“Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee”

"In whom, though now ye se Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice…" (1 Pet. 1.8)

     INTRO.: A song which expresses great joy as a result of believing in Christ is "Jesus, The Very Thought Of Thee" (#49 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text is taken from "Dulcis Jesu memoria," a section of an anonymous Latin poem, Jubilus Rhythmicus de Nomine Jesu, which has long been attributed to a French monk, Bernard of Clarivaux, who was born at Les Fontaines near Dijon, France, around 1090. His life began in the castle of his father, a French knight who was a friend of the Duke of Burgundy and perished in the First Crusade.  After receiving his education at Chatillon, Bernard, with a group of about thirty other noblemen including an uncle and two brothers, entered the Cistercian monastery at Citeaux in 1112, due to the influence of his mother, a very religious woman. Three years later, in 1115, with twelve other monks he founded the monastery at Clairvaux, from which he later established sixty-eight more monasteries. A highly respected person in his day, he achieved a position of great influence. In 1130 he helped choose the pope, and in 1146, he was chosen by the pope to prepare the people for the Second Crusade. After its failure, he retired from public life.

     Around 1150 this poem, also called the Rosy Hymn or the Jubilee Rhythm, appeared. There is serious doubt today as to whether Bernard actually authored this work. However, it is generally agreed that, whoever wrote it, it does reflect the type of religion that characterized Bernard, with his mystic faith and emotional intensity. This sort of life was typical of the monks in Barnard’s day, and the hymn writers of his age were primarily monks. Two other hymns have been taken from this same poem, "O Jesus, King Most Wonderful" also translated by Edward Caswall, and "Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts" translated and paraphrased by Ray Palmer, author of "My Faith Looks Up To Thee." After writing a number of books, including works on church government, monasticism, and other religious topics, Bernard, whose own self-discipline was so sever that it permanently broke his health, died at Clairvaux on Aug. 20, 1153.

     The portion of the famous medieval poem which forms this hymn was translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878). The son of an Anglican minister who himself became an Anglican minister in 1840, he resigned his position to enter the Roman Catholic Church in 1847. His most significant work was the 1849 Lyra Catholica, which contained 197 English translations of Latin hymns, including this one, from the Roman Breviary and other sources. The tune (St. Agnes) was composed for these words by John Bacchus Dykes (1823-1876). It was first published at London, England, in Grey’s 1866 Hymnal for Use in the English Church. 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 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2 and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 (both with a different tune) edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.  Today it may be found in the 1971 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.

     The hymn mentions several reasons why we can find such great joy in Christ.

I. The first stanza reminds us that Jesus provides the sweetness for which we seek
"Jesus, the very thought of Thee With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see, And in Thy presence rest."
 A. Like the thought of water brooks to the panting deer, so should the thought of Jesus be to us: Psa. 42.1-2
 B. And those who hunger and thirst after righteousness can have their breasts filled with the sweetness of Christ: Matt. 5.6
 C. However, even sweeter is the prospect of seeing His face: 1 Jn. 3.1-2

II. The second stanza tells us that Jesus offers us the salvation that we need
"Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest name, O Savior of mankind!"
 A. What Jesus has done to provide salvation for us could never have entered the heart of man: 1 Cor. 2.9
 B. But all that Jesus has done to make salvation possible is summed up in the sweetness of His blest name: Acts 4.12
 C. And His name means that He is the Savior of mankind: Matt. 1.21

III. The third stanza says that Jesus gives us the hope for which we search
"O Hope of every contrite heart! O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind Thou art! How good to those who seek!"
 A. Jesus alone is the Hope of every contrite heart: Col. 1.27
 B. But that hope is given only to those who are meek: Matt. 5.5
 C. And this hope is attainable because His mercy makes possible to fallen mankind forgiveness of the sins that would keep us out of heaven: 1 Tim. 1.13-15

IV. The fourth stanza teaches that Jesus showers us with the love which we require
"But what to those who find? Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show–
The love of Jesus, what it is, None but His loved ones know."
 A. There are many spiritual blessings available for those who find Christ: Eph. 1.3
 B. All these blessings are the result of the great love which He had for us: Jn. 3.16
 C. This wonderful love of Jesus is so great that no tongue nor pen can tell the height, breadth, and length of it, yet His loved ones can comprehend the love that passes understanding: Eph. 3.17-19

V. The fifth stanza points out that Jesus is the source of the true prize for which we long
"Jesus, our only joy be Thou, As Thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be Thou our glory now, And through eternity."
 A. Jesus is our only joy because true joy can be found only in Him: Phil. 4.4
 B. And He holds out the prize toward which we press: Phil. 3.14
 C. Thus, we understand that our relationship with Christ benefits us both in the life which now is and in the life which is to come: 1 Tim. 4.8

     CONCL.: While the Bible certainly does not authorize monasticism, Bernard is considered an example of an uncorrupted life and true piety in an age when even "the church" had degenerated into great moral and spiritual decay. He may or may not have been the source of this hymn. But as we also live in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, we can still use these words to express the great joy of our relationship to the Lord as we say to Christ, "Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee."


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