Posted by: rcottrill | August 15, 2012

Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Martyn, by Simeon Butler Marsh (b. June 1, 1798; d. July 14, 1875)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: There are a number of inspiring stories as to how this hymn came to be written. (The Cyber Hymnal has an interesting one.) I know of at least three that are possible, but the fact is we simply can’t be sure which, if any, is correct.

Martyn is a simple tune for this hymn. More dramatic and powerful by far is Aberystwyth, by Welsh composer Joseph Parry (1841-1903). Aberystwyth is a city in the north of Wales, where Mr. Parry was a professor of music. A great tune befitting a great hymn. (And, if you use Parry’s majestic tune, be careful not to sing it too quickly.)

Wesley called his song, “In Time of Prayer and Temptation.” It now takes its title from the opening line. And it’s a true hymn, in the technical sense–a song addressed to God and extolling Him. Over the years, editors tinkered with his phrasing, thinking they knew better. But it later years publishers returned to the original, realizing that later emendations did not improve Wesley’s masterpiece.

The phrase, “O Lord, Thou lover of souls,” from an apocryphal book, Wisdom of Solomon 11:26, may have suggested the first line. Others think a line from Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ may have been the inspiration, where the Lord is called a “zealous Lover of faithful souls.” But there is ample inspired Scripture as well to assure us of the Saviour’s love. “The Son of God…loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20; cf. Rom. 8:37; Eph. 5:2, 25). It is love that sent Him to the cross to die in our place (Jn. 10:11; 15:13). And that love is ongoing, expressed in the tender care of the Shepherd for His sheep, day by day.

CH-1) Jesus, Lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

This magnificent hymn justly holds a place among a handful of the greatest hymns in the English language. Edwin Long, in his Illustrated History of Hymns and Their Authors, devotes twenty pages to his opinion about the song’s origin, and to many stories of how it has been a blessing over the years. Whatever the story behind it, it depicts an individual with fervent faith who seeks the Lord in a desperate situation. The third stanza (CH-3) is rarely used, but its “Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall” is a graphic picture of urgent need.

CH-3) Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

The sufficiency of the Lord Jesus to meet the author’s needs is confessed. He is “all I want,” and “more than all in Thee I find” (CH-4). Yet see how Wesley recognizes the element of grace in all of the Lord’s provision. We are unworthy of all that He has done and is doing for us. He is just and holy, “I am all unrighteousness; He is full of grace and truth, while “false and full of sin I am.”

CH-4) Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

The emotional power of “Leave, ah! leave me not alone” is unquestionable. “My helpless soul,” and “my defenceless head” likewise depict the petitioner’s crisis situation. T. L Cuyler wrote: “The one central, all-prevailing idea of this matchless hymn is the soul’s yearning for its Saviour. The figures of speech vary, but not the thought.”

CH-2) Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

1) What particular expressions of need in the hymn do you identify with?

2) What descriptions of the Lord in the hymn are a special blessing and encouragement to you?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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