Hymn of the Month, May 2019
Researched and written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
Both last month’s hymn and this month’s have the same writer: Charles Wesley (1707-1788). As noted last month, he is not only one of the greatest hymn-writers of all time (both in quality and quantity), but also remembered for his founding role in the Methodist movement.
Wesley wrote “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” shortly after his conversion in 1738. He and his brother John published it two years later in their collection titled Hymns and Sacred Poems.
Wesley’s original hymn contained five verses, but many hymnals today, including the Trinity Hymnal, omit verse 3. Verse 3 runs as follows:
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.
Today Wesley’s hymn is often paired with one of two tunes: a Welsh tune called ABERYSWYTH and an American tune called MARTYN. Neither of these tunes were written with Wesley’s hymn in mind; in fact, Simeon B. Marsh (1798-1875), a New York music teacher, wrote MARTYN for one of John Newton’s hymns. The editors of the Trinity Hymnal chose to include both tunes on opposing pages, no doubt because of their similar popularity and unique appeal.
“Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is a hymn of petition grounded in the strength and grace of Jesus Christ. It leads us in calling on him for refuge in the face of temptation and trial. We have no other refuge, and we say as much at the start of the second verse. Our lives and souls depend on him.
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!
We begin our hymn by calling upon Jesus by name and appealing to him as the lover of my soul. How can we say that? What reason do we have to believe that Jesus is the lover of my soul? The Holy Spirit tells us as much in the Bible. In Romans 8:35 we hear Paul ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” The context gives us the answer: no one. Christ loves each of his sheep with a powerful, unrelenting love. Thus we appeal to him in the midst of temptation and trial: let me to thy bosom fly… hide me, O my Savior, hide. Our plea echoes the words of the psalmist in Psalm 32:6-7: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.” That is our hope and prayer in the storm of life!
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.
We begin the second verse by professing other refuge have I none. Many of us have learned this through experience, as David did. In Psalm 142:4-5 we hear him declare, “Look to the right and see: there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul. I cry to you, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’” We join David in making this profession and elaborate on it in the remainder of the verse, drawing on words and imagery of Scripture. For instance, we ask Jesus to cover my defenseless head with the shadow of thy wing. By this we are not claiming Jesus has wings like a bird, but rather protects his people as tenderly a bird protects its chicks. As Ruth took refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 2:12), so we may and must take refuge under the wings of our God and his Christ.
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.
In this third verse we continue calling upon Jesus for help, grounding our plea in whom he has revealed himself to be. Philippians 4:19 states, “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Given that truth, expressed there and elsewhere, we together profess to Jesus that he is all I want, that more than all in thee I find. We then add that he can and does raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick, and lead the blind, because he said as much on one Sabbath in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). And though he is just and holy (Acts 3:14), we who are false and full of sin—every one of us—dare approach him because we know that he his “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Indeed, let’s approach him early and often, especially given the fullness of his grace and truth we’ll sing about in the fourth and final verse!
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.
Given what Jesus told Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)—we elaborate with delight on the fullness of Jesus’ grace and truth: plentious grace with thee is found! Thus we continue our plea in the very next breath, asking Jesus to let the healing streams abound. Through the prophet Zechariah God revealed that one day “there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1). Jesus is that fountain--the fountain of life--and each of us who feels our guilt and shame longs for his healing streams to abound. In fact, we long for his water to spring up within our hearts, welling up to all eternity. In John 4 Jesus told the woman at the well, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Do you personally want this? In what ways does your life have yet to grow into the words you sing in this hymn?