Recently I was reminded how the musical arrangement of a hymn can influence the interpretation of the story and of the message of the hymn. The words of the old hymn “My Jesus, I Love Thee” were probably written in 1862. It is attributed to then sixteen year old William R. Featherston. That he was sixteen when he wrote this confession of faith in and love for Jesus Christ is an impressive story in itself. Apparently this fact is all that is known about the writing of this hymn. With this hymn the young Featherston provides us with words by which we confess our love for Christ.
“My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine; For Thee all the follies of sin I resign; My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou: If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
We love Jesus who has poured out upon us the grace of God as our Redeemer and Savior. In response to His love for us, we express our love to Him by turning away from the follies of sin. “If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now,” as I commit my life to living the life to which You have called me.
“I love Thee, because Thou hast first loved me, And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree; I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow: If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
Christ first loved us. We come before the cross. Humbly we see Jesus taking upon Himself our sin and guilt. Through His suffering and death, by the grace of God, we are forgiven and become children of God. In response to the love of Jesus seen in His sacrifice on the cross, we confess, “If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
“In mansions of glory and endless delight, I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright; I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow: If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
The tomb is empty. Jesus is risen. He is enthroned at the right hand of God. The living Jesus graciously gives us hope, the hope of life eternal, the hope of eternally dwelling in the glory of God. In the confidence and joy of this hope we confess, “If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
A hymn of praise and celebration of Jesus, our Redeemer and Savior. A hymn of thanksgiving. A hymn of love expressed to Jesus. A hymn of confession, of faith, of commitment.
The traditional tune was written by Adoniram J. Gordon in 1876. When I sing the hymn with this tune I sing the story of celebration and joyous thanksgiving. The story of the hymn is one of a grateful disciple of Jesus, in the wondrous grace and hope of salvation in Christ, expressing his love for Jesus.
As my wife and I recently drove three thousand miles we listened to one CD of hymns again and again. One of the hymns was “My Jesus, I love Thee.” The words were the same. Only the musical arrangement was different, a more recent arrangement. As I listened the story and the message of the hymn changed. It was still a hymn of confession, a hymn of faith, a hymn of commitment, a hymn expressing love for Jesus, especially now. Only the story was now of a disciple of Jesus in the depths of suffering, in the depths of grief. The hymn was now the story of a disciple who had every reason to doubt the love of Jesus and to question his own love for Jesus. In this disciple’s suffering, in his grief, Jesus seems so silent, so far away.
Yet, this suffering and grieving disciple, remembers the love of Jesus for him expressed in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. He remembers the hope of the resurrected and enthroned Christ. His faith strengthened, he remembers why he first loved Jesus and loves Him still. Out of the depths of his suffering and grief he sings, “My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine. If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”
The voice and heart of a suffering and grieving disciple is heard in the third verse, which I have not seen in a hymnal or heard sung. “I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death, And praise Thee As long as Thou lendest me breath; And say when the death dew Lies cold on my brow, If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.” [Robert J. Morgan, Then Sings My Soul, p. 150]
The new musical arrangement was composed by Mark Hall of Casting Crowns. The attached recording is from their CD “Glorious Day, Hymns of Faith.”