“I’ve Found a Friend”

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15.13)

     INTRO.: A song which refers to the love that Jesus had for us as our Friend to lay down His life for us is "I’ve Found A Friend" (#403 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #203 in Sacred Selections for the Church).  The text was written by James Grindlay Small, who was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1817, the son of George Small, and attended Edinburgh High School. Converted in 1834, he published two volumes of poetry, The Highlands and Other Poems in 1843, and Songs of the Vineyard in Days of Gloom and Sadness in 1846. Educated at the University of Edinburgh, he studied under Dr. Chalmers and became a minister of the Free Church of Scotland in 1847, serving at the Free Church of Bervie, near Montrose.

     Greatly interested in hymnology, Small published Hymns for Youthful Voices in 1859. His most famous hymn, "I’ve Found a Friend," was first published in The Revival Hymn Book, second series, in 1863. Originally entitled "Jesus, the Friend," it was later included in Small’s own Psalms and Sacred Songs of 1866. In 1875, Arthur S. Sullivan provided a melody (Constance–Sullivan) for it, but the tune (Friend) best known in this country was composed in 1878 by George Coles Stebbins (1846-1945). In January of that year, Stebbins, a well known gospel song composer of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, was assisting evangelist George F. Pentecost in a campaign being held at the Music Hall in Providence, RI.  His version of "I’ve Found A Friend" was first published later that year in Gospel Hymns No. 3, the first of that series in which Stebbins assisted Ira David Sankey (1840-1908).

     Stebbins also produced a couple of other melodies during this same engagement in Providence. One was the tune for "Must I Go, And Empty Handed?", using words penned the year before by Charles Carroll Luther (1847-1924). The other was his tune (Evening Prayer) that has come to be used with the hymn "Savior, Breathe an Evening Blessing," authored in 1820 by James Edmeston (1791-1867).  Other well known Stebbins melodies are used with "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling Thee Home" and "Take Time to Be Holy." Small died at Renfrew-on-the-Clyde, Scotland, on Feb. 11, 1888. 

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "I’ve Found a Friend" appeared in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater; and the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch. Today, it may be found in the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections. For reasons that I cannot fully explain–perhaps the encouraging nature of the words perfectly accented by Stebbins’s tune–this has always been one of my favorite hymns since my teenage days, though my experience has been that it is not very well known among brethren.

     This hymn offers several reasons why we can consider Jesus as our Friend.

I. According to stanza 1, Jesus is our Friend because He loves us
"I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend! He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love, And thus He bound me to Him.
And round my heart still closely twine Those ties which naught can sever,
For I am His and He is mine, Forever and forever."
 A. The inspired apostle John affirms over and over the great love which Jesus had for us: 1 Jn. 3.16
 B. This love should draw and bind us to Him as with cords just as God’s love was designed to lead Israel to God: Hos.11.4
 C. Such ties will closely twine around our hearts and never be severed if we determine to be faithful until death: Rev. 2.10

II. According to stanza 2, Jesus is our Friend because He died to save us
"I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend! He bled and died to save me;
And not alone the gift of life, But His own self He gave me.
Naught that I have my own I call; I hold it for the Giver:
My heart, my strength, my life, my all Are His, and His forever."
 A. Because of God’s love for us, Jesus died for us while we were still sinners: Rom. 5.8
 B. Those who have been saved by His love and death understand that nothing that we have is our own but but all things come from the Lord: 1 Chron. 29.14
 C. Therefore, we in return should love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength: Mk. 12.30

III. According to stanza 3, Jesus is our Friend because He is our Guard in this life
"I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend! All power to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course, And bring me safe to heaven.
Th’eternal glories stream afar To nerve my faint endeavor:
So now to watch, to work, to war, And then to rest forever."
 A. As the One who died to save us, Jesus has all power to protect us spiritually: Matt. 28.18-20
 B. His aim is that we might continue on our onward course and press on to gain the prize: Phil. 3.13-14
 C. To help motivate us, He sets the eternal glories before us that we might watch, work, and war, as we run the race: Heb. 12.1-2

IV. According to stanza 4, Jesus is our Friend because He is our Guide to eternal life
"I’ve found a Friend, oh, such a Friend! So kind, and true, and tender,
So wise a Counsellor and Guide, So mighty a Defender!
From Him who loves me now so well, What power my soul can sever?
Shall life or death, shall earth or hell? No! I am His forever."
 A. Jesus is certainly kind and true and tender because it is by His divine kindness and mercy that we can be saved: Tit. 3.4-5
 B. Also, He is a wise Counsellor and Guide, and a mighty Defender to aid us in our temptations: Heb. 2.17-18
 C. This great Friend will protect us so that if we follow Him, nothing can separate us from His love: Rom. 8.35-39

     CONCL.: It is good and pleasant to have friends in this life.  However, sometimes my earthly friends can forsake me. Even the best of friends can let me down on occasion, just as I may not always be the kind of friend to others that I should be. Yet, Jesus Christ will never forsake me nor let me down. Therefore, I should be ever thankful to God that in Jesus Christ "I’ve Found A Friend."


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