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Words: Frances Jane (“Fanny”) Crosby (b. Mar. 24, 1820; d. Feb. 12, 1915)
Music: John Robson Sweney (b. Dec. 31, 1837; d. Apr. 10, 1899)
Note: This gospel song was first published in 1884. The last line of CH-4 is sometimes written as, “Till I gain the other side [i.e. of the river of death].”
The song provides a tender confession of weakness and human need, along with an expression of confident faith in the Lord. It is rendered all the more poignant when we remember that Fanny was blind from the time she was six weeks old (due to the mistreatment of an eye ailment).
Though she was amazingly independent, and accomplished many wonderful things, not the least of which is the creation of nearly 9,000 hymns, yet she needed help and guidance to get along in many situations. Without that, she was bound to lose her way, or stumble dangerously.
It was a simple matter for her to draw upon this fact and apply it to her daily walk in a spiritual sense. Think of that as you consider this hymn.
CH-1) I must have the Saviour with me,
For I dare not walk alone,
I must feel His presence near me,
And His arm around me thrown.
Then my soul shall fear no ill,
Let Him lead me where He will,
I will go without a murmur,
And His footsteps follow still.
Two or three Scripture texts fit this hymn beautifully.
“We walk by faith, not be sight” (II Cor. 5:7).
“Without Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 1:5).
“Lo, I [Jesus] am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Yet, many of us would confess with Fanny that our “faith at best is weak” (CH-2). With that father in the Gospels, who sought the help of the Lord Jesus for his son, we cry, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). In the Amplified Bible it’s, “Lord, I believe! [Constantly] help my weakness of faith!”
CH-2) I must have the Saviour with me,
For my faith, at best, is weak;
He can whisper words of comfort,
That no other voice can speak.
We each face a variety of circumstances. There are life’s bright, sunny days. But there are also life’s storms to deal with. And we need the Lord “through the tempest and the sunshine.” We need His help in dealing with “the battle and the strife” in our lives. Satan still stalks the land, like a roaring lion, seeking to devour the weak and vulnerable (I Pet. 5:8).
CH-3) I must have the Saviour with me,
In the onward march of life,
Through the tempest and the sunshine,
Through the battle and the strife.
We need the presence of the Lord all the way to the end. When we face “the valley of the shadow of death,” the Bible assures us that He will be with us still, to bear us safely to our heavenly home (Ps. 23:4).
CH-4) I must have the Saviour with me,
And His eye the way must guide,
Till I reach the vale of Jordan,
Till I cross the rolling tide.
I have mixed feelings about Fanny’s use of the Jordan River to represent death. It’s imagery that is common to a number of our hymns. For example, there is Samuel Stennett’s I Am Bound for the Promised Land.
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
With the crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites were finally delivery from enslavement in Egypt, and the crossing of the Jordan, about forty years later, represented the completion of the picture, as they entered into the Promised Land. But Canaan makes a very poor picture of heaven. There were still battles to fight and foes to conquer in Canaan. That certainly won’t be true of heaven!
The crossing of the Jordan is better used as an image of the abundant Christian life, a life of abundant fruitfulness and spiritual victory (in the present world), as we walk in the Spirit. As long as we understand that it is a very weak and limited picture of death and the eternity beyond, I suppose it’s all right–and we won’t likely be successful in getting hymn lovers to abandon the symbolism.
1) Are there situations you have faced recently, when the assurance that the Lord is with you always was a special encouragement?
2) Is there someone you could encourage today with the words and message of this hymn?