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Words: William James Gaither (b. Mar. 28, 1936)
Music: William James Gaither
Note: Bill Gaither graduated from Ball State University with a Masters degree. He majored in English, with a minor in music. After graduating, he taught high school for a number of years. It was around the time when he was teaching school that he started writing and performing gospel music, and he credits his wife Gloria with helping him a great deal with creating the lyrics. Bill and Gloria have contributed many gospel songs to the Christian community over the past fifty years or so.
The present song was written in 1963. It has been recorded by Elvis and others, and you can see examples of the renditions on YouTube. Often those performing it sing with closed eyes, sweat, or tears, and sort of a sensual moan (“O-o-oh! He touched me!”). Sorry, but this kind of dramatic play-acting (because I’m sure sometimes that’s what it is) leaves me cold. And some of the fault must fall on the song itself.
It was widely popular in years gone by, perhaps because it focuses on an experience and attending emotions, while being doctrinally vague and saying nothing about repentance and faith, the cross, the efficacy of the shed blood of Christ, or the new birth through the Holy Spirit. It speaks of a life of misery becoming joyful. Who wouldn’t be in favour of that? It’s a message that offends nobody.
Many times the Gospels speak of the touch of Christ, while He was on earth. In most cases this relates to the person’s physical healing from some disease or condition. For example:
¤ The healing of leprosy. “Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matt. 8:3).
¤ The healing of a fever. “Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them” (Matt. 8:14-15).
¤ The healing of blindness. “Then He touched their eyes [the eyes of two blind men], saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’ And their eyes were opened” (Matt. 9:29-30).
¤ The healing of deafness and an inability to speak. “And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue. Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly” (Mk. 7:33-35).
¤ The healing of a wound. “One of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, ‘Permit even this.’ And He touched his ear and healed him” (Lk. 22:50-51).
These were acts of mercy, and of supernatural power. They were also intended as a confirmation of the Lord’s identity as the promised Messiah (Isa. 35:4-6; cf. Matt. 11:2-6; Acts 2:22). But the “touch” related to physical contact and physical need. Never, to my knowledge, did Jesus convert someone, or deliver an individual from demon possession by a touch. The latter was a battle with spirit forces (cf. Eph. 6:12). No, the touch of Jesus related to the physical realm.
But that is not what Gaither is referring to. “He [the Lord Jesus] touched me.” Likely we’re to understand this in a symbolic or spiritual sense. He touched my life, made contact with me, and ministered to me, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. He touched me spiritually and I was saved. He touched me and I was converted. But none of that is explained in the song.
Yes, the unsaved are in bondage to sin and Satan, and weighed down by “a load of guilt and shame.” But the gospel is that “Christ died for our sins” (I Cor. 15:3). “ In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts. 16:31). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).
That is the message fallen sinners need to hear. And I’m sure Bill and Gloria Gaither know that, and have accepted Christ’s wonderful salvation for themselves. It’s simply not conveyed in any clear way, in this song.
So, would I ever use the song? Unlikely, but maybe under certain circumstances. It would have to be surrounded by other songs that have a clearer message, or introduced by a sufficient explanation. Used with Christians who know their Bibles, its metaphor would be more apparent. It does speak of the transformation the Lord accomplishes in a life. But, in my view, to those who need its message most, it says far too little.
1) Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame.
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same.
He touched me, Oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole.
1) Is this a song you would use? (Why? Or why not?)
2) How would you explain the meaning of the Lord’s “touch” to a non-Christian?