"JESUS, MEEK AND GENTLE"
"For I am meek and lowly in heart…" (Matt. 11.29)
INTRO.: A hymn which pictures Christ, our Mediator through whom we come to the Father, as meek and lowly in heart is "Jesus, Meek And Gentle" (#211 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #133 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by George Rundell Prynne, who was born at West Looe in Cornwall, England, on Aug. 23, 1818, the son of John Allen Prynne. Following his education at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, from which he graduated in 1839, he became a minister in the Church of England beginning in 1841. In 1848, he began serving at St. Peter’s in Plymouth, England, where he remained the rest of his life. This hymn was produced in 1856 at his home at Plymouth on a summer’s evening when his wife was playing on the piano to him from his favorite composers.
As she played, the words came to his mind, so he took an old envelope from his pocket and scribbled the verses on the back. They were first published in his Hymnal Suited for the Services of the Church in 1858. Then in 1861, the hymn was used in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, thus passing into popular use both in England and America. A short time after its publication, Prynne went for a vacation in Rome, Italy, and was asked to preach in the English Church there. When the time came for selecting the hymns to go with his lesson, he was surprised to find his own hymn in the book, having made its way to Rome so soon.
Later, the hymn was also included in Prynne’s 1881 work The Dying Soldier and Other Poems. It had originally begun, "Jesu, Meek and Gentle," but the author made the mistake of inadvertantly passing the proof sheets for The Soldier’s Dying Vision with the opening line, "Jesus, Meek and Gentle." This has been continued in most subsequent hymnbooks, although some still use the original. The tune (Downston Castle) was composed in 1891 by a nineteenth-century English musician who served as music director at the Wesleyan Chapel in Delph, England, named Clarence Hudson (1857-1893). It first appears in his Oldham Psalmody. Prynne died at Plymouth on Mar. 25, 1903.
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1936 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1917 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.
The hymn presents Jesus as a pitying, loving Savior whom we can trust as our Advocate with the Father.
I. Stanza 1 asks Him to hear our cry
"Jesus, meek and gentle, Son of God most high,
Pitying, loving Savior, Hear Thy children’s cry."
A. Throughout the scriptures, Jesus is pictured as one who is "meek and gentle": Zech. 9.9, Matt. 21.4-5, 2 Cor. 10.1
B. Yet, He is also identified as the "Son of God most high": Matt. 16.15-16, Jn. 20.30-31
C. While we are taught to pray to the Father, we pray in the name of Christ, and He has promised that those who pray in His name will be heard: Jn. 14.13-14
II. Stanza 2 asks Him to pardon our offenses
"Pardon our offenses, Loose our captive chains,
Break down every idol Which our soul detains."
A. All responsible human beings, including Christians, have offenses because we sin against God: Matt. 18.7-9, Rom. 3.23
B. Because the blood of Jesus Christ makes possible our forgiveness, one of the most important things that we can pray for is cleansing: Jas. 5.15-16, 1 Jn. 1.7-9
C. But we must also ask God through Christ to help us "break down every idol which our soul detains" that we might do better in the future than in the past: Mt. 6.12-13, 1 Jn. 5.21
III. Stanza 3 asks Him to give us holy freedom
"Give us holy freedom, Fill our hearts with love;
Draw us, holy Jesus, To the realms above."
A. Once we have been pardoned, we need to pray for God’s help to remain free from sin: Rom. 6.7-18
B. We also need to pray for God to fill our hearts with love and all that which will keep us from temptation: Eph. 5.1-6, Col. 3.12-14
C. And we need to pray that He will draw us to the realms above by helping us to set our affections there: Col. 3.1-2
IV. Stanza 4 asks Him to lead us on our journey
"Lead us on our journey, Be Thyself the way,
Through terrestrial darkness To celestial day."
A. Indeed, this life is a journey in which we must continually press on: Phil. 3.12-14
B. And in this journey, Christ Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: Jn. 14.6
C. Therefore, we should pray that He surely will guide us in the right way so that we can be with Him and the Father eternally in that land of "celestial day": Rev. 21.22-27
CONCL.: It was a common custom for hymnwriters in the nineteenth century to repeat the first stanza of a hymn as a final stanza, and some books do that with this hymn. Therefore, I have taken it in hand to repeat the thought of the first stanza but in different words for a fifth stanza:
"Jesus, mild and lowly, Son of Man art Thou;
Tender, patient Shepherd, Hear Thy people now."
This hymn has been in nearly every songbook published by members of the Lord’s church, but at least in my experience it has been rarely sung. Many have supposed that it was written for children. Prynne himself said that the hymn was not written specifically for children. However, he also said that it makes just as good a hymn for little ones as adults because most of us are children only "larger grown." And it is true that all of us, whether young or old, must learn to trust in "Jesus, Meek and Gentle."