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Jesus, Lover of My Soul

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.

Thou, O Christ, art all I want, more than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
False and full of sin I am; Thou art full of truth and grace.

Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the Fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity.

 

I must admit it. Even though this hymn is one of the widely printed in the English language, it had not been one which I chose often for congregational singing in past years. This was due to the tune MARTYN typically associated with the hymn in the hymnals I used, a tune which I found rather uninteresting and plodding.  Once I discovered the hymn set to the more vigorous tune ABERYSTWYTH, however, the text took on new life for me, and it has become a favorite.  Somehow, ABERYSTWYTH suggests the “tempest” and “storm” of the text and provides the energy which Wesley’s stirring words require.

Charles Wesley first published this hymn in 1740 with the heading “In Times of Danger and Temptation.”1 It has been well-loved and highly regarded for many years.  I would be hard-pressed to speak to the high quality of this hymn as concisely as John Richard Watson has, so I reproduce his plaudits here:

From the moment of its wonderful opening, ‘Jesu, lover . . .”, in which the intimacy of “Jesu” plays such a crucial part, this hymn proclaims itself as a work of unusual intensity.  It sets the closeness and protectiveness of the Saviour (emphasized by the tender word ‘bosom’) against the storms and tempests of life; and it relates the images of safety—the haven, the refuge, the ‘shadow of thy wing’—to the helpless and defenceless self.  Although that self is ‘false and full of sin’, it can still find comfort in the grace of God: and that grace, with its healing streams and its fountain, will keep the sinner in everlasting life.  Every stage of the hymn leads on to the next, and relates back to the central truth of Jesus as the lover of the human soul, however undeserving it may be. . . .

The hymn is a powerful statement of some deep psychological truths, concerned with danger and safety, and with sin and forgiveness, with a final verse which prays for healing and life.  But it would not be so compelling if it were not written with such control and such deep emotion—the control and the emotion balancing one another quite beautifully.2

As to the hymn’s staying power and inherent worthiness, Henry Beecher Ward opined,

I would rather have written that hymn of Wesley’s

‘Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,’

than to have the fame of all the kings that ever sat on the earth.  It is more glorious.  It has more power in it.  I would rather be the author of that hymn than to hold the wealth of the richest man in New-York. . . . His money will go to his heirs, and they will divide it. . . . But that hymn will go on singing until the last trump brings forth the angel band; and then, I think, it will mount up on some lip to the very presence of God.  And I would rather have written such a hymn than to have heaped up all the treasures of the richest man on the globe.3

As to its comfort for believers, numerous anecdotes suggest that “perhaps there does not exist a hymn which has been more extensively quoted on death-beds.”4

The noted hymnologist John Julian observes that the first four lines have troubled hymnal compilers to the extent that over twenty different readings are extant.  In the first place, “Lover” has been seen as too familiar a term for the Lord Jesus.  It is said that even John Wesley (Charles’s brother) “felt that the imagery in this hymn was too intimate for use in mixed congregations, so it wasn’t included in the Methodist hymnal until nine years after his death.” As a result, some have substituted terms such as “Refuge” or “Savior” for “Lover.”  ((Julian notes that while “lover of souls” isn’t a biblical title of God, it is found in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 11:26: “But Thou sparest all, for they are Thine, O Lord, Thou Lover of souls.”))  In the second place, the phrase “While the nearer waters roll” has caused difficulty for some, and the text has been adjusted in a number of places. While the turn of phrase is a bit unusual, the general idea is clear: a metaphorical expression of the “storm of life,” the “danger and temptation” Wesley alluded to in his original heading of the hymn.5

“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” has rightly gained a place among the great and enduring hymnody of the church.  Read it.  Sing it.  Meditate upon it.  Emphasize it in your church.  Teach it to your children.

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About Chuck Bumgardner

I seek to be a student of the Scriptures — New Testament in particular — and also have a deep love for the praise of God through music in the church. I have at the present time the privilege of overseeing the music and leading the singing in my local church, a ministry which brings me great joy and provides a God-ordained outlet for my musical energies. I've enjoyed serving in music-related areas in the church since high school — some 25 years now — as a vocalist, choir member, choir director, and congregational songleader. In addition to serving as a member — and for a time as an assistant pastor — in various local churches, I've also had the privilege of traveling during my college years to many churches throughout the United States and Canada as part of a vocal ensemble. I hunger to see, both in my own church and beyond, an increased appreciation for the great historic music of the church in which theologically rich texts are wedded to music which provides an appropriate setting for those texts, and through which our affections are turned toward God. I'm also eager to see new contributions to the rich heritage of Christian music which share in the same characteristics.

  1. This title has, no doubt led to the several different unsubstantiated stories of the hymn’s generation.  Julian notes, “These charming stories must be laid aside until substantiated by direct evidence from the Wesley books.” John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, 2nd ed. (1907; reprint, New York: Dover, 1957), I:591. Online: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian_j/hymn1. []
  2. John Richard Watson, An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 175-76. []
  3. Henry Ward Beecher, The Original Plymouth Pulpit: Sermons of Henry Ward Beecher in Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, vol. 1 (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1869), 179. []
  4. George J. Stevenson, The Methodist Hymn-Book and Its Associations (London: Hamilton, Adams, and Company, 1870), 98. []
  5. Watson sees in “nearer waters” an allusion by Wesley to a contemporary work of poetry by Matthew Prior, Solomon. John Richard Watson, An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 175-76. []

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