Hymn Stories: “My Jesus, I Love Thee”

 

Many of our great hymns of the faith have heart-warming histories. Born out of the daily struggle, toil, and victory of saints before us, they ring through the ages with truth.

Here is the story behind the timeless hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee.”

With its poignant lyrics and simple melody, this sweet hymn has become a favourite with many Christians. But did you know that it was actually penned by a Canadian teenager? 
 

Background

On July 24, 1846, William Ralph Featherston was born in Montréal, Canada, to Methodist parents. His family attended the Wesleyan Methodist Church. As a young man, William accepted Christ as his personal Saviour. Join us at our Baptist church in Cape Breton to learn how you can do this, too.
 

The Hymn’s Lyrics

Even at his young age, William’s love for the Lord was unusually deep and mature. As you read through the first stanza of his famous hymn (first written as a devotional poem), you can see his desire to please God. He realized that, in order to love Jesus, he would have to give up personal sin and deny himself.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;

For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;

My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
 

In the second stanza, he explored the wondrous truth of the gospel. He expressed his deep thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice.

I love Thee because Thou hast first loved me,

And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;

I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
 

With all the strength and fervour of his youth, he purposed to praise his Saviour with every breath he took. 

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,

And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;

And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now. 
 

As he closed the hymn, William looked forward with eyes of faith to the day when he’d see Jesus face to face.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,

I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;

I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow,

If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.
 

How It Became Famous

According to some historians, young Featherston mailed the poem to his aunt in Los Angeles. Recognizing its potential, she submitted it for publication. It first appeared in print (though anonymously) in The London Hymn Book in 1864. 

Sadly, William’s time on earth was short-lived. At the tender age of 27, he entered the presence of the One he loved so much, Jesus Christ. History tells us that he may have left behind a wife and young child. But he also gave us the legacy of a cherished hymn.

Several years after William’s death, Adoniram Judson Gordon (named after the famous missionary) added a melody and re-published it. Later, he composed a new melody for the lyrics and published it in its modern-day form in the 1876 hymnal The Service of Song for Baptist Churches.

Since then, it has become a favourite with believers across the world. Its clear and honest lyrics are the testimony of a heart that loves Jesus. At our Baptist church in Cape Breton, this hymn is one of our favourites.

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Have you ever sung the hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee”? Join the friendly church family of Northside Baptist Church on Sundays at 11:00 am. 

For more information, call 902-304-4707 or email northside1178@gmail.com  
 
AUTHOR BIO: 
Claudine Broussard is a Cape Breton based musician, the social media director of ForwardMarketing.ca, and coauthor of Seeking Jesus: Stepping Into a Life of Bold Surrender, Freedom, and Deep Joy.