“I’ll Put Jesus First in My Life”

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…" (Matt. 6.33)

     INTRO.: A song which reminds us that Jesus and His righteousness must come first in our hearts is "I’ll Put Jesus First In My Life" (#142 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written and the tune (Jesus First) was composed both by James DeForest Murch, who was born on Oct. 23, 1892, at New Vienna, OH, in Clinton County, just outside of Highland County where I was raised (I was actually born at Clinton Memorial Hospital in Clinton County because my mother’s doctor practiced there, but my parents had always lived in nearby Highland County and were still living there at the time). His parents were Everett Delonzo and Ella Mallory Savage Murch. I have not been able to confirm all of the following information, but my grandfather, Glen Workman, who was a preacher in the Christian Church until 1956 when he left it and identified himself with the Lord’s church, told me that E. D. Murch preached at the South Liberty Church of Christ in Highland County, OH, for many years. This church is now one of the "17 Churches of Christ in Highland County," or independent Christian Churches which use instrumental music. However, my grandfather also said that when the instrument was first suggested, the majority of the church rejected it and those who favored it left to start the Fairview Church of Christ nearby. Furthermore, my paternal grandmother, Bertha McConnaughey Walker, told me that she was baptized at the South Liberty Church of Christ at age sixteen. Since she was born in 1896, that would mean that her baptism occurred in 1912, and she said that at that time there was still no instrumental music there.  I do not know what convictions E. D. Murch had, if any, on the matter, but following the U. S. Census separation of the churches of Christ and the Christian Church in 1906, James D. Murch became identified with the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ (instrumental). After attending Ohio University beginning in 1912, he married Olive Cameron in 1915, and they had one son, James DeForest Murch II.   Also in 1915, he became a minister among the Christian Churches.  One of the churches with which he worked for many years was the Westwood-Cheviot Church of Christ in Cincinnati, OH. However, he must have felt a strong kinship to (non-instrumental) churches of Christ. 

     Once while addressing a Christian Church on unity, Murch was approached by an elder of a non-instrumental congregation with a suggestion that the spirit which he showed might promote unity between the two groups. This brought him in contact with Claude E. Witty of the Westside-Central church of Christ in Detroit, MI , and the two launched a series of "unity meetings," such as the one at Indianapolis, IN, in 1939 at which Daniel Sommer was in attendance and led prayer. The Murch-Witty meetings generally were supported by the Christian Churches but opposed, and I believe with good reason, by the churches of Christ.  While we would consider Murch a "liberal" since he endorsed the use of instrumental music in worship and other departures which we associate with the Christian Church, in his own time and among his brethren, he was considered pretty much of a "conservative," because the Christian Church was in the process of dividing again into the Christian Churches which wished to remain semi-independent and the Disciples of Christ which were moving toward a more denominational organization. He served on the "Commission on Restudy of the Disciples of Christ," which was created in 1934 in hopes of restoring peace between these two groups. However, in 1944, the International Convention of Disciples elected as president an outspoken advocate of open membership, the practice of receiving unimmersed members from "other denominations" without requiring them to be immersed, whereas Murch and others took the position that unimmersed beleivers should not be received as members into a congregation without requiring them to be immersed. In 1948, the Commission gave its final report, but its suggestions were basically ignored, and for all practical purposes the Christian Church became a separate fellowship from the Disciples that year. In addition to his preaching and other church work, Murch was a writer. For many years, he served on the editorial staff of the Christian Standard, one of the most popular magazines among the more conservative Christian Churches, and his book Christians Only, was put out by the Standard Publishing Co. of Cincinnati, OH, in 1962. This history of the "Restoration Movement" and Christian Churches is considered a classic, especially from the standpoint of the Christian Church.

     Also, Murch held editorial positions with other journals, such as Something Doing, The Lookout, Restoration Herald, Christian Endeavor Quarterly, Christian Action, Christian Unity Quarterly, and Christian Home Life. So far as I know, his only foray into hymnwriting produced the song, "I’ll Put Jesus First In My Life." It is said to have come out of his experiences with what he considered liberalism and worldliness in the church. Almost despairing, one night in 1933 he awoke thinking about Rom. 12.1-2, and resolved on a plan of consecration, restudy of the scriptures, and experimental action, out of which arose the personal commitment of putting Jesus first in everything. The words came to him at 3:00 in the morning. The song was completed and copyrighted that year.  In his later years, Murch, while remaining firmly within the Christian Church, took on the challenge to get the "orthodox" in Christian Churches and Churches of Christ to recognize other "conservatives" in the denominational world, and vice versa. He held editorial positions with United Evangelical Action and Christianity Today magazine, both outside the Stone-Campbell tradition. His growing desire for closer affiliation and unity with the broader evangelical Protestant community often placed him in opposition to what he viewed as the more "sectarian and reactionary elements" in his fellowship. His autobiography was entitled Adventuring for Christ in Changing Times. After his retirment in 1962 at the age of seventy, he supervised the indexing of the Christian Standard, became a visiting lecturer throughout the United States, remained active with the North American Christian Convention, and continued to write a weekly column in the Christian Standard, the last installment of which coincided with the release of his obituary following his death in Cincinnati on June 16, 1973. Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "I’ll Put Jesus First In My Life" appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson. Today, it may be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand, in addition to Sacred Selections.

     The song gives us several reasons why we should put Jesus first in our lives.

I. Stanza 1 says that we should put Jesus first because friendship with the world is enmity with Him
"The world all about me has now no allure: Its pleasures bring pain, its wisdom is vain;
I seek a foundation that’s steadfast and sure: I’ll put Jesus first in my life."
 A. Though there will always be temptations, the world should hold less and less allure for Christians because we are striving not to be conformed to this world but be transformed: Rom. 12.1-2
 B. While there are pleasures in sin, we recognize that in reality they bring pain so we reject them: Heb. 11.24-25
 C. Instead, we seek the foundation that is steadfast and sure because it is Christ Himself: 1 Cor. 3.11

II. Stanza 2 says that we should put Jesus first because salvation is found only in Him
"The Lord Jesus died my salvation to win: He went in my stead to Calvary and bled;
Redemption impels me to give up all sin: I’ll put Jesus first in my life."
 A. Because of God’s love, Jesus died to make salvation possible: Rom. 5.8
 B. The price that He paid for our atonement was the blood that He shed on the cross of Calvary: 1 Pet. 1.18-19
 C. Therefore, we must give up sin and put Jesus first to have the redemption that He offers: Eph. 1.7

III. Stanza 3 says that we must put Jesus first in order to receive a home in heaven
"I know there’s a home for the ransomed and blessed, When death is no more, When struggle is o’er,
For those who love Jesus and give Him their best: I’ll put Jesus first in my life."
 A. Jesus is now preparing us a home where all the ransomed and blessed can live eternally: Jn. 14.1-3
 B. God’s people will achieve this reward when the struggles of this life are over and death is no more: 1 Cor. 15.20-26, 50-57
 C. However, this wonderful blessing is available only to those who put Jesus first thus showing that they love Him with all their heart: Matt. 22.37

IV. Stanza 4 says that we must put Jesus first in order to have God’s guidance and protection
"Though earth’s tribulations continue each day, Though pleasures may call, though evil enthrall,
His grace will protect me forever and aye: I’ll put Jesus first in my life."
 A. As long as we live upon this earth there will be tribulations: Acts 14.22
 B. Pleasures will continue to call as many around us will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God: 2 Tim. 3.4
 C. However, God’s grace, made available to us through His word, will protect us forever and aye (this word is pronounced like eye when it means yes, but as a long a sound when it means eternally) by providing us a way of escape: Acts 20.32, 1 Cor. 10.13
     CONCL.: The chorus continues to challenge us to dedicate our lives first and foremost to doing the will of Jesus Christ:
"In all that I say, in all that I do, Throughout the world of toil and strife,
By day and by night, through trust in His might, I’ll put Jesus first in my life."
One other personal note that may not be of interest to you but it is to me. My grandfather told me that when Murch had basically left full-time local church work and was with the Christian Standard in Cincinnati, he came out to Highland County on Sundays to preach for the Union Chapel Church of Christ (instrumental), where the Workman family then attended (some of my relatives are still there). In my possession, I have a copy of a little Daily Reader’s Pocket New Testament, American Standard Version, made for the Standard Publishing Co. by Thomas Nelson and Sons, with the handwritten inscription, "Presented to MARY ELLEN WORKMAN, Baptized into Christ Oct. 13, 1940, Union Church of Christ, James DeForest Murch, Minister, Rom. 12:1, 2." Mary Ellen Workman married Ernest B. Walker at the Union church building in 1952. She was my mother and passed from this life in 1994. However, it was from her teaching that I learned many of the principles which have helped me to determine that "I’ll Put Jesus First In My Life."


2 thoughts on ““I’ll Put Jesus First in My Life”

  1. I came across this article while searching the web for a sound track for “I’ll Put Jesus First In My Life” to use in a worship service. Upon closer examination of my (old) hymnbook, I saw that James DeForest Murch was the author of the hymn and I was moved to dig deeper. Thanks so much for the commentary… James was a profound influence upon me while attending Bible college in the 1960’s. His books, articles and lectures helped me formulate an approach to the various divisions and unities in the Church of our time. The Lord’s prayer for unity in John 17 constantly reminded me of the priority we must place upon any related discussion or teaching, and forced me to work at discerning the difference between personal preferences and doctrinal fundamentals. In some fifty years of ministry, I have served in both instrumental and acapella congregations, and have come to see the advantages of both. My heart’s desire is that someday both will come to love and value each other in the Spirit. Having said all that, I will be forever indebted to this man for the contributions he made to the Restoration Movement.


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