(picture of Frederick Whitfield)
“O HOW I LOVE JESUS”
“We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19)
Introduction: A song which expresses both praise and love to Jesus because He first loved us is “O How I Love Jesus” (#414 in Hymns for Worship Revised, #273 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Frederick Whitfield, who was born at Threapwood in Shropshire, England, on Jan. 7, 1829. After being educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, from which he received the B. A. degree in 1859, he became a minister in the Church of England, serving first at Otley. Following this, he worked successively at Kirby-Ravensworth, Greenwich, and St. John’s in Bexley. Originally in nine stanzas, this text first appeared in 1855. It was circulated in leaflet form and was then published in Whitfield’s Sacred Poems and Prose in 1861, although it is some-times erroneously attributed to Isaac Watts.
Another fairly well known hymn by Whitfield is “I Saw the Cross of Jesus,” produced in 1861 and usually set to a folk melody known as “Calcutta.” In 1874, Whitfield began serving at St. Mary’s in Hastings. During his life, he published more than thirty volumes of prose and poetry, including Spiritual Unfolding from the Word of Life, Voices from the Valley Testifying of Jesus, The Word Unveiled, Gleanings from the Scripture, The Casket, Quiet Hours in the Sanctuary, and Sacred Poems and Prose—Second Series, before he died at Croyden, England, on Sept. 13, 1904. The words of the chorus for “O How I Love Jesus” are not part of the original hymn but are found with this melody which was used as a setting for a number of texts in nineteenth century American camp-meeting song collections.
These include “Amazing Grace” by John Newton and “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” by Isaac Watts. The tune (Whitfield) most commonly associated with “O How I Love Jesus” is sometimes ascribed to an otherwise unknown composer named Stephen Jones. However, it is usually identified as an anonymous traditional American folk hymn melody typical of those used in the campground meetings of the nineteenth century. The first known printing of the tune and chorus was in the 1864 Devotional Hymn and Tune Book compiled by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868).
Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church for use in churches of Christ, the tune is found as an alternate for “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” in the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 edited by E. L. Jorgenson and in the 1940/1944 New Wonderful Songs edited to Thomas S. Cobb, and in the latter the text, with stanzas 5 and 6 below, is found with a tune composed by Albert Fredericks and copyrighted in 1917 by Fred A. Fillmore; the hymn has appeared in 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 1959 Majestic Hymnal No. 2 and the 1978 Hymns of Praise both edited by Reuel Lemmons; the 1963 Abiding Hymns edited by Robert C. Welch; the 1963 Christian Hymnal (chorus only) edited by J. Nelson Slater; the 1938 Spiritual Melodies, the 1943 Standard Gospel Songs, and the 1965 Great Christian Hymnal No. 2 all edited by Tillit S. Teddlie; 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 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; the 2007 Sacred Songs of the Church edited by William D. Jeffcoat; the 2009 Favorite Songs of the Church and the 2010 Songs for Worship and Praise both edited by Robert J. Taylor Jr.; and the 2012 Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs edited by Steve Wolfgang et. al.; in addition to Hymns for Worship and Sacred Selections.
The song talks about some of the blessings that those who love Jesus can have because of His love for us.
I. Stanza 1 says that we have the sweet name of Jesus to sing
There is a name I love to hear,
I love to speak its worth;
It sounds like music in mine ear,
The sweetest name on earth.
- The name of Jesus means salvation: Matt. 1:21
- Thus it is sweet because only in the name of Jesus is salvation found: Acts 4:12
- As a result, we should praise God and give thanks to His name: Heb. 13:15
II. Stanza 2 says that we have the blood of Christ shed for our sins
It tells me of a Savior’s love,
Who died to set me free;
It tells me of His precious blood,
The sinner’s perfect plea.
- Jesus loved us enough to lay down His life for us: 1 Jn. 3:16
- By His death, Jesus bore our sins on the tree that we might be made free from sin and righteous: 1 Pet. 2:24-25
- Hence, it is by His precious blood that we have redemption: Eph. 1:7
III. Stanza 3 (not in HFWR) says that we have the guidance of a loving Father
It tells me what my Father hath
In store for every day,
And though I tread a darksome path,
Yields sunshine all the way.
- Only our Father can see the future, and He maps out for us what He knows we can bear: 1 Cor. 10:13
- Sometimes we tread a darksome path because of troubles: Job 14:1
- But those who are in Christ have sunshine all the way to guide because Jesus is the light of the world: Jn. 8:12
IV. Stanza 4 (#3 in HFWR) says that we have the concern of God in our sorrows
It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe;
Who in my sorrow bears a part,
That none can bear below.
- We love the Lord because we know that He feels our deepest woe and will hear our cries: Ps. 116:1-2
- As long as we live on earth, we shall have our share of sorrow: Ps. 13:1-2
- But for the Christian, the Lord bears a part so that we can cast our cares on Him: 1 Pet. 5:7
V. Stanza 5 says that we have meaning in life because of Christ’s worth
Jesus, the name I love so well,
The name I love to hear!
No saint on earth its worth can tell,
No heart conceive how dear.
- We in turn love Jesus because of what His name stands for: 1 Pet. 1:7-8
- His worth to us is very precious: 1 Pet. 2:4-7
- Thus, He gives meaning to our lives as we sanctify Him in our hearts: 1 Pet. 3:15
VI. Stanza 6 says that we have the hope of heaven
This name shall shed its fragrance still
Along this thorny road,
Shall sweetly smooth the rugged hill
That leads me up to God.
- The name of Jesus is like a sweet fragrance: Eph. 5:1-2
- Though we travel a thorny road, it will smooth the rugged hill: Isa. 40:1-4
- The ultimate purpose for which Christ came and did this was to take us home to God: Heb. 6:19-20
CONCL.: The chorus express the proper response of the soul who comes to realize these blessings.
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
O how I love Jesus,
Because He first loved me!
Most of our books have only stanzas 1, 2, and 4 above; a few add stanza 3. Other almost always omitted stanzas are:
- It tells me of a Father’s smile
Beaming upon His child;
It cheers me through this little while,
Through desert, waste, and wild.
- It bids my trembling heart rejoice;
It dries each rising tear;
It tells me, in a still small voice,
To trust and never fear.
- And there, with all the blood-bought throng,
From sin and sorrow free,
I’ll sing the new eternal song
Of Jesus’ love to me.
When I stop and think about what my Lord has done for me and what He should mean to me every day, then I will certainly be compelled to say, “O How I Love Jesus”!