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Words: (author unknown)
Music: Pilot, by John Edgar Gould (b. Apr. 9, 1821; d. Mar. 4, 1875)
Note: In 1837, an anonymous writer published a children’s hymn called a Dialogue Hymn. In it, a Sunday School teacher questions the children of the class. “Children, can you tell us why Jesus came from heaven to die?” Then comes the response, in song, “Teacher, yes, for us He came?” This early children’s song evolved over the years, into a more standard format. By 1903 it had become Children, Can You Tell Me Why? borrowing the tune (by John Gould) of another hymn, Jesus, Saviour, Pilot Me.
Why? It’s a question we have met a number of times in this blog. That’s not surprising, since the subject here is the hymns and gospel songs of the church, and many of them ask that question. One of the largest collections of hymns on the Internet, the Cyber Hymnal lists over 11,000 hymns, and about fifty of the titles begin with the word “why.”
There are good reasons for this. For one thing, our hymn writers are dealing with an infinitely wonderful God, whose person and doings are largely incomprehensible to us puny mortals. The Lord has given us a revelation of Himself in Christ, and through the Scriptures. But questions remain. Why does God say this? Why does He do that? The more we come to know, the more we realize how much is yet beyond us. Job says it well.
“Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him!” (Job 26:14).
There’s another reason we use the why question. Because it can be a teaching tool. It challenges the listener to think, to reason through to a conclusion, and perhaps to make a personal response to what is presented.
The Lord Jesus asked, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Lk. 6:46). Good question! Then there’s the angelic question at the tomb, on Easter Sunday morning, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Lk. 24:5). And the apostle’s query, “Why do you judge your brother. Or why do you show contempt for your brother?” (Rom. 14:10).
As to our hymns and gospel songs, a few examples will show how the authors have used the question to stir up a response. One song asks, Why Do I Sing About Jesus? Another, Why Should He Love Me So? And still another (a chorus), Why Worry When You Can Pray?
It makes an interesting exercise to reverse questions such as these, and consider the implications. Why not sing about Jesus? If we don’t want to praise Him, it may be because we do not know Him, and what He has done for us. Why should He not love me? There are lots of reasons there. The Bible describes us as rebel sinners, and as enemies of God, yet He loves us (Rom. 5:8, 10). Why not keep worrying, instead of committing things to God in prayer? It seems so foolish and illogical, stated that way, but we do it more than we’d like to admit.
The present hymn no longer catechizes the children, but instructs them. And though the Victorian prose might take some explaining to children today, there is Bible truth here, about the love of Christ, and His sacrifice on the cross to pay our debt of sin.
“He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:8-9; cf. Jn. 3:16; I Cor. 15:3; Gal. 2:20).
1) Children, can you tell me why
Jesus came to bleed and die?
He was happy high above,
Dwelling in His Father’s love,
Yet He left His joy and bliss,
For a wicked world like this.
3) We were all by sin undone,
Yet He loved us, ev’ry one;
So to earth He kindly came,
On the cross to bear our shame,
And to wash away our guilt
In the precious blood He spilt.
4) He who for our sins was slain,
Lives and dwells above again,
Where He’s waiting to receive
All who will His love believe:
This, dear children, this is why
Jesus came to bleed and die.
1) How would you explain to a child why Jesus came to earth?
2) What is the biggest “why” question you’re facing in your own life at the present time?