“O To Be Like Thee”

"But we all…are changed into the same image from glory to glory…" (2 Cor. 3.18)

     INTRO.: A song which makes a request of the Lord for His help that we might be changed into the image of Christ is "O To Be Like Thee" (#97 in Hymns for Worship Revised, and #255 in Sacred Selections for the Church). The text was written by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm, who was born in a humble log cabin in Simpson County, KY near Franklin, on July 29, 1866.  Receiving a meager education, he made good use of his opportunities.  Without high school or any other advanced training, he began teaching school at the age of sixteen in the little country schoolhouse where he had received his own education. At the age of 21, he became associate editor of his hometown newspaper, the Franklin Favorite. Six years later, in 1893, he was converted during a religious meeting conducted in Franklin by Henry Clay Morrison, who later was the founder of Asbury College and Theological Seminary, a Methodist school, at Wilmore, KY. 

     At Morrison’s invitation Chisholm moved to Louisville, KY, to become office editor and business manager of Morrison’s magazine, the Pentecostal Herald. Also during this time, Chisholm began writing religious poetry. In all, he produced over 1,200 poems, more than 800 of which appeared in religious periodicals, with quite a number being used as hymn texts. Describing his purpose in his poetry, Chisholm once said, "I have sought to be true to the Word, and to avoid flippant and catchy titles and treatment. I have greatly desired that each hymn or poem might have some definite message to the hearts for whom it was written." Some of his more famous hymns include "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" with William M. Runyan, "Only in Thee" with Charles H. Gabriel, "The Only Way" with Samuel W. Beazley, "Living for Jesus" with C. Harold Lowden, and several with Gospel Advocate music editor L. O. Sanderson.

     "O To Be Like Thee," Chisholm’s first hymn to be widely received, dates from 1897. The tune (Rondinella) was composed for it by William James Kirkpatrick (1838-1921). It was first published that year in Kirkpatrick’s Young People’s Hymnal, a collection for youth in the Methodist Church Church, South. In 1903, Chisholm decided to become a Methodist minister and joined the Louisville Methodist Conference.  However, after one year with a church in Scottsville, KY, his health failed, and he spent the next five years with his family on a farm near Winona Lake, IN. About 1909, he became a life insurance agent in Winona Lake and remained in this same work after moving his family to Vineland, NJ, in 1916, all the while continuing with his poetry and hymns. Retiring in New Jersey in 1953, he spent his final years in the Methodist Home for the Aged at Ocean Grove, NJ, where he died on Feb. 29, 1960.

     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 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 1983 edition of the 1978 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 mentions several ways in which we should strive to be like Jesus.
I. In stanza 1 we are told that we should gladly forfeit all of earth’s treasures
"O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer: This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear."
 A. Jesus is our blessed Redeemer, in whose blood we have redemption from sin: Eph. 1.7
 B. Having the mind of our Redeemer means that we must be imitators of Him who was willing to forfeit all the treasures of heaven to come to this earth and die for us: Phil. 2.5-8
 C. This is necessary to wear His perfect likeness as we become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world: 2 Pet. 1.4

II. In stanza 2 we are told that we should be full of compassion and love to help others
"O to be like Thee! full of compassion, Loving, forgiving, tender, and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting, Seeking the wandering sinner to find."
 A. We are taught to walk in love for others just as Christ Himself loved us by giving Himself as a sacrifice for our sins: Eph. 5.1-2
 B. This love will prompt us to help the helpless because Christ bore the infirmities of the weak: Rom. 15.1-3
 C. It also means that we will strive to seek to find the wandering sinner because Christ came to seek and save the lost: Lk. 19.10

III. In stanza 3 we are told that we should be lowly in spirit and meek to endure suffering
"O to be like Thee! lowly in spirit, holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches, Willing to suffer others to save."
 A. Over and over the Bible teaches us about the importance of being humble and lowly: Eph. 4.1-2
 B. This lowliness will lead us to endure with meekness the cruel reproaches that Christ said would be hurled against His disciples: Matt. 5.10-12
 C. Again, we see that this was the attitude of Him who left us an example that we should follow in His steps when He was called upon to suffer: 1 Pet. 2.21-23

IV. In stanza 4 we are told that we should come to bring all that we are and have to the Lord
"O to be like Thee! Lord, I am coming, Now to receive th’anointing divine.
All that I am and have I am bringing; Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine."
 A. Jesus wants us to come to Him: Matt. 11.28-30
 B. To come unto Him, we must bring Him all that we are and have, first giving ourselves to the Lord: 2 Cor. 8.5
 C. Since Jesus gave His all, including His life, in order that He might be our Savior, we ought to be willing to give our all to Him in living soberly, righteously, and godly: Tit. 2.11-14

V. In stanza 5 we are told that we should seek to have the Spirit of Christ
"O to be like Thee! while I am pleading, Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love.
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling; Fit me for life and heaven above."
 A. It is possible that one reason why this stanza has been omitted in all of our books is that editors may have been a little afraid that a stanza which asks the Lord, "Pour out Thy Spirit," might be thought of as asking for some direct operation of the Holy Spirit in a Pentecostal, Charismatic, or otherwise denominational sense. However, the New Testament teaches that Christians are to be filled with the Spirit: Eph. 5:18. Therefore, we should be able to sing this statement with the understanding that whatever this passage is talking about we are simply asking the Lord to accomplish it
 B. In this way, we become a temple of the Holy Spirit meet for the dwelling of God in our hearts: 1 Cor. 6.19-20
 C. Furthermore, the word "spirit" does not always necessarily refer specifically to the Holy Spirit; sometimes it refers to the disposition of Christ, which we are to exemplify in our own lives as His followers so that we can be fit for life here and for heaven above: Rom. 8.6-11

     CONCL.: The chorus repeats the main thought of the stanzas with the desire to be more like Christ.
"O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee! Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art.
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness; Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart."
Since the Bible teaches that God’s goal for His people is that we might be conformed to the image of His Son, it should be our desire to say to the Lord, "O To Be Like Thee."


One thought on ““O To Be Like Thee”

  1. Interesting comments as always. Your observations on the 5th stanza are helpful. Yes, it seems to be written from a holiness perspective, with the hope of some "second blessing" experience. However, as my musician father sometimes used to say, "While I can't agree with the theology, I approve of the sentiment." We want the fullness of all God has for us, and so make ourselves available to Him, ready to receive His blessing. (By the way, today is the anniversary of Thomas Chisholm's birth in 1866. God bless.


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