"I LOVE HIM BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED ME"
"We love Him, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4.19)
INTRO.: A song which reminds us of the love that Christ had for us and the things that He did for which we love Him is "I Love Him Because He First Loved Me" (#305 in Sacred Selections for the Church ). The text was written by Frank E. Roush, who was born on Apr. 11, 1884, at Dodsonville in Highland County, OH, to Isaiah and Lida McDaniel Roush. With his family, he moved to nearby Lynchburg in 1897. Then on Feb. 25, 1903, he was baptized and became a member of what is now the First Church of Christ ("independent," instrumental Christian Church) in Lynchburg. Devoting his life to living for Christ, he expressed himself in well over 200 gospel songs, not all published. "I Love Him Because He First Loved Me" is believed to be the most popular of all his hymns. This writer also happened to be born and raised in Highland County, Ohio (though some seventy years after Mr. Roush!). I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I knew some folks who had known, or at least known of, him, and they reported that he was reputed to have had somewhat of an eccentric personality.
In my possession is a printed sheet with one song accompanied by four others copied from handwritten sheets, all with words by Roush and music by others. The printed one is "The Wonderful Story of Love" with Bernadine E. Minzler, who also lived at Lynchburg at the time. The copied ones are "How Beautiful Heaven Will Be" with Paul Jones, a long-time minister with the First Church of Christ ("Christian") in nearby Hillsboro, OH; "They Will Open Wide Those Pearly Gates" with Ed Bousman, another "Christian Church" preacher in Highland County who had a national radio broadcast for many years; "Christ’s Way" with Roberta Bousman, Ed Bousman’s wife and a noted musician; and "King of My Heart" with David W. Williams, about whom I know nothing. The printed sheet also contained a poem "Tribute" by Minzler about Roush and announced "Frank Roush Day" on Sunday, November 15, 1959, at the First Church of Christ in Lynchburg, saying, "Since the death of Fanny Crosby, Frank is believed to have more songs to his credit than any remaining living Gospel writer." I had sent some messages out seeking further material on Roush, but I was unable to find any information about him after 1959, although I assumed that his death occurred sometime in the 1960’s or early 70’s. Further research has indicated that he died in Dec. of 1968 at Greenfield, OH. Another song by Roush appeared in a 1953 book Favorite Hymns Revised, published by Standard Publishing Co., a firm in Cincinnati, OH, which was founded by and produces material for members of the Christian Church, was "Blue Galilee" dated 1926, along with "Christ’s Way" mentioned previously.
The tune for "I Love Him Because He First Loved Me" was composed by J. E. Sturgis. I have been unable to find very much information on him either, except that he was also apparently associated with the "independent," instrumental Churches of Christ and Christian Churches. According to Forrest M. McCann in Hymns and History, Sturgis co-edited the Christian Hymnal in 1924 and edited Favorite Hymns in 1933 both for Standard Publishing Co. "I Love Him Because He First Loved Me" was copyrighted in 1922 by Sturgis, and it was renewed in 1950 by the Stamps-Baxter Co. 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 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1) edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1940 Complete Christian Hymnal edited by Marion Davis. Today it may be found in the the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; as well as Sacred Selections. In addition to Favorite Hymns and Favorite Hymns Revised, I have also seen it in Wonder Hymns of Faith published by Standard Publishing Co. (the title page is missing in my copy, so I do not know its date; in fact, the book is undated but was published around 1923), and Favorite Hymns of Praise, published in 1972 by Tabernacle Publishing Co., a division of Hope Publishing, which was very popular among Christian Churches in my home county.
The song identifies four ways in which Jesus showed that He first loved us.
I. Stanza one focuses on Christ’s coming from heaven to earth
"Christ Jesus, my Lord, from heaven came,
To save me from guilt and sin and shame;
His death on the cross of Calvary
Brought pardon and gave me liberty."
A. Jesus did indeed come from heaven to earth: Phil. 2.5-9
B. His purpose in so doing was to save us: Lk. 19.10
C. And the result is that we can have liberty or freedom from sin: Rom. 6.17-18
II. Stanza two focuses on Christ’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane
"He sweat drops as blood in prayer for me,
Heartbroken in old Gethsemane,
While angels from blessed realms of light
Gave strength to His aching heart that night."
A. The original read, "He sweat drops of blood;" however, this is not what the scriptures say. They say that "His sweat became like great drops of blood," referring not to the makeup or even color but the amount of sweat: Lk. 22.44
B. This occurred in Gethsemane, where Jesus went to pray with His disciples just before His betrayal and arrest: Matt. 26.36
C. And the agony that He experienced there was so great that an angel from the realm of light came to strengthen Him: Lk. 22.43
III. Stanza 3 focuses on Christ’s death on the cross
"Up Calvary’s hill the cross He bore,
And for me a crown of thorns He wore;
They nailed Him upon the tree to die,
Then darkness came over earth and sky."
A. As an expression of the hatred that many had for Jesus, they put a crown of thorns on His head in mockery: Matt. 27.27-39
B . Then they led Him out to Golgotha (Calvary) to be crucified on the cross (tree): Matt. 27:31-35
C. It is often said that perhaps the darkness was sent by God to show the blackness of the deed that was being done in putting His Son to death: Matt. 27.45
IV. Stanza four focuses upon Christ’s resurrection
"My Lord who was slain by sinful men,
A wonderful friend to me has been;
He rose from the tomb with victory,
And now I love Him as He loves me."
A. Because Jesus was willing to be slain for us, He is a wonderful friend to us: Jn. 15.13-15
B. But even more wonderful is that He rose from the tomb with victory: Rom. 1.3-4
C. And because He is our living Savior, we should certainly love Him as He loved us: Mk. 12.30
CONCL.: The chorus re-emphasizes the main theme of the song:
"I love Him because He first loved me,
He first loved me, He first loved me;
I love Him because He first loved me,
And died on the cross of Calvary."
After the congregation among whom I grew up purchased Sacred Selections, while I was still living at home I often led this song, because I think that it is an excellent hymn and because some of the members had known or at least known of Mr. Roush. However, since then, even when working with churches that used Sacred Selections and trying to introduce the song, I have found that very few brethren seemed familiar with it. Editor Crum puts it in with songs that can be used before the Lord’s supper, and it is a very good hymn for that purpose, but it can be sung at other times too. I find that it is good to be reminded from time to time how much "I Love Him Because He First Loved Me."