Posted by: rcottrill | July 20, 2012

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Words: Horatius Bonar (b. Dec. 19, 1808; d. July 31, 1889)
Music: Vox Delecti, by John Bacchus Dykes (b. Mar. 10, 1823; d. Jan. 22, 1876)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: It was the constant prayer of Horatius Bonar that he be used of God in His service. He put this earnest desire in verse:

Make use of me my God!
Let me not be forgot;
A broken vessel cast aside,
One whom thou needest not.

This prayer was abundantly answered in both his preaching and his writing, as well as his pastoral work, and his leadership in the evangelical church.

Dr. Bonar’s original title for the present hymn was “The Voice from Galilee.” Though it was published in 1846, it was written several years earlier, before 1843. So simple and clear is the text that no change has been made in it from when Bonar first jotted it down in his notebook. John Dykes’ tune was written especially for the hymn. His unique dramatic shift from a minor to a major key in the middle of the hymn highlights the before-and-after of coming to Jesus.

This beautiful hymn is based upon several Scripture texts. The overall theme was inspired by John 1:16, “Of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.” Or as the Amplified Bible has it: “Out of His fullness (abundance) we have all received [all had a share and we were all supplied with] one grace after another and spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing and even favour upon favor and gift [heaped] upon gift.”

The power of the hymn is derived in part from its personal pronouns–“I heard…I came…I found,” and so on. The gospel of grace is for the whole world (Isa. 53:6; Jn. 3:16; I Jn. 2:2), but it must be appropriated by the individual. The Red Sea opened before all the children of Israel by the power of Almighty God, but to be delivered from the hosts of Pharaoh each Israelite had to trust in the Lord’s provision and cross over to freedom (Exod. 14:21-22). Similarly, I’m not saved because I was raised in a Christian family, or attended a Christian church. I’m saved because “I came to Jesus,” and “I looked to Jesus” for myself, by His grace.

The first stanza echoes Christ’s loving invitation, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28) and, in coming, the author finds rest.

CH-1) I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

In CH-2, we are taken to the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well. The water is used as a symbol of the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth. “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (Jn. 4:14). The only thing that had kept the woman from receiving the life spoken of was her ignorance. “If you knew…you would have asked” (vs. 10).

CH-2) I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

Finally, Horatius Bonar draws upon John 8:12, “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life’.” And later He said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (Jn. 12:46). “With You,” says David, “is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

CH-3) I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.

1) In what ways are the symbols of water and light so appropriate for the eternal life offered to us in Christ?

2) What are some of the reasons sinners reject the offer “freely given” by Christ?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


  1. Just wondering if I’ll do any better than your above well written commentary on Dr. Bonar’s hymn. My lecture of yesterday dealt with the doctrine of sin and the degree to which the fall has affected mankind and we can now understand as to why sinners hear the voice of Christ and yet can’t respond to it. As music in the church is becoming more and more watered-down in theology, old hymns such as this serve as the rod to bring us back to Bible-centred, Christ-centred and God-centred music.

    • Thanks for your comments. And, coincidentally, I’m preaching a doctrinal series right now covering the fundamentals of the faith, and Sunday, Lord willing, it will be: What Christians Believe about the Fall. I’ll give you the last part of my outline–though it’s probably of limited value without the full explanation. (Next week, the first of a two-part presentation of the doctrine of salvation.)

      IV. AFTER THE FALL [which will deal with the following]

      ¤ We all sinned in Adam, and “in Adam all die” (I Cor. 15:22).
      ¤ God sees the whole human race as an interconnected whole.

      – An illustration: Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek, in Abraham, though Levi wasn’t born for another 200 years (Heb. 7:4-10).

      1) We are all sinners by nature–we have a fallen sin nature (Job 14:4; Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:3)

      2) We all commit acts of sin (“sins”)
      ¤ The Bible uses over 20 Greek and Hebrew words for SIN. In summary: Sin is anything we are or do (or fail to do) by which we fail to fully glorify God or to perfectly reflect His holy image.
      ¤ All have sinned (Rom. 3:19, 23; Gal. 3:22; Ps. 14:3; Mk. 7:21-23)

      3) We are all totally depraved (meaning our entire being is corrupted by sin)
      ¤ Our minds (II Cor. 4:4); our emotions (Rom. 1:21, 24, 26); our consciences (Tit. 1:15); our wills (Rom. 6:20; 7:20); our hearts (Jer. 17:9-10); our “good” works (Isa. 64:6)

      4) We were all born spiritually DEAD
      ¤ Sinners are separated from God, insensitive to His Word and will, and powerless to please Him (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13)
      ¤ Jude 19, “sensual” = psuchikos (soulish), those whose lives are directed by their sin-darkened souls
      ¤ I Cor. 2:14, “the natural [psuchikos, soulish] man…”

      5) We are all enemies of God (Rom. 5:10; 8:7; Col. 1:21; cf. Lk. 11:23, “He who is not with Me is against Me.”)

      6) We are all justly condemned and without excuse (Jas. 2:10; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23a; Jn. 3:18)

      7) We are all, in ourselves, utterly helpless and hopeless (Rom. 8:7; Jn. 6:44; Tit. 3:5)
      ¤ Our only hope is God’s sovereign grace and salvation through Christ (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 6:23).

      On the last point, I’ll share this excellent quotation from the doctrinal statement of Child Evangelism Fellowship, a children’s ministry well-known in North America:

      “No degree of reformation, however great, no attainment in morality, however high, no culture, however attractive, no humanitarian and philanthropic schemes and societies, however useful, no baptism or other ordinance, however administered, can help the sinner take even one step toward heaven” (Statement of Faith, Child Evangelism Fellowship).


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