“My Jesus, I Love Thee”

"We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4.19)

     INTRO.: A song which reminds us of what Jesus did for us because He loved us and of our responsibility in loving Him is "My Jesus, I Love Thee" (#110 in Hymns for Worship Revised and #28 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text is attributed to William Ralph Featherston (sometimes spelled Featherstone), who was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on July 23, 1846, the son of John and Mary Stephenson Featherston. He seems to have spent his entire life in Montreal. Very little information about him is available except that he and his parents were members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Montreal, which later became the St. James Methodist Church, and is now the St. James United Church. Some books give the date of this hymn as 1858 with the statement that the author was sixteen years old at the time. However, if the date is correct, the author was only 12 years old. If the age of the author is correct, then the date should be 1862.

     It is now generally believed that the young Featherstone penned these words about a week after his conversion at age sixteen, which would make the correct date 1862. He then sent the poem to his aunt, Mrs. E. Featherston Wilson of Los Angeles, CA, who liked it and suggested its publication, which occurred in the Primitive Methodist Magazine in 1862.  It is reported that the original copy of the hymn, in the author’s own handwriting, is still a cherished treasure in the family. Somehow, the text first appeared as a hymn anonymously with another tune in The London Hymn Book, published in England in 1864, and by 1868 had made its way into American collections, such as Dwight L. Moody’s Northwestern Hymn Book. The tune (Gordon or Caritas) commonly used today was composed by Adoniram Judson Gordon (1836-1895). Born in New Hampshire, he became minister with the Clarnedon St. Bpatist Church of Boston, MA.

     While working on assembling a new hymnbook for Baptist churches, Gordon discovered the words of Featherston’s hymn, still printed anonymously, in an 1870 hymnbook and was attrected to the text but was dissatisfied with the existing melody. So he later provided a new one and the hymn in its present form first appeared in the 1876 edition of The Service of Song for Baptist Churches, compiled by Gordon and S. L. Caldwell in Boston. However, by then, Featherson had already died on May 20, 1873, at Montreal. For a long time, he was not given credit for writing the words, and many hymnbooks simply stated, "By an unknown author." But by around 1930 enough research had been done to establish his authorship.

     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 1938 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 1966 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 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, Sacred Selections, and the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat.

     The songs presents a number of reasons why we should love Jesus who first loved us.

I. In stanza 1 we learn that we should love Jesus because His love for us led Him to become our Redeemer and Savior
"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."
 A. The song says, "Thou art mine." Jesus came, not for Himself, but for us: 1 Tim. 1.15
 B. He is our gracious Redeemer, who paid the price to buy us back for God: Gal. 4.4
 C. And He is our Savior who takes away our sins: Matt. 1.21

II. In stanza 2 we learn that we should love Jesu because in His love for us He was willing to die for us
"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."
 A. Certainly, no one can doubt the depth of Jesus’ love as shown in His death: 1 Jn. 3.16
 B. Because of His love, He purchased our pardon on Calvary’s tree: Lk. 23.33, 1 Pet. 2.24
 C. He was even willing to wear the crown of thorns: Mk. 15.16-20

III. In stanza 3 we learn that we should love Jesus because by his love He promises to be with us in both life and death
"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.’"
 A. We should love Him in life by living for Him: Gal. 2.20
 B. We should also love Him in death by being prepared to die in the Lord: Rev. 14.13
 C. Thus, we shouild determine that we will manifest the love of Christ in our lives whether in life or in death, as did Paul: Phil. 1.20

IV. In stanza 4 we learn that we shouild love Jesus because His love makes it possible for us to have the hope of heaven
"In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with with the glittering crown on my brow:
‘If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.’"
 A. Jesus is now preparing His people mansions of glory in endless delight: Jn. 14.1-3
 B. These mansions are in heaven so bright: 1 Pet. 1.3-4
 C. And when we get there, we can sing with the glittering crown on our brow: Rev. 2.10

     CONCL.: The spiritual depth of this hymn seems the more unusual when we realize that it was written by a teenager. Yet the words are so uncomplicated that they seem to have been written by one with a child-like faith and hope. I can join with believers of every generation and culture can employ such a song as I praise the Lord, saying, "My Jesus, I Love Thee."


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