Posted by: rcottrill | August 13, 2014

Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I Know

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Words: Lela B. Long (b. _____, 1896; d. _____, 1951)
Music: Lela B. Long

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Note: The refrain of this touching gospel song is more widely known than the full text, but it’s good to see that all of it has been included in a number of hymn books. The song has a personal connection to me–albeit a remote one. Dr. Peter Philpott (1865-1957), a fundamentalist pastor, was one of the founders of the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada, an evangelical denomination with which I served for many years. I heard him preach on one occasion, when he was in his eighties.

We know virtually nothing about Lela Long, other than the incident that inspired this hymn. But it is certainly worth recounting.

In 1924 P. W. Philpott was serving as pastor of the great Moody Church in Chicago. One night he was awakened from sleep by a call to come and help a young woman staying at a hotel in the city. He arrived to find her in the company of two family members. The woman, whose name was Lela Long, was gravely ill and in great distress. Dr. Philpott prayed for her physical needs, and had the privilege of leading her to faith in Christ that night.

Late the next day, he phoned the hotel to see how she was doing, only to learn that the three had checked out. He wondered what had become of them, but had no way of getting in touch. For a long time, it remained an unfinished story, but it’s a story that came to a wonderful conclusion.

Several years went by after the events described above. By that time, Peter Philpott was serving as pastor of a large church in Los Angeles. At the close of one service, who should come up to him but the three people he had met in Chicago five or six years previously. They had seen his picture in a church advertisement and had come to meet him.

An emergency had necessitated their rapid departure from Chicago, and they apologized for not getting in touch. The young woman thanked him for pointing her to the Saviour, saying that her life was wonderfully changed, and that she was now using her musical talent to serve the Lord. She handed Pastor Philpott a copy of her song Jesus Is the Sweetest Name I Know, written in 1924, shortly after her conversion. She said, “I have written this especially for you, in remembrance of the day that you introduced me to the most wonderful Person I have ever known.”

The name “Jesus” appears in the New Testament nearly a thousand times, beginning with the first verse of Matthew, and ending with the last verse of the book of Revelation. Can there be any doubt that He is the central theme, the One the writers want to present to us above all.

The name Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, means Jehovah [the Lord] is salvation. It was what Joseph was instructed to call the Baby, because “He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:18). It’s a name particularly associated with His saving work (Acts 16:31; I Thess. 5:9; I Tim. 1:15; II Tim.. 2:10; 3:15).

But there is something more. The name “Jesus” is also connected to His incarnation, and His earthly life and ministry, in a broader sense. About two thirds of the times it is used are found in the four Gospels. Thus it is the name of His humble condescension, and of His close friendship and fellowship with us. It still has that feeling for many of us. Though I most often prefer to call Him the Lord Jesus, as believers often did in the days of the early church (e.g. Acts 1:21; 4:33; 7:59; 9:17, 29, etc.), the name “Jesus,” by itself, still has a warmth of intimacy.

In the Song of Solomon, the Shulamite maiden says of her beloved, “Your name is ointment [or perfume] poured forth” (S.S. 1:3). The bridegroom in this romantic poem is King Solomon, and he is often seen as a type or illustration of Christ, with his betrothed providing a picture of the church. Drawing on that secondary application of this oriental poetry we could say that to speak the name of Jesus is like filling the air with fragrant perfume.

It’s interesting that the Word of God tells us that Christ’s sacrifice is, to God the Father, “a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). And when Christians proclaim the gospel message, and tell others about the Lord Jesus Christ, they too are permeated with this spiritual fragrance attached to the person and work of Christ.

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (II Cor. 2:14-15).

CH-1) There have been names that I have loved to hear,
But never has there been a name so dear
To this heart of mine, as the name divine,
The precious, precious name of Jesus.

Jesus is the sweetest name I know,
And He’s just the same as His lovely name,
And that’s the reason why I love Him so;
Oh, Jesus is the sweetest name I know.

Lela Long has used the word “sweet” in one of its accepted meanings–pleasing to the ear. It can also mean lovely, or admirable, as seems to be the sense in many other hymns (e.g. Sweet Hour of Prayer, How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds).

1) “Sweet” is perhaps not a word many would use to describe Jesus today in conversation. If you’re not comfortable with it, what word would you use instead?

2) How can you be an effective “fragrance of Christ,” today?

Wordwise Hymns
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