My Jesus, I Love Thee

My Jesus, I Love Thee

Liturgy Lessons: February 10, 2019
Call to Worship: Jn. 3:13-15 and Jn. 12:31-32
Hymn of Invocation: O Breath of God (Getty)
CTW (cont.): Selections from 1 Timothy
Hymn of Adoration: Crown Him with Many Crowns (#295)
Confession: prayer
Assurance of Pardon: Eph. 1:5-7
Hymns of Assurance: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (#535); My Jesus, I Love Thee (#648)
Catechism/Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word: Luke 9:28-36 (The Transfiguration)
Gloria Patri (#735)
Sermon: Rev. Eric Irwin
Tithes and Offerings
The Lord’s Supper: The King of Love My Shepherd Is; There is a Redeemer
Closing Hymn: I Know that My Redeemer Lives, Glory Hallelujah (#281)

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful! Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
– Colossians 3:15-17

On any given Sunday, our liturgy stretches us to embrace majestic hymns from both the protestant tradition and pre-reformation era; we may sing American folk, global song, rhythmic gospel, contemplative chant, or contemporary praise choruses. One of the privileges of being the church in the 21st century is the buffet of songs and styles available to us, a broad spectrum of God’s people’s praise across time and space. But that privilege also proves to be the greatest challenge. On the sign-up page for these lessons, it says this:

The goal of these lessons is to spiritually curate these songs in order to enhance your worship, so that you may lift your whole heart to the Lord without the hurdles of musical confusion, stylistic prejudice, or unfamiliarity. Each song is chosen based on criteria of biblical fidelity, sound theology, and well-crafted melodies which encourage full-throated praise. Each song has a story, and its purpose in our worship is to aid in a re-telling of the Great Story of our redemption – from creation to re-creation. Each song serves a liturgical function within the service. The music is the servant, never the object of praise itself! That is reserved for Jesus. And it is the express intent of these lessons that they would aid in a more profound and informed expression of love for Jesus when we gather on Sunday morning.

Yes, that’s me, a musician, knocking the music down a level. Why? Because in the modern church music sits high on a sacramental pedestal. It is asked to mediate the presence of God, and the musicians (a.k.a. high priests) who wield its power are expected to provide the fix, which often is just an adrenalized jolt for the lethargic layman. This is unfortunate fallout from a culture of consumerism and entertainment. I know this all too well, since my work in both church and concert hall asks me to straddle the stage and the sanctuary. We should not conflate the two.

And do you know what God does with idols? He destroys them. I don’t want this to happen. I love music, and I believe the church needs more beauty, not less. Beauty is a powerful apologetic, and music in worship is not only for devotion, not just a personal tool for expressive praise. Music can be a formative means of discipleship. So, in these lessons I will often push back against the idolatry of taste and personal preference, because other than scandal or theological rancor, nothing is more divisive in modern churches than music. I have often said that being a music minister is a great way to strategically displease everyone. I don’t mind it. My job is to rally you, revive the song, and re-ignite your love of Jesus. But sometimes I’m just a referee. So this is my earnest reminder to check your musical prejudice at the door, because from the giddy to the grand, whether Getty or Gregorian, the great goal of this gaggle is to glorify God!

My Jesus, I Love Thee (#648)
Music: Adoniram Gordon (1894)
Words: William Featherstone(1864)

“We love because He first loved us.”
– 1 Jn. 4:19

Last year I had the privilege of leading the chapel at Cedar Park Christian School. Hundreds of teenagers gathered in the sanctuary for a time of prayer, scripture, and singing. I led them through a historic liturgy and then taught them two songs: the Doxology and “My Jesus, I Love Thee.” I told them that this hymn was written over 150 years ago by a 16-year-old young man from Montreal. He wrote the 4-verse poem shortly after his conversion. It is a beautifully simple song of devotion originally poured forth from a young heart enraptured in the love of Jesus. I played the hymn once through so they could hear it, and then we sang it together, even navigating a key change for the final verse! They were used to singing with the pressure-wash force of the sound system in their face, so there was an initial timidity with just the piano to accompany them. However, they caught on quickly, and despite lisping through the “thees” and “thous,” most of them joined in heartily by the final verse. These young souls recognized the universal themes in this old hymn. They were singing in response to the love of Christ, seeking intimacy with Him. Together we were declaring our assurance of salvation, celebrating His gospel, delighting in His loveliness, and resolving to praise Him through all circumstances.

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.

Often when approaching a hymn or song in worship, we ask questions. “How does this make me feel?” or “Do I like it?” are the most common. But I want to encourage you to ask a different question: “What is it saying?” This question applies to both the words and the music, which ideally should be communicating in tandem, not arguing with each other. If you listen deeply to both text and tune, you may discover that sometimes there are surprising similarities between songs from radically different styles. For example, compare the first two stanzas of “My Jesus, I Love Thee” with the text (see below) of “Reckless Love,” a much-discussed No. 1 single by Cory Asbury of Bethel Music fame. This grammy-nominated and Dove Award “song of the year” winner was something that every single Cedar Park kid would have known and sung in 2017.

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me

When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
You have been so, so good to me
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
You have been so, so kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

If William Featherstone were transported to 2019, this may well be his poetry. I can easily imagine him thumbing out these verses on his cellphone before going off to get his driver’s license. There is a kindred spirit between his original hymn text and Cory’s verse. Putting aside form and musical style (a subject for another lesson), the content of both of these songs is faithful to the truth of 1 Jn. 4:19. These two young men, separated by genre and time, are seeking in their own way to give voice to a heart won over by the love of Christ. I imagine that if Mr. Featherstone and Mr. Asbury sat down to talk, they would be nodding heads as they discussed the overwhelming love of Christ and the endless delight that it brought them. Perhaps Cory would teach William how to high-five.

The overriding theme of “My Jesus, I Love Thee” is love, a word that appears ten times throughout the hymn. Indeed, the final line of each stanza is “if ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.” I’m pretty sure that the ‘now’ he is referring to is not the moment of emotional bliss when the music is thumpin’ and the blood is pumpin’. Rather, he is fervently responding to the moment of redemption. His soul has just been released from prison, and his arms, now free from the burden of shackles, are reaching out to embrace the Liberator, Emancipator, Rescuer, Champion, Messiah, Savior. This is the great theme of so many of our hymns:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray, I rose the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God shouldst die for me?

There’s the gospel, summed up in a few poetic lines by Charles Wesley. Wesley always sought to capture the heart of the gospel of grace, and therefore would have loved William’s simple hymn. He would hear the old truths in a young voice. He would see how the hymn carries the cornerstone of the faith, but does so with ease. It is weighty and light at the same time, making it a product befitting the author’s name. A Feather-stone.

The tune we use for this hymn today was written by A.J. Gordon (founder of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), who professed that it came to him very quickly in a bout of inspiration. It is fittingly simple, clear, and straightforward in its structure. A hummable and memorable melody that works well on its own without any accompaniment. But since we all like our songs dressed up in different ways, I am providing a few recorded options below. Feel free to follow your own fashion, just know that the version we do on Sunday morning is the one you’ll be forced to sing. Most likely that version will be a perfect arrangement that pleases everyone.

Sheet music
Choral arrangement
Contemporary arrangement