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Words: Frederick Whitfield (b. Jan. 7, 1829; d. Sept. 13, 1904)
Music: Aurelia, by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (b. Aug. 14, 1810; d. Apr. 19, 1876)
Note: Frederick Whitfield (1829-1904) was an English clergyman who occasionally wrote hymns. He gave us O How I Love Jesus, and the present song about our spiritual needs, a hymn inspired by the words, “To you who believe, He is precious” (I Pet. 2:7).
This hymn runs into a problem common to some others, when the author tries to cover the whole range of spiritual experience in one hymn. No Christian can make his original first stanza a personal and present tense testimony, and sing:
“I need Thee, precious Jesus,
For I am full of sin;
My soul is dark and guilty,
My heart is dead within.”
No! This describes an unsaved person. But Christians possess everlasting life (Jn. 3:16). We aren’t “dead within.” “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). And in daily experience, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9).
Hymn editors have dealt with this problem variously. Some simply leave the first stanza of this hymn out. Another solution: about 30-40% of the old hymn books have the opening lines as: “I need Thee, precious Jesus, / For I am very poor.” Another hymn book has the following. (And notice the change of “Jesus” to “Saviour,” an alteration that is reflected in this case in the hymn’s title: I Need Thee, Precious Saviour–the title I have used.)
I need Thee, precious Saviour!
Oh, Thou art all to me;
Before the throne forever,
I stand complete in Thee.
This is far more biblical. And it’s the version I have used below. As to the tune, Aurelia, to which we also sing The Church’s One Foundation, works well, as does Munich, a tune also used with O Word of God Incarnate.
When we speak of our needs, we mean that which we believe is necessary for us to live and be happy. Sometimes, however, needs can be confused with greeds! To be greedy or covetous is to have an excessive craving for a thing–often something that is not good for us, or maybe not even our right to have.
But if we are speaking of true needs, we can identify many of them–such as the air we breathe. Psychologist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) made a study of the subject. In 1943 he wrote a significant paper about it, defining five levels of needs, forming a kind of pyramid.
At the base of Maslow’s pyramid were physical needs–for food, sleep, and so on. The next level described needs such as safety and security, the third, needs relating to love and friendship. The fourth level listed the need for the esteem and respect of others. Finally there was, he said, the need for “self-actualization,” by which he meant our need to fulfil our potential and live meaningful, fulfilling lives. Others have adapted Maslow’s theory, but it remains and interesting way to describe our needs as human beings. And, though the author was not a Christian, what he said is compatible with the Bible’s teaching.
God’s Word draws a line between needs and greeds. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have” (Heb. 13:5). The Lord also recognizes that we have certain basic needs. “Having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” (I Tim. 6:8).
The problem of focusing on physical needs (or greeds) and failing to deal with much more important things is illustrated by the Lord’s message to a church in the city of Laodicea. “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). Though the people were materially wealthy and self-satisfied, they were spiritual paupers!
So what is it we need in spiritual terms? Whatever it is, the Lord can supply it. “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3). Here are three areas to consider.
First, there’s the need for personal salvation. We need a new birth by God’s Spirit, received through faith in Christ. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). “As many as received Him [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born…of God” (Jn. 1:12-13; cf. 3:16).
Second, as believers, we have the need of God’s continuing care. We need His love and friendship, His sustaining grace (II Cor. 12:9), daily guidance (Ps. 23:2), and protection (II Tim. 4:18).
And finally, we have the need for satisfying and fulfilling service for the Lord (Gal. 5:13). “If anyone serves Me [Christ]…where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honour” (Jn. 12:26) .
1) I need Thee, precious Saviour!
Oh, Thou art all to me;
Before the throne, forever,
I stand complete in Thee.
Though Satan loud accuses,
Yet I can ever see
The blood of Christ most precious,
The sinner’s perfect plea.
CH-4) I need Thee, precious Jesus,
I need Thee, day by day,
To fill me with Thy fullness,
To lead me on my way;
I need Thy Holy Spirit,
To teach me what I am,
To show me more of Jesus,
To point me to the Lamb.”
1) What particular needs in your life is the Lord meeting today?
2) What do the service leaders at your church do when there is part of a hymn that unbiblical or unsuitable (not use the hymn, omit the problem stanza, print alternative words in the church bulletin, or…?)?