Posted by: rcottrill | February 17, 2012

Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Words: Bernard of Clairvaux (b. _____, 1091; d. Aug. 21, 1153)
Music: St. Agnes, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn, translated from Latin by Edward Caswell, is traditionally attributed to Bernard, a brilliant preacher and theologian of the twelfth century. Bernard founded an influential Cistercian monastery in Clairvaux, France. However, evidence is lacking to prove definitely that he wrote this song. Others think it may have come from the pen of an anonymous twelfth century Cistercian monk in England.

T he four or five stanzas (CH-1 to 5) used for the hymn begin a long Latin poem of forty-eight stanzas called Jesu Dulcis Memoria (“Sweet Memory of Jesus”). (The Cyber Hymnal gives us fifteen stanzas of the poem.) O Jesus, King Most Wonderful (also translated by Edward Caswell) and Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts (translated by Ray Palmer) are also drawn from the Latin poem.

Historian Philip Schaff called the present hymn “the sweetest and most evangelical hymn of the Middle Ages.” It is said the Latin original was sung by knights guarding the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. John Dykes’ tune, St. Agnes, was written for the English version of the song. Agnes when a girl of thirteen, was martyred in Rome for her faith in Christ, in A.D. 304.

Let’s assume that Bernard is indeed the author of this hymn, or could be. It is in keeping with his strong focus on the person of Christ. In an age when many were singing and praying to angels and dead saints, this was unusual. It led Martin Luther to proclaim him, four centuries later, the greatest monk who ever lived. Bernard said:

If thou writest, nothing therein has savour to me unless I read Jesus in it. If thou discoursest, nothing therein is agreeable to me unless in it also Jesus resounds. Jesus is honey to the mouth, melody to the ear, a song of jubilee in the heart.

These sentiments, and the first and second stanzas of the hymn, are reminiscent of John Newton’s beautiful How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds. A person’s name represents him, and thus all that he is. The word is also used of a person’s reputation. When the Bible says of the Lord “how excellent is Your name in all the earth” (Ps. 8:9), we know it speaks of the Person of God, His nature and character, and of how He is worshiped the world over.

The name of Jesus, when it represents Christ, is precious to us because of His saving work on the cross. That is why He is called “Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “This is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (I Jn. 3:23).

No wonder Paul declares to the Corinthian church, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2). In the coming kingdom, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

CH-1) Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

CH-2) Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest name,
O Saviour of mankind!

CH-5) Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

1) The name “Jesus” is found in our English Bibles 942 times, all the way from Matthew 1:1, the first verse of the New Testament, to Revelation 22:21, the last verse of the New Testament. What do these facts suggest to you?

2) Besides “Jesus,” what are some other names or titles of Christ found in Scripture that especially encourage you?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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