That is such a good point you made about the usage of the word ‘worthlessness’ as opposed to ‘unworthiness’.
    It would be wonderful if today’s Bible Colleges would teach a course on the validity and importance of these meaty hymns. Music reaches deep into the human mind and soul.


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