Lessons on Love in Hymns
John Telgren

The theme for this morning is love. We are going to spend some time this morning reflecting on some aspects of love from the songs that we sing. In looking at the background of the songs we sing, we find that it is amazing how God works to inspire and preserve songs for all generations to use. Some of the songs we sing are timeless and have been with us for many generations. One of those songs is a song written to Jesus about the love we have for him. It is entitled simply, My Jesus I Love Thee.


We know very little about the circumstances that inspired the writing of this hymn. In fact, we did not even know who wrote it at first. However, there is a fascinating story about the various events which came together to make this hymn a classic.

Back in 1864, a minister by the name of A.J.Gordon was casually leafing through the London Hymnal when a hymn caught his eye. As he read the words to the song, he was impressed and thought to himself, "how superbly written are the verses of this hymn." The authorship for the poem was listed as "anonymous," but whoever the writer was, he felt the poem was well written. As he read over the words, he thought to himself, "This could have easily been written by a renowned poet such as Isaac Watts or Charles Wesley." Then he thought, "These words deserve a much better tune." Then, in a moment of inspiration, a beautiful new tune sprang up in the heart of Mr. Gordon. The combination of this anonymous poem with this newly composed tune by became very popular, ranking up there with the renowned hymns of those days, such as Amazing Grace and Rock of Ages.

Within the last few years, the authorship of this popular hymn has been identified as William Ralph Featherstone, who was born in Montreal, Canada in 1846. We have learned that he wrote this poem at the time of his conversion at the age of 16. After writing the poem he sent it to his aunt who lived in Los Angeles at the time. How amazing for the hymn that A.J. Gordon considered a masterpiece to have been written by a 16-year-old Canadian boy! How unlikely that a poem written in Canada and sent to a relative on the west coast would wind up in a British hymnal! What are the odds that this poem, discovered by a single songbook editor in a British hymnal over 100 years ago, could become an American classic.

It is easy to forget that a teenage boy wrote this beautiful hymn. It expresses a deep and profound love to Christ. Listen to the words carefully:

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.

I love Thee because Thou has 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.

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.

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.
This hymn has helped to provide words and music of love and devotion to countless worshippers over the years. It has had a dramatic effect not only on the worshippers, but even on outsiders who have listened to devoted Christians offer those words up to God. This is the sort of thing the Apostle Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 14:24 when he speaks of an outsider listening to Christians in their assemblies. Paul says that "he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you." There is an account of this sort of thing happening in connection with this hymn. Listen to this account, which was related by Ira Sankey:

An actress was walking down the street many years ago and passed by an open door. Through the door, she saw a pale sickly girl, obviously handicapped, laying on a couch watching people pass by. She thought to herself, "I might be able to cheer up this girl." And with that, she stopped and went inside. The sick girl was a devoted Christian. The actress was impressed with her words, her patience, her submission, and her uplifting countenance. All of these so exemplified her faith that the actress was touched and began to seriously consider the claims of Christianity. Later, she decided to convert and become a follower of Christ. She told her father, the leader of the theater troupe, of her conversion and her conviction that she could not live a consistent Christian life and still be an actress. Her father was astonished and told his daughter that their living depended on her. If she quite, their business would be ruined. He was persistent, and managed to get her to reluctantly agree to continue. They made preparations for the next play of which she had the starring role. The father rejoiced that he had won his daughter back. The hour came and the audience was in place, the curtain rose, and the young actress stepped forward amid the applause. She stepped forward and the audience hushed as the light beamed on her beautiful face. There in the silence, she repeated these words:

"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."

That was all. Leaving the audience in tears, she retired from the stage, never to appear on it again. But through her influence, her father was converted, and together, they led several others to Christ. The commitment made from the heart of this young actress may have cost her livelihood, but she gained eternity.

Who was that invalid girl? We may never know. The power of a radiant Christian life, even though handicapped, combined with a hymn poem written by a teenage boy in Canada provided the most effective sermon anyone could have proclaimed.

So often, we wait and search for some "great" thing to do that will help us teach others of the love of Jesus, when just a simple honest declaration of our love and commitment will do.

And so, let's lift our voices in a simple and honest declaration of our love and commitment and sing this song together


Love is the greatest thing. We love our God, we love our savior, we love one another. However, love does not come out of thin air. The only reason we can love, the only reason we even have the capacity to love, is because we have been loved first. John reminds us in 1 John 4:19 that, we love, because He first loved us. God loved us first. Love comes from God. God is love.

Many poets have written about the love of God. One of these was Frederick Martin Lehman, who was born in Germany in 1868. He and his family moved to American in 1872 and farmed in Iowa. As he grew up, he farmed until his late 20's when he began a long career as a preacher, religious editor, and music publisher. In 1911, he moved to Kansas City and later to Pasadena California. Things were going well until something went drastically wrong. In 1917, a serious of unfortunate events caused the Lehman's to lose everything, forcing him to hard, physical labor in a lemon packing house. It was under these trying circumstances that the hymn, The Love of God, was born. Mr Lehman recalls that, "this song was written during the interim while waiting on eight women lemon sorters in a Pasadena packing house, carrying to them boxes of lemons and taking the finished trays away from them. He would carry crates of lemons to the women for inspection and sorting, then carry the finished product away for shipping, lifting as much as 30 tons each day. There were short periods of time in between these two tasks, and this is when Mr Lehman penciled down the words and music to the first two stanza's of The Love of God. It is amazing to be able to write of God's love with such warmth and feeling at the lowest time in life. Mr Lehman did not write the third stanza, yet the poetic beauty of it was his inspiration for the rest of the song. Some years before, he had heard these words in a sermon at a camp meeting and was so moved by it, he wrote them down on some note paper and saved them until he could write a full hymn to go with those words. The words for stanza three were found on the walls of a mental institution over 200 years ago. After the person died, the painters were so impressed by the poem, they wrote it down to preserve it before painting over it. A few years back, the words were found in a Hebrew work written by a Jewish Rabbi nearly 900 years ago.

How far a journey the words to stanza three have made! From the publication of an obscure Hebrew poem 900 years ago, to the heart of a mentally challenged patient 200 years ago, preserved by some painters and recited by a preacher at a camp meeting, to survive on note paper for 20 years, until Mr Lehman lost everything and was inspired to write music and other verses to this poem. Perhaps only the providence of God can explain the tangled web of events that provided the birth of this great song.

The song speaks of the infinite and immeasurable love of God. Always strong, always faithful, immeasurable. Paul reminds us in 1 Corithians 13:8 that "love never fails." Listen to the words:

The love of God is greater far Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star, And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled, And pardoned from his sin.

When years of time shall pass away, And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray, On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God's love so sure, shall still endure, All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam's race-The saints' and angels' song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure The saints' and angels' song.
The Love of God is what has sustained us. It is what has brought beauty into our relationships. It is what has brought life and light into our family.

In a moment we will pout our voices together and sing this song.

Invitation: God loves you with true love. It is a sacrificial love. It is a steadfast love. It is a faithful love. It is an immeasurable love. He never gave up on you. Even though you may have sinned, God still loves you. You may think you are unlovable, but God still loves you. He can fill your heart with his love and transform you. How sad it would be to be loved by God and still be lost? Does that happen? Yes it does, and it pains God deeply. God gives you a choice to reject him or accept him. Those that reject him are lost. But if you accept him, if you love him above all else, if you are lovingly faithful and obedient to him, you can know the peace and joy of his love now and forever. If you have not accepted him, you can do so today. Just come forward, make a declaration to accept him, be baptized, let him wash away your sins, and live in his love. If you need to respond, please come as we stand and sing.

Sources used includes articles from Christian History Magazine, A Song is Born by Robert Taylor, and Cyberhymnal.com