Posted by: rcottrill | May 30, 2014

Tell Me the Story of Jesus

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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)

Links:

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This gospel song was first published in 1880. I can remember, back in the 1960’s, singing this lovely hymn with a men’s choir, and recall the powerfully reverent feel of the song when it’s sung more slowly than is common in congregational singing.

CH-1) Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus,
Sang as they welcomed His birth.
“Glory to God in the highest!
Peace and good tidings to earth.”

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

There are several familiar gospel songs that present to the “story” of Christ’s earthly life and ministry. There is Katherine Hankey’s Tell Me the Old, Old Story, from 1866, and William Parker’s 1885, Tell Me the Stories of Jesus. In terms of its publication date, Fanny Crosby’s song falls in the middle of these two.

The three are quite different in their content and purpose. Katherine Hankey’s song comes from the first section of a much longer poem on the life of Christ. Another song, I Love to Tell the Story comes from a later part of the same poem. Her theme is witness and evangelism, the need for others to know what Christ has done for them, and the responsibility of Christians to share the message.

William Parker’s song was inspired by the request of his Sunday School students to tell them more stories about Jesus. He picked several incidents to be included: how children were welcomed to the Saviour; how Jesus stilled a tempest on Galilee; His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem–and the involvement of children in that; and scenes of His suffering, first in Gethsemane, then on the cross of Calvary.

Fanny Crosby’s hymn conveys fewer specific details of the life of Christ. She presents His birth (CH-1) and, in one stanza (CH-2) His temptation, His earthly ministry, and His rejection. Then in CH-3 we have Christ’s death and resurrection, and the meaning of it to us. Typical of Fanny’s heart-oriented writing, the words suggest our adoring response to the Lord Jesus. It’s a “most precious” story, “sweetest that ever was heard.” (Amen!)

There is one little departure from the original lyrics in CH-2, line 2. “Tell of the days that are passed” used to be “Tell of the days that He passed [i.e. that Jesus passed in the wilderness].” And since the first four lines of the stanza have to do with this, it does make sense. Somewhere along the line, an editor made the change, without a valid reason, as far as I can see!

CH-2) Fasting alone in the desert,
Tell of the days that are past.
How for our sins He was tempted,
Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labour,
Tell of the sorrow He bore.
He was despised and afflicted,
Homeless, rejected and poor.

Finally, there is the death and resurrection of the Saviour, the central core and foundation of the gospel of grace. “Nor is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). “No other foundation can anyone lay” (I Cor. 3:11). As the Lord Jesus Himself declared, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14:6). The debt of our sin has been paid in full (Jn. 19:30). Now it is ours to accept the payment, as a free gift, through faith in Christ (Acts 16:31).

There is “love in that story so tender” (CH-3). God the Son was sent to this earth to die for sinners because “God so loved the world” (Jn. 3:16). We are saved through “the kindness and love of God” (Tit. 3:4-7). “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I Jn. 4:9). Or as Paul’s personal testimony has it, “The Son of God…loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). And absolutely nothing can separate the child of God from His love (Rom. 8:35-39).

And I can’t pass by without comment the line in CH-3, “Clearer than ever I see.” Fanny was blind. But her spiritual insight grew stronger as the years went by. She did not complain about her blindness, but rather embraced it as a blessing, saying:

“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

CH-3) Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain.
Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.

Questions:
1) Why is such amazing love rejected by many?

2) What is a fitting response to the love of God?


Links:

Wordwise Hymns (John Sweney)
The Cyber Hymnal


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