Posted by: rcottrill | July 12, 2013

Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild

Words: Charles Wesley (b. Dec. 18, 1707; d. Mar. 29, 1788)
Music: Innocents, harmonized by William Henry Monk (b. Mar. 16, 1823; d. Mar.. 1, 1889)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This hymn was first published in 1742, and was thus one of the early hymns of Charles Wesley. It was accompanied by a second hymn, beginning, “Lamb of God, I look to Thee.” Each had seven four-line stanzas.

Our present hymn is a combination of the two songs, commonly using CH-1, 3, 4, 7, with one hymn book here on my desk including CH-8. A Methodist hymnal from 1917 uses CH-1, 2, and two stanzas not found in the Cyber Hymnal. You can judge for yourself (below), but to me, picturesque though they are, they seem poetically inferior to the ones more often used.

Put Thy hands upon my head;
Let me in Thy arms be stayed;
Let me lean upon Thy breast,
Lull me, lull me, Lord, to rest.

Hold me fast in Thine embrace,
Let me see Thy smiling face;
Give me, Lord, Thy blessing, give;
Pray for me, and I shall live.

The Cyber Hymnal lists no less than six tunes that have been used with this hymn. I’m most familiar with William Monk’s tune Innocents. (There is some mystery about its origin, discussed in the Wordwise Hymns link. See the second item on King Thibaut.)

Some have suggested this hymn was written for Wesley’s own children, but that isn’t the case. He wasn’t married until seven years after the two songs were published. He did love children, however, and tried to write some hymn especially for them. These were not very successful. The present hymn is the only one that has survived. Likely, this is because he tried to treat children too much as little adults, not meeting them at their own level of understanding. Gentle Jesus is an exception.

This is a beautiful hymn. Though one historian says the first line was omitted from the 1983 edition of the Methodist hymnal because gentle, meek, and mild “are no longer adjectives which have much appeal” (An Annotated Anthology of Hymns, by J. R. Watson, p. 180). What a strange comment! I do have some concern about the line–though not one that would cause me to alter or reject it. More of that in a moment. However, let’s examine Mr. Watson’s comment first.

Each of the adjectives he rejects as not appealing to today’s congregations are found in the Scriptures. Our first concern in choosing (and editing) our hymns should not be whether they appeal to people but whether they’re biblical.

¤ Gentleness. As Christians, we are called to be gentle, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). It is part of the fruit of the Spirit’s work in us (Gal. 5:23). When we deal with others who have sinned, we are to be gentle with them, recognizing that we could be tempted to do something similar (Gal. 6:1).

¤ Meekness. Someone has described this quality as power under control. In other words, the individual does not feel the need to keep proving himself, or seeking the acclaim of others. James speaks of “the meekness of wisdom” (Jas. 3:13). And Paul exhorts the Colossian believers to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” (Col. 3:12-13).

The Lord Jesus also describes Himself as “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29; cf. Isa. 40:11). And Paul refers to “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (II Cor. 10:1). The adjective “mild is a little different since it’s not exactly a Bible word.

¤ Mildness. This word is found only once in the Scriptures (NKJV), where it refers to Jacob as “a mild man” (Gen. 25:27). However, the Hebrew word (tam) seems to mean wholesome or holy, rather than what we might think of. When Job is described as “blameless” it’s a translation of the same word (Job 1:1; cf. Ps. 37:37). In modern English dictionaries you’ll find a “mild” person described as: pleasant, good-natured, and friendly, as opposed to being cold and severe. Hardly something to be avoided! And the adjective would seem to describe Jesus very well–especially in His dealings with children.

Whether the critics find them appealing or not, each of these words describes what the Lord Jesus was like while on earth, particularly in His dealings with the weak and vulnerable, and those often ignored or put upon by others in society. And there are precious truths here that children need to grasp, as they learn to trust in the Saviour.

My one concern is that these three things are not all Jesus was, while He walked among men. And they’re certainly not the prominent qualities we associate with Him now, in heavenly glory. On earth, Christ could drive the money changers from the temple, in righteous anger (Matt. 21:12-13), or condemn the Pharisees sternly for their hypocrisy (Matt. 23:13-36). When the Apostle John met Him after His ascension, “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength,” and John “fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1:16-17).

I’m not saying that these latter qualities need to be presented with equal force to little children in their “simplicity,” as those mentioned earlier. Just that we must be careful, as adult believers, not to lose sight of other aspects of Christ’s character. One day the gentle, meek and mild Jesus will return as the holy Son of God, bringing wrathful judgment on unbelievers (II Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 19:11-21). We need to keep things in balance in both our preaching and our hymnody.

CH-1) Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

CH-7) Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,
In Thy gracious hands I am;
Make me, Saviour, what Thou art,
Live Thyself within my heart.

1) Is this a hymn you would (or do) use? (Why? Or why not?)

2) What are one or two of the best children’s hymns, in your view?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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