“I Love Him”

"…And Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea" (Mic. 7.19)

     INTRO.: A song which expresses love to the Lord because He has promised to cast all our sins into the depths of the sea is "I Love Him." The text was written by an unknown author and is taken from an English hymnbook known as The London Hymn Book. I have not been able to find any date for it. The tune (Old Black Joe) with which it usually appears, was composed by Stephen Collins Foster, who was born on July 4, 1826, at Lawrenceville, PA, now a part of Pittsburgh. While educated at Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College), he was largely unschooled in music and basically taught himself; however, he seemed to have a natural talent for it and started writing songs as a young boy. His first published song was "Open the Lattice, Love" in 1844. In 1846, he moved to Cincinnati, OH, as a bookkeeper but in 1850 returned to Pittsburgh and married Jame McDowell, the daughter of a Pittsburgh physician.

     One of Foster’s early songs, "Oh! Susanna" was published in 1848 in a collection entitled Songs of the Sable Harmonies for use by various minstrel troupes and became famous in the California gold rush of 1849.  Because of this, he was asked to produce songs in the manner of the southern Negroes for E. P. Christy’s minstrel show. The most famous of these, "Old Folks at Home" or "Swanee River," was originally published in 1851 under Christy’s name, but Foster’s authorship was never questioned.  Although the vast majority of his songs were inspired by southern life and his ambition was to become "the best Ethiopian [meaning Negro minstrel] song writer," he visited the south only once, in 1852 when he spent some time on a cousin’s plantation near Bardsville, KY, the result of which was "My Old Kentucky Home" of 1853.  Most of the best of his over 200 songs, to which he provided both words and music, came between 1850 and 1860.

     These include "Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground" of 1852, and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" of 1854.  "Old Black Joe" dates from 1860. Such songs are among the most popular ever written by an American because, while concerning life on southern plantations before the American Civil War, they express universal human emotions. Despite the income from his royalties, Foster’s intemperate habits, especially alcoholism, kept him in poverty.  As a result, he was separated from his wife in 1861 and spent the remainder of his life alone and in debt at New York City, NY, dying penniless at the charity ward of Bellvue Hospital in New York on Jan. 13, 1864, only 37 years old. The melody from "Old Black Joe" was arranged in 1909 for "Gone from My Heart" by Daniel Brink Towner (1850-1919). Also, the melody from Foster’s "Massa’s in de Cold, Cold Ground" has been arranged for use with a hymn, "A Friend of Jesus," by Joe C. Ludgate.

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, "I Love Him" appeared in the 1917 Selected Revival Songs edited by F. L. Rowe; the 1924 International Melodies edited by Earnest C. Love; the 1943 Standard Gospel Songs edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; and the 1944 Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by Will W. Slater. It also was used in Wonder Hymns of Faith published by Standard Publishing Co. Its former popularity can be seen in the number of denominational hymnals in which it was once found: the undated Great Revival Hymns No. 2 of The Rodeheaver Co.; the undated Songs for the King’s Business of Sunday School Supply House; the 1916 Life Songs (No. 1) of the Mennonite Publishing House; the 1926 American Hymnal of Broadman Press; the 1939 Favorite Songs and Hymns of Stamps Baxter Music and Printing Co.; the 1940 Broadman Hymnal of Broadman Press; the 1947 Voice of Praise of Broadman Press; the 1951 Inspiring Hymns of Singspiration Music; the 1957 All American Church Hymnal of the John T. Benson Publishing Co.; the 1972 Living Hymns of Encore Publications; the 1972 Soul Stirring Songs and Hymns of Sword of the Lord Publishers; and the 1987 Zion’s Praises of Weaver Music Company. It is seldom seen in most modern hymnbooks.

     The song reminds us of how much Jesus has done for us and why we should love Him.

I. Stanza 1 tells us that Jesus makes it possible for us to have cleansing from sin
"Gone from my heart the world with all its charm,
Gone are my sins and all that would alarm,
Gone evermore, and by His grace I know
The precious blood of Jesus cleanses white as snow."
 A. It is the lusts of the world that lead us away from the Lord: 1 Jn. 2.15-17
 B. Yielding to these lusts produces sin which should alarm because it brings forth death: Jas. 1.14-15
 C. However, the blood of Jesus Christ allows us to be cleansed from all sins: 1 Jn. 1.7

II. Stanza 2 tells us that Jesus makes it possible for us to have washing in His blood
"Once I was lost upon the plains of sin,
Once was a slave to doubts and fears within,
Once was afraid to trust a loving God,
But now my guilt is washed away in Jesus’ blood."
 A. When we lived in sin, like the prodigal son we were lost: 11-13, 24
 B. In that condition, we were slaves to sin and the doubts and fears that it brings: Rom. 6.16
 C. However, the mercy of God shown in the shedding of Christ’s blood allows us to have the washing of regeneration: Tit. 3.5

III. Stanza 3 tells us that Jesus makes it possible for us to have peace
"Once I was bound, but now I am set free,
Once I was blind, but now the light I see,
Once I was dead, but now in Christ I live
To tell the world the peace that He alone can give.
 A. Even though we were once bound by sin, Jesus allows us to be made free from sin: Rom. 6.17-18
 B. Even though we were once blinded by sin, Jesus allows the eyes of our understanding to be enlightened so that we can see: Eph. 1.18
 C. Even though we were once dead in trespasses and sins, Jesus allows us to have the peace of God that passes understanding: Phil. 4.7

     CONCL.: The chorus resounds with the natural reaction of one who has benefitted from God’s mercy in Christ.
"I love Him, I love Him,
Because He first loved me,
And purchased my salvation
On Calvary’s tree."
I grew up hearing and knowing the songs of Stephen Foster. When as a teenager I first discovered this hymn in an old paperback hymnbook stored in the building of the church where my grandfather preached, I showed it to some friends in the local church and said, somewhat teasingly, that if I ever published a hymnbook it would be on the very first page. They groaned. I doubt now if I would do that (put it on the first page, that is; I still like the song and would include it in a hymnbook). There are brethren who have objected to using "secular melodies" with hymns, most likely because of fear that the music would be associated in the minds of many with its non-religious words. Yet, the tune with which we sing "Amazing Grace" started out its life as a southern plantation folk song melody entitled "Loving Lambs." Obviously, this is an area where judgment will have to be exercised. However, as familiar as I am with "Old Black Joe," whenever I look over this hymn and sing it in my mind, I do not think of Foster’s song but of the hymn’s message about how Jesus saves us from sin. There is both a wistfulness at what I once was and a thankfulness for what Jesus has enabled me to become. I certainly need to let others know that because of what Jesus did to make my salvation possible, "I Love Him."


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