“Come Unto Me, Ye Weary”

“Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which uses the words of Christ to encourage those who are in spiritual need to come to Him is “Come Unto Me, Ye Weary.”  The text was written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898).  It first appeared in The People’s Hymnal of 1867.  The author wrote of this hymn, “I was ill and depressed at the time, and it was almost to idle away the hours that I wrote the hymn. I had been ill for many weeks and felt weary and faint, and the hymn really expresses the languidness of body from which I was suffering at the time. Soon after its composition I recovered, and I always look back to that hymn as the turning point in my illness.”  Dix is perhaps best known among us for the hymn “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!”  The traditional tune (Bentley) used with “Come Unto Me, Ye Weary” was composed in 1867 by John P. Hullah.  Alternate tunes that have been used include one (Abendlied) by Franz Schubert; one (Anthes) from 1847 by Friedrich K. Anthes; one (Come unto Me) from 1875 by John B. Dykes; one (Llangloffan) which is a Welsh hymn melody; and one (Rusper) which is a traditional English melody. 

     However, another tune (Wie lieblich ist der Maien) which fits the hymn quite well was composed by Johann Steurlein, who was born on July 5, 1546, at Schmalkalden in Thuringia, Germany.  The son of Caspar Steuerlein, or Steurlein, the first Lutheran minister of Schmalkalden. Johann completed his study of law at the University of Wittenberg and from 1569 to 1589 he lived between Schmalkalden and Meiningen at Wasungen, where he served as music director in the Lutheran church.  This tune was originally a love song composed in 1575 as a setting of “Mit Lieb bin ich umfangen.”  Around 1580 Steurlein was appointed town-clerk of Wasungen and was the author of a metrical version of Ecclestasticus published at Frankfurt in 1581. An excellent musician, he published various works containing melodies and four-part settings by himself.  In 1589 he became secretary in the chancery at Meiningen to the Henneberg administration.  From 1589 until his death he lived in Meiningen, where at various times he served as notary public, mayor around 1604, and secretary to the Elector of Saxony. 

     A gifted poet as well as a musician, Steurlein rhymed both the Old and New Testaments in German, and in recognition of this work he was crowned as poet by the Emperor Rudolph II. A number of his hymn tunes and harmonizations were published in Geistliche Lieder of 1575 and Sieben und Zwantzig Neue Geistliche Gesenge of 1588.  This tune gets its name from its original use as a setting for Martin Behm’s hymn text that began with those words (“Wie lieblich ist der Maien”) in 1581; the text and the tune were published together in Gregor Gunderreitter’s David’s Himlische Harpffen. Steurlein died on May 5, 1613, at Meiningen.  The tune has often been used with “Sing to the Lord of harvest” by John S. B. Monsell (1811-1875).  It was first set to Monsell’s text in W. Garrett Horder’s Worship Song of 1905 and popularized through a 1954 anthem form by Healey Willan. The harmonization is by Willan, simplified from his anthem.

     “Come Unto Me, Ye Weary” could be used effectively as an invitation hymn.

I. Stanza 1 speaks to those who are weary and need rest
“’Come unto Me, ye weary, and I will give you rest.’
O blessed voice of Jesus, which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction, of pardon, grace and peace,
Of joy that hath no ending, of love which cannot cease.”
 A. The word “weary” means “tired,” but here it signifies those who are tired of the burden of sin and other problems of life: Ps. 6:6
 B. It would also include those who are oppressed by the devil in other ways: Acts 10:38
 C. Jesus offers pardon and peace because of the great love with which He loved us: Eph. 5:2

II. Stanza 2 speaks to those who are children in darkness and need light
“’Come unto Me, dear children, and I will give you light.’
O loving voice of Jesus, which comes to cheer the night!
Our hearts are filled with sadness, and we had lost our way;
But He hath brought us gladness and songs at break of day.”
 A. Jesus offers us light because He is the light of the world: Jn. 8:12
 B. The purpose of His light is to chase away the darkness of sin’s night: Matt. 4:16
 C. The purpose of this light is to bring those who have lost their way to the break of day: 2 Pet. 1:19

III. Stanza 3 speaks to those who are fainting and need life
“‘Come unto Me, ye fainting, and I will give you life.’
O cheering voice of Jesus, which comes to aid our strife!
The foe is stern and eager, the fight is fierce and long;
But Thou hast made us mighty and stronger than the strong.”
 A. The fainting are those who have grown weak: Heb. 12:3
 B. However, the cheering voice of Jesus comes to aid us in our strife: Matt. 14:27
 C. Thus, we can be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might: Eph. 6:10

IV. Stanza 4 speaks to those who are lost sinners and need a welcome of love
“‘And whosoever cometh I will not cast him out.’
O welcome voice of Jesus, which drives away our doubt,
Which calls us, very sinners, unworthy though we be
Of love so free and boundless, to come, dear Lord, to Thee.”
 A. Jesus has promised that whoever comes to Him, He will not cast out: Jn. 6:37
 B. The voice of Jesus drives away our doubt: Matt. 14:31
 C. We can have this assurance because we know that Jesus came to call sinners to repentance: Matt. 9:13

     CONCL.:  The majority of “invitation songs” in our books are the product of the revival movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.  However, the idea of extending the “Lord’s invitation” was not limited to that era, and there are songs from other time periods which exhort sinners to obey the Lord’s will to receive forgiveness of sins.  One of the basic purposes of an invitation song is to let the lost know that Jesus says, “Come Unto Me, Ye Weary.”


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